Five year old Shakira is a brilliant interpreter of the voiceless, understanding the needs of plants, animals, babies, the elderly and infirm, even the organs in her own body. She sees and feels the energy and emotions in the room, evaluating others’ intentions, moods, and their tone with precocious wisdom. She looks between words for the essence of a message by reading a person’s posture, gestures, and facial expressions. This ability to feel what others are feeling makes her very slow, careful, anxious, and sometimes highly reactive.
At seven, Nathan still sucks his thumb. He appears to be clingy and needy. Nathan is the type of kid who will suddenly announce a startling insight which brings him intense love, awe or joy, then a moment later becomes deeply burdened with empathy or deep compassion for a person in despair, a character suffering on TV, an animal without water in his bowl or an insect that someone wants to kill.
Some of Brennen’s ten year old insights are adult-like in their nature. He may prefer to read rather than play. He might work intensely on a project rather than watch TV. He is very socially aware and he feels guilty about not being able to do enough to save the world. His deep concern for the world often makes him appear defiant and stubborn as he resists using products or participating in activities that may harm the Earth or its inhabitants.
Like Shakira, Nathan, and Brennan, your child is quite different from most other kids, and it is troubling to you. In fact, your child’s quirky behavior is starting to bring daily stress and frustration into your life. Your child of course is not being intensely sensitive on purpose. Still, you’re frustrated. You’ve tried everything to help your child get along better in the world and in the family. You have consoled her, tried to make suggestions to fix his problems, avoided her tantrums, indulged his neediness, and when all of that didn’t work you resorted to threatening and punishing her stubborn or emotional behavior, and that made everything even worse.
You may be at the point where you’re wishing for a magic wand to make everything better between you and your child. The good news is, there is a panacea: Let him or her feel your warmth and understanding. That’s all. Sounds easy, right? Well, while real life often gets in the way of simple solutions like offering understanding, over time, parents are finding, with sensitive kids it actually works wonders.
One parent writes, “Here’s how understanding my child’s motivations helped me win with my six-year-old sensory-driven daughter:”
“The main thing I’ve found helpful with my daughter Julia is to work extra time into the day so I don’t have to rush her. She really takes her time with things and once I put myself in her shoes, I’ve realized that she’s not doing anything “bad,” she just is very detailed, resulting in things taking a long time.
“For example, when she eats, she takes forever. But if you watch her, it’s not that she’s not eating. It’s that she is eating very slowly. She seems to really take the time to chew and taste her food.
“When she puts her sandals on, she takes the time to really put them on correctly … readjusting both the toe and the ankle Velcro so they feel just right.
“The seatbelt … makes sure it’s not twisted and is just right.
“Feeding the cats … takes time to make sure they both get exactly the same amount of food.
“Just tonight, I saw her staring at her dish during dinner (we were having spaghetti), and I reminded her “It’s getting late, we need to finish up.” She said, “Look Mommy, it’s the breast cancer ribbon!” She had been looking at the spaghetti and noticed that there was a piece in the shape of the pink ribbon.
“Building extra time into our day has made a huge difference. Instead of letting her “pokiness” drive me crazy, I just allow extra time for her to “smell the coffee.”
“That said, we were having an issue in kindergarten earlier this year with her teacher reporting that she was “not staying on task and not getting her work done in the allotted time.” After watching her and talking with her, I figured out the problem!
“If she had a worksheet that instructed her to color every picture that begins with the letter “D,” she would REALLY color it! The dog would have a pink hat, brown body, blue eyes and red leash. I realized that she was coloring everything to perfection and that was what was taking her so long. It’s not that she didn’t know the answers or that she was doing “other things.”
“What solved the problem was explaining to her that sometimes when you color, it’s to make things look pretty, like when you’re making a picture or a book cover. But other times, you’re just supposed to quickly color it to show you know the answer … those don’t have to be “perfect.” The problem cleared up immediately and I received a phone call from the teacher within just two weeks that she’s doing much better with not having “unfinished work.”
While this mother’s advice may not help you the next time your sensory-driven child comes home from a sleepover party sobbing with overwhelm, it may help you prevent it from happening in the first place. By following her example and practicing the tips in part two, you and your sensory driven child are both poised to win.