Highly sensitive people make fantastic parents. I know, because I am both highly sensitive and a fantastic parent. We tune in to the important people in our lives and rush to their side before anyone else even knows they need support!
Now, a caveat here, rushing to someone’s aid too early can backfire. Sensitive parenting can go way off track and be way over the top. But, even with our tendency to be emotionally reactive, we are always working for the benefit of others- especially our children. My father assured me that if I’m concerned about something, it will turn out ok simply because I’m paying attention to it. It might not turn out perfectly, but it will be ok.
That rings especially true for hsparents. We constantly monitor situations and when some potential risk arises, we spot it like a hawk spots a field mouse in a patch of weeds from a mile up in the air.
So, here is one idea (more to come) about how to raise children who understand us-
Introduce Mind, Body, Soul early in your child’s life. Help them notice the different signals that come from the trinity they embody. This language gives them a more complex understanding of what influences their behaviors and can lead to deeper conversations about reactions.
As a child to a sensitive parent, its likely that they have witnessed some reactions and behaviors from us that they didn’t see coming and that they can’t understand. By separating out mind from body from soul, they can begin to see how they (and their parents) are complex, and how there are a lot of signals we’re always getting that are invisible to other people.
Here are two of my own parenting stories to help you see what I mean.
Story #1 Introducing Soul
This first one, OMG y’all, just wait for the ending… it will melt your heart.
Afternoons are always the most sensitive time of my day. It is also the time of day when I am in charge of my son; it’s after my workday and his school day are over, and before his dad gets home from work. So, we often run into lots of “opportunities” to learn to understand each other.
One particular afternoon, my whole body was electrified with over stimulation. I needed to lie down, be still and let the internal signals dissipate.
My darling child, however, was feeling AMAZING! and he needed to laugh, play, tickle, tumble and just share lots of his love and energy with someone.
He kept falling into me while I sat on the couch trying to be there for him but desperately needing to not be there with him.
After much prodding and poking trying to provoke my playfulness, I turned to him and said lovingly, “Hey listen. I love you so much right now. You’re showing me so much joy and I can feel that your soul is just bursting with it. I can see you trying to link your joy with mine by falling into me, jumping beside me so that I bounce with you, and poking me so I will laugh. (I held his shoulders so he could focus on my face and words). But, my soul isn’t available to take in that joy. My soul needs to be still and very quiet right now.”
“So,” I continued, “I am going to lie down on the couch and rest so that I can recharge and I need you to keep expressing your joy, but just without trying to pass it along to me with touching or noises or trying to move near me. I need you to be in another space so I can have quiet in my space.”
He responded with, “Ok Mommy”
“That would be so helpful, thank you. When I finish recharging, I’ll come and let you know.”
Then we talked about what he might like to do while I recharge.
Y’all, I kid you not. When I was resting (a full 35 minutes), he drew a picture for me. I was on one side of the paper and he was on the other side. We were facing each other and he had a megaphone to his mouth. The speech bubble coming out of it said, “I love you, Mom”. At first it made me sad when I saw it because I thought he was trying to love me and I wouldn’t let him; but then it slowly dawned on me that the image was his way of showing me that he got it! He totally interpreted that my language into an IMAGE! In that moment, I knew we understood each other.
Story #2 Introducing Body
So, my darling baby is fidgety. And for a few weeks, his bedtime routine had become littered with, according to him, very serious needs for medical attention- some bug bites need itch cream, his cough needs water or maybe even medicine, his temperature needs checking because he feels warm, or because he feels cold, etc.
While I didn’t want to downplay his concerns as “nothing”, but I didn’t want to keep being sent on scavenger hunts around the house for unnecessary first aid either!
Here is how I helped him gain some ownership and control over these issues.
I brought him some water and explained to him that I had noticed that he seemed to be having a lot of physical issues at bedtime. I told him the reason I think that is happening is because, “When your mind starts to quiet down, your body can finally be heard.”
“Really?” he asked
“Yes! Your body is always talking to you; mine is always talking to me too. But our thoughts are louder than our bodies. So during the day when our minds are awake and alert, the body’s messages are hard to hear unless they’re screaming.”
Then we talked about examples of when your body signals are loud enough to hear over our thoughts- severe injury, hunger, being scared, etc.
“So, what’s happening here is that your mind is quieting down and so you’re learning to hear your body. I’m actually kind of proud of you for listening to it!”
“If you just lie here and listen to your body, you’re gonna amazed at all the things it wants to tell you. Mine doesn’t actually talk to me, but that’s how I like think of it; it’s more like it pulls my attention to a certain thing.”
And then I made a suggestion, “I wonder how your body works to let you know what it needs? Hey! What if you listen to it for a while and I’ll come back to check on you in a few minutes. And you can tell me what you learn! You can report back to me on behalf of your body.”
The light in his eyes and the excitement on his face let me know he was on board. “Ok!” he said and snuggled into the covers a little bit to get himself ready to work.
Y’all it worked like a charm! When I came back after a few minutes, he had a dozen things to tell me. We ended the night with “Wow, that is a lot! I can tell you were really tuned in to your body. You know, not many people know how to listen that way- especially at only seven years old. I’m impressed! Hey, why don’t you tell me in the morning if you learned anything else. “
These two conversations have set the stage for countless other moments to talk about mind, body and soul messages. Here is another example where we covered how people in church are quieting their mind and their body so they can connect with God through their soul- which is what communicates to us underneath the body which is underneath the mind.
Now it’s your turn. What have you done as an HSParent to help your child understand you better? Share your story with us in the comments below; How are you #HSParenting?