There are challenging kids, and there are “over-the-top” challenging kids. Research suggests that around 15% of all children are considered highly sensitive. What does this mean for parents of kids who exhibit these characteristics? More importantly, what kinds of behaviors classify as highly sensitive? Knowing that your child may be more sensitive than most need not be overly burdensome, there are many strategies for helping highly sensitive children thrive. Are any of the following comments true about your child? If so, read on to discover positive ways to help your child celebrate their uniqueness and succeed.
Does this sound like your child?
“Dressing is always an ordeal for my daughter. No tags, and sometimes no socks, because the seams drive her crazy.”
“My teen has never been a touchy kid. It used to be tough to get him to slow down for a hug, but now he even pulls away and acts like I’ve violated his space.”
“My child is such a picky eater. I feel like I’m always special order cooking from the ‘brown and white’ food group.”
“My son just can’t sit still – he’s always squirming and wiggling. It’s almost impossible to get him to slow down, look me in the eye and really listen.”
“My daughter’s mood swings are extreme and sometimes very sudden. The littlest things can set her off. Talk about intense! Her meltdowns wear me out.”
“My child is easily over-stimulated. Large groups of kids, crowded places or busy stores are usually a prescription for trouble.”
These comments are from parents who have one thing in common: highly sensitive children! These kids are easily overwhelmed by intense or aversive sensations from their body or their surroundings. They are almost always kids with highly sensitive nervous systems, and their challenging behavior is about much more than defiance or disobedience.
I believe that if Jesus came to us today, he would in some way say to all of us, “Black lives matter!* Be humble, listen, and love with my love.”
My heart is troubled.
As I look at the various viewpoints about the racial tension and highly publicized killings, my biggest takeaway is deep sadness. Wives have lost their husbands. Children have lost their fathers. Mothers have lost their children. We all have lost brothers and sisters.
Many parents today are wondering “what am I called to do in response?”
Our encouragement today – talk with your kids about how Jesus responded to marginalized groups of people during his life. HE is our model!
At a time in history when children were dismissed and largely considered irrelevant, Jesus said, “Let the children come to me! For they are like the kingdom.” It turns out that children matter! Do they matter more than anyone else? No, but this was a great opportunity to elevate the unique way in which children matter. Jesus similarly highlighted Gentiles, women, orphans, lepers, and the poor. He also did this with Samaritans, the closest equivalent in the Jewish world to the racial tension of today. In essence, by telling the story of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10), and by ministering to the Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4), Jesus proclaimed, “Samaritan lives matter!” Jesus consistently sent the message, “The people you think of as less important are equally important!”
Kids fight. Sibling conflict is a reality in just about every family. It is hard to know how to parent with wisdom and confidence in the middle of a battle over who has the most space in the backseat or who got the bigger piece of cake. These kinds of fights seem to happen every day and wear parents out the most because they seem to ramp up so quickly. Suddenly, the fight is no longer about the seat space or the cake but about bigger issues–like selfishness or your child’s character. Things can get out of hand pretty quickly and it is hard to know how to respond to conflict in a way that promotes growth and peace instead of hurt and anger. Many parents feel stuck in defeating patterns when their kids are fighting. Perhaps it is time to think about new ways to help with sibling conflict.
Connected Families developed this 4-level framework to help parents rethink about sibling conflict from a place of wisdom and confidence.
Take a look at this 5-minute video which teaches about a helpful approach to look at the ways that conflict can be an opportunity to build wisdom.
Some highlights from the video:
Attempts at solving sibling conflict by implementing a formula of “Apologize, go to your room, and don’t come out until you are ready to be nice,” often are counterproductive.
We learned to change our perspective about misbehavior and began to think of things like conflict as an opportunity to build long-term skills and wisdom in our kids.
We began to realize that our homes and our families needed to have connectionin order to thrive.
You. Your son. An encounter with a gorilla at the zoo. These things have made you an unsuspecting internet sensation. We don’t know you. But, we do know that parenting is hard enough without the world scrutinizing your every move.
We are guessing, of course, but we’re pretty sure you love your kids with ferocious love. You want what’s best for them, and you are their protector.
You had a lapse, like most parents do, but had you any notion that in that fleeting moment your son could defy the apparent safety of the zoo’s barrier, you’d have kept his hand in yours and assured his safety.
How could you know or ever realize that between your kids and the gorilla was a flawed barrier, or that your child could breach it? He must be an extremely observant and determined young man – the kind of youngster that can take the world by storm!
We once had a child like him. Our son is grown now, but twice he scared the liver out of us. Dubbed “Little Tornado” by his grandpa, he was constantly on the move. Exploring. Discovering. And sometimes disappearing. We covered the ledge near our kitchen table with chicken wire to protect him from crawling onto the table, over the ledge and down a staircase. After each meal we strapped the kitchen chairs to the table so that as a two-year-old he couldn’t pull the chairs over to the counter tops and climb the cabinets. And, as some have suggested in response to the Cincinnati zoo incident, we even used a leash sometimes so he wouldn’t vanish when we were out in public.
When kids feel safe with us and truly understood, they usually will open their hearts. This allows us to walk alongside them in the vulnerable journey of learning about emotions and empathy for others.
As we embark on this journey with them, the more creative and non-judgmental we are, the more they can learn.
Today we’ll look at how to approach teaching kids empathy from the last two principles in our Framework: Coach and Correct.
Developing empathy for others is one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids. It’s a “must have” if we want to equip them for healthy intimate relationships in life.
Every child is capable of learning empathy, but it can be quite difficult to learn (especially if your child is experiencing a lot of anxiety and stress in life).
In fact, often we expect our kids to just “know” how to be empathetic, even when things are stressful. In the heat of conflict, I may ask, “Do you know how [your sibling] feels right now!?” and expect my child to be able to give an insightful answer.
If our kids really could respond insightfully at that point, they might say something like this: “Regretfully, I don’t know how my sibling feels. My brain is in a fight/flight state, and my amygdala has shut down what little there is of my still quite immature frontal lobe, including the section* where I can process empathy. So my sister might as well be speaking Wookie.”
Clearly, the starting point for teaching kids empathy is not in the heat of the moment.
We learned this pretty quickly with our kids. Our oldest son, Daniel, was dealing with the stress of an extremely gifted brain and intense emotions. He didn’t easily “step into another person’s shoes” or perspective, especially when upset. Bethany generally understood others’ feelings but had difficulty verbalizing her own during conflict resolution. Our youngest, Noah, was a happy-go-lucky guy who simply didn’t think about feelings a lot. We had our work cut out for us.
We learned some practical ways to help all our kids develop the rich emotional insight that has equipped them for wonderful relationships in life – with each other and others. The framework that guided us in our early years was particularly helpful in this challenge of developing empathy.
Let’s take a look at how each level of the Framework informs our approach to developing empathy in our kids.
Consider joining us for one of our upcoming live workshops in the Twin Cities metro area, the upper Midwest (Mora), central California (Modesto), Iowa (Rock Valley), and Washington (Spokane and Gig Harbor).
Saturday, Apr 14 – 9:30 AM to 11:30 AM – New Brighton, MN Peaceful Mothering
St. John’s Catholic Church
No registration necessary – Open to all!
Most parents have endured one of those days when everything goes wrong.
At the end of such a day, it can be easy to fall into that familiar litany: “Life is so hard, these kids are doomed, I’m a failure as a parent.” The thing is, this pattern — though common — is actually the start of an unhelpful spiral. These types of statements are examples of a tendency known as “extreme thinking,” which forms black and white judgments about the moment (one part of the picture) – and uses those judgments to define the whole picture.