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.
Over the years, Lynne and I have worked with many families who struggle with the same issues. Time and again, we see how a change in perspective can transform a parent-child relationship from one of tension to one filled with grace. When it comes to school, grades and performance, there is often a minefield of conflict over expectations. Parents often believe that they need to create change in their child to see improvement in work ethic and performance when it comes to grades. The truth is, change best starts with the parent.
Read on to learn how one mother and daughter set aside conflict and embraced grace for homework success without nagging:
Misty anxiously told me about her seventh grade daughter, Greta.
“Her grades are tanking! She’s sassy and defiant most of the time! I know she is capable of so much more, but she won’t dig in and live up to her potential. I check her grades every day. I’ve withheld privileges, created charts, offered rewards, and constantly reminded her. But it keeps getting worse. Our fights get louder by the day!”
When you’re constantly fighting with kids who don’t live up to their potential, we suggest a new approach, a new fight: the fight of faith to walk in the “fruit of the spirit.”
For years I have struggled with the mess that our lively, spontaneous, creative, frequently disorganized children made at high speed. I used to call it “Trash and Dash.”
Since their father has somewhat more “relaxed” standards of housekeeping than I do, household messes were a constant battle in which I felt hurt, alone, and resentful.
Sometimes, especially when we’re stressed and our tank is on empty, it’s easy to approach kids with our needs instead of a full heart.
We demand the good behavior that “fills our tank” instead of filling them with our love. (I certainly remember doing that!) It can look like paper-thin tolerance or hair-trigger frustration as our expectations aren’t met… like this…
During the very difficult years of early parenting, I would go through long times of despair, as well as periods of dislike for one or more of my children.
I felt horribly guilty as well as angry with my family and myself. I was frustrated because I couldn’t find methods and answers to fix my extremely lively, strong-willed, struggling kids.
I remember one of those dreadful nights: Jim was working. The youngest child was sick, and the other two were overwhelmed with homework. As they continued to ask for me all at the same time, I grew more and more frustrated, resentful, and harsh. Kids fought, whined, criticized dinner, and frequently disobeyed me. I felt like I was ready to pull my hair out — but I was too frazzled to figure out what was really happening.
“I call the window seat!”
“Nu-uhhh, it’s MY turn!”
“OW! Mom, she hit me!”
Sometimes it can seem like the simplest interactions are the ones that explode out of nowhere. Getting out the door to school, getting in the car to go somewhere, getting ready for bed — when it comes to transition time, you can just feel your blood pressure begin to rise.
When it comes to raising your kids, we know how frustrating it can be to put your whole heart into it over the years and continue seeing the same issues, the same misbehavior, the same fights, repeat themselves over and over again.
You read as many parenting books as you can get your hands on. You stay up sometimes for hours researching articles on the internet. You give it everything you have. And yet, the same issues keep popping up. And sometimes all you can do is snap:
“Stop that right now — or you’re grounded!”
“You can’t talk to me that way — go to your room!”
“Give me that toy — you won’t see it again till next week!”
We get it. We all want our kids to behave wisely… but in trying to help them toward that goal, sometimes we instead get caught in a spiral of angry behavior management.
Over the years, we’ve learned a different way to approach misbehavior and parenting — an approach that is full of God’s grace and truth for parents and kids.
Deep inside most parents is a strong urge to control their children. It may seem beneficial or even “work” for a few years, but there are diminishing returns if the goal of control is not given up significantly by the teen years (probably earlier than that).
When we take control of our kids’ lives we often end up making decisions for them that they are capable of making on their own. But maybe even worse, when we take control away from our kids we deprive them of learning that they are capable of making choices and living with the consequences whether positive, negative, or neutral. When we micromanage our kids’ lives they learn that we are responsible for their life, not them.
About the Author: Rebekah Schulz-Jackson is Jim & Lynne’s daughter-in-law. She lives in Minnesota with her husband, Daniel (yes, THAT Daniel).
“Oh, shut up!” Lynne said (fairly playfully) at Jim in the banter after a CF staff meeting.
I blinked a minute, then turned to the person next to me. “Wow, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard Lynne say ‘shut up’ before. In my house, shut up was ‘The S-Word’.” (Yes, even though it’s really two words.)
This sparked a conversation among the staff about our respective families and what words were or weren’t permitted.