Why we travel with a sensitive child, by guest blogger Bronwyn Joy

No one ever said traveling with young children was easy. And anyone with a Highly Sensitive Child can tell you that doing anything that requires leaving the house, be it flying to Italy or going to the supermarket for eggs, can be a challenge. We try to do everything in our power to make our trips, short and long, as easy and comfortable as can be. My bottomless “Mary Poppins” diaper bag (which only contains two diapers) will be filled with anything we might need: sweet snacks have to come in the chocolate, strawberry and vanilla variety and salty snacks in cheddar and original to satisfy any craving that might come our way; an extra change of clothes in case ours get dirty or worse, wet; a specific water bottle with water at a specific temperature; some favorite toys; some favorite books; and a fully charged phone in case of a public meltdown nothing in the diaper bag will stop but an episode of Tayo the Little Bus.

Despite the challenges however, we can’t keep our kids indoors and sheltered forever. I have learned with our sensitive child that nothing has helped him grow more than getting a gentle nudge out of his comfort zone. I wrote about this a few weeks ago (Pushing a Highly Sensitive Child) after having read a beautiful post by the talented Bronwyn Joy on her blog, Journeys of the Fabulist.

It gives me great pleasure to share this guest post by Bronwyn with you, and I know her words will touch and inspire many parents as they have touched and inspired me.


I’m going to pretend you’ve come over to my house to ask why I’d travel with a sensitive child. I’ll offer you tea, and position myself awkwardly in front of the jellyfish my kids drew on the wall using some sort of magical marker that is the very opposite of washable (it actually seems to come back brighter and brighter the more we scrub) in the hope that this will cause you to not notice it.

It's like some occult rune which neither solvent nor natural, eco-friendly powders can erase.

It’s like some occult rune which neither solvent nor natural, eco-friendly powders can erase.

You’re going to wonder aloud if it’s worth going away with a travel partner who finds the airport too noisy, security too invasive, planes too cold, food too weird, taxi seats too scratchy, hotel mattresses too lumpy, and water from strange showers too “prickly” – and doesn’t know how to control their reaction to any of this, even just a little bit.

And I’m going to nod, because there was a time when I didn’t even know water could be prickly. And when I thought “prickly” was the worst possible display of self-control.

And then I’m going to change my mind about wanting you to see the jellyfish and I’ll reference it in a couple of jokes about how anything is better than staying home with my two, and in any case, when someone’s constantly turned up to ten, what’s the difference if you take them to eleven?

But eventually, if you seem genuinely interested in having a proper conversation about it, I’ll explain both my reasons for travelling with a sensitive child.

  1. I like to travel.
  2. I believe sensitive children can cope with the world.

“Our favourite technique is to take him on dubious excursions and later point out that he didn’t die.”

Of course we want to accept our kids for who they are. But ultimately we know we can’t let them grow up as if they’re the centre of the whole universe, because truthfully they aren’t. So we give a bit and we teach them how to give a bit, too. We gently refuse to be ruled by their extreme reactions to small things, and we hope, by and by, that they won’t be ruled by them, either.

We start small. We dream big.

Sometimes that means dragging them from their comfort zones and into foreign places to have new experiences. They’ll be sleeping on the train. They’ll be eating next to strangers. They’ll be face to face with real, live jellyfish.

For some reason, people will think they're asking out of interest, not fear.

For some reason, people will think they’re asking out of interest, not fear.

But they’ll survive and that’s a good thing to learn. Gradually, through these experiences, they’ll acquire the tricks they need to manage life on their own. Tricks like “if you don’t like being in front of the camera, volunteer to be the one behind it”, and “always keep up with the latest in jellyfish first aid”.

Our aim is to stretch them, not break them – by managing our itineraries carefully, except when we find ourselves badly misinformed or unfortunately delayed or just forget; and by using games, toys, books and other equipment to steer ourselves through. We never fail – instead, we have “learning opportunities”.

In fact my husband tells me I create more “learning opportunities” than most people he’s met. But my real superpower is wanderlust.

No seriously, wanderlust is my superpower

I couldn’t work that hard or put up with that much or endure that many “learning opportunities” without something pulling me onward, and for me that something is the thrill of the open road, or closed aircraft (I’m not actually too crazy about open aircraft).

These look cool, but I can't guarantee you I'd use one.

These look very cool, but I have limits.
Source: Richard Schneider via Wikimedia Commons

For you, it could be interpretative dance, or extreme restaurant-going, or football. A sensitive child doesn’t have to go far to find a challenge to rise to, but he does need someone to go with him, and gladly. To actually drag him along, in fact, but with an enthusiasm that overcomes all obstacles.

And that’s why you can come to my house and drink my tea and pretend not to notice the indelibly-drawn jellyfish I’m standing awkwardly in front of and ask me why I travel with a sensitive child without fear that I’ll guilt you into doing the same.

I believe sensitive children can cope with the world, but your passion is your best guide when it comes to teaching them how.

P.S. If your passion is also travelling, or if you’ve been forced to do it anyway for some reason, I’ve written about travelling with sensitive children over at Journeys of the Fabulist. I’ve also started collecting on my Travelling with Sensitive Kids Pinterest Board.

P.P.S. I’m taking cleaning tips for those jellyfish drawings.

 

Bronwyn Joy, Journeys of the Fabulist guest blogger Highly Sensitive ChildI write about kids, travel, geography, history, culture, social responsibility, logistics, marine biology, civil engineering, and sometimes, coffee or wine (plus anything related) but most frequently and usefully about how we manage to travel with young children, how we get along as foreigners in Singapore, and the stuff we accidentally teach our kids.
- Bronwyn Joy

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Being Mean Mommy was never part of my plan

Mealtimes in our house are excruciatingly long. We could be at the table for hours at a time, try out several meals before my kids will accept one each, followed by me repeating the words “eat your food” over seven hundred times before they’ve eaten about a third of it while managing to get the other two thirds anywhere but into their mouths. My baby will magically get food in his diaper while fully dressed.

Proof that a dirty baby is a happy baby mean mommy mealtime long painful meal cleaning up

Proof that a dirty baby is a happy baby

It’s a painful process most of the time, and more than just physically. Before every meal I aim to get them to eat healthy foods, finish up in under an hour, and get them cleaned up and ready to go out and do something fun. And when one fails to reach set objectives at least three times a day, every single day, it can become an emotionally draining exercise.

The other day, after about three hours at the table, I dug my baby out from the pile of food he was in, put him on the floor and told him it was time to wash up. Washing up, ironically, is one of his favorite “games”, most probably because it includes water and splashing and making a mess of a different nature. I should also point out that my 15-month-old is one of the cutest little people I have ever seen, so happy and active, and so easily excited. The downside to this however is that he will run and throw himself headfirst into anything without realizing that there may be dire consequences, very much unlike my Highly Sensitive four-year-old who is cautious and studies his every move. So my little bundle of joy and tomato sauce ran towards the bathroom, waving his arms and squealing from excitement. When he got to the bathroom in under three seconds, he flung himself at the sink while clumsily trying to climb up the stool. Well, I caught him in the nick of time before he fell over and hit his head on the sink and then the floor.

And then I snapped.

I don’t know exactly know what it was that pushed me to raise my voice at my baby. Maybe it was the endless lunch we had just had. Maybe it was the fact that the next meal was right around the corner. Maybe it was me trying to establish boundaries to let him know that he needs to calm down and be more careful so I don’t have to worry about him all the time. To be honest, I didn’t think my reaction was over the top, until I realized the squealing had stopped. And that’s when I heard the most heartbreaking sound a mother could ever hear after she’s yelled at her child. It’s wasn’t the sound of angry screaming or stubborn protesting. It was much worse than that. It was the sound of silence. As soon as I’d placed him on the stool and held out his little hands under the tap, I took a look into the mirror and saw the saddest face I’d seen on him. In an instant I’d managed to break my happy little boy’s spirit which led him to whimper silently. He didn’t even try to get my attention. He didn’t even look up at me. He just stared at the water, the corners of his tiny mouth turned down, and didn’t say a word.

My heart shattered into a million pieces at this site and I immediately bent down and squeezed him. I used my absolute squeakiest voice to tell him how much I love him and how sorry I was. I covered his face with kisses hoping I could wipe out the sadness and get him squealing again. And then he did something even worse than the silent whimper. While the sadness was still clear in his eyes, he gave me a polite little smile, as if to make me feel better about myself. For about five seconds I couldn’t breathe. And when I stood back up, I saw her, right there in front of me, looking back at me from the mirror. Mean Mommy.

Mean Mommy was never part of my plan when I thought about what kind of mother I wanted to be to my children. But with time, she somehow crept into our lives with her anger and her yelling and her constant need to say “no” to everything. The word “no” is currently the most recurrent word in my vocabulary at the moment. I must say it over a thousand times a day. It’s just ridiculous really, and what’s more ridiculous is that I didn’t realize how ridiculous it was until my four-year-old said to me one day: “Mom! Can you please say YES?”

In her effort to save time, avoid a mess, stop destruction, or just give herself a break, Mean Mommy will respond with a no so often and so naturally with little consideration to the effect it’s having on her kids. She will snap much too easily, sometimes maybe with good intention, and doesn’t realize it’s creating a bad vibe at home. She will raise her voice at her kids in an effort to establish discipline, without seeing that it can actually be counterproductive. Mean Mommy doesn’t notice how much of her behavior is rubbing off on her children until she hears them say things like “Mom you’re punished!” or “This is your last chance!”

Yes, Mean Mommy moved in a while back when I was weak, and she made herself at home. She got so comfortable here that I became unaware of her presence. Sometimes I would catch a glimpse of her and tell myself I would not allow her to interfere with my business. And yet, no matter how much I fight, she always seems to get between me and my children when things get out of hand.

When I saw Mean Mommy in the mirror that day, I wasn’t surprised. I knew she’d been there for a while. But I was surprised at how much I’d let her get away with. Thing is, she doesn’t always come across as very mean. Like the other night, while I was putting my four-year-old to bed, and listened to about fifteen stories he wanted to tell me, twelve of which were the same story, Mean Mommy interrupted him at some point and told him to go to sleep. I didn’t even occur to me she was there until my son said “Mom, please listen to me!” And then I realized Mean Mommy stopped him from telling me his plan about using the four coupons he’d received for free Superhero stuff to get himself some headphones, me a closet, Daddy a kite, and his baby brother some shoes. I couldn’t believe I almost missed out on hearing that instead of picking out four things for himself, he wanted to get the whole family gifts.

This whole parenting/mothering/working mom/stay at home mom stuff, it’s not easy. Having kids is the ultimate test. You discover things about yourself you never knew existed, both good and bad. You never really know what the end of your wits looks like until you become a parent. The emotional roller coaster you’d experienced in the past becomes this super rocket that flies into space and back in seconds, giving you the incredible opportunity of being drunk with joy and extremely depressed, all in one day. You worry so much about your kids it can leave you out of breath; you question your every decision, your every move, every word you say, every toy you buy, every book you read; you run and wipe and wash and rub and scrub and sing and dance and cook and feed, day in day out, until every muscle and every joint in your body aches. Dealing with your children’s tantrums and energy and sensitivities while making sure you don’t damage them is not an easy task when you have your own issues to deal with. It’s a tough job, a job like no other. It’s no wonder Mean Mommy makes an appearance every now and then.

And this Mean Mommy person, she’s not a terrible person. She really doesn’t mean to do harm. When I saw her looking back at me, I also saw Tired Mommy with dark circles under her eyes. I saw Worried Mommy with premature lines on her forehead. I saw Sad Mommy regretting what she had just done. I saw Human Mommy whose nerves can only take so much.

I am not saying that Mean Mommy won’t be meddling in our affairs anymore. I know she’ll show up again at some point. But I can also honestly say that I have not been able to stop thinking about that incident with my baby, which has brought back all the other incidents that I wish I could take back. And I won’t pretend that I’ve now figured out how to live my life to rule out negative energy for good. What I do know however is that it’s okay if my son decided to sit on the coffee table instead of the chair. It’s okay if they yelled and screamed and ran around the house like maniacs. It’s okay if they got play dough on the carpet and ink on the white leather couch I love so much. It’s okay because they’re having their fun and learning a great deal in the process. There will be stains on clothes and broken toys and bruises on knees; we will have to part with things we love, to kiss booboos away, to accept a house less neat and tidy than we were previously used to. And even though it’s not easy at all, all this also being part of the ultimate test I was talking about, when you see those happy faces, those curious big eyes, those excited arms waving about, it’s just all worth it. So long as there is no real risk of someone getting hurt badly or the house going up in flames.

My baby got over the incident in under a minute and a half. And even though things are good between us, what happened that day will stay with me forever as a defining moment; the moment I make a written promise to myself that I will stop for a moment to either breathe or count to ten before I say “no” or raise my voice. I might get some weird looks from my kids while I breathe deeply and chant with my eyes shut, but I suppose Weird Mommy is more pleasant to have around than Mean Mommy is.

I promise to stop for a moment to either breathe or count to ten before I say no or raise my voice mean mommyEnjoyed this post? Subscribe to receive email notifications of future posts like this. Happy reading!

 

Just last year…

It’s hard to believe that just last year I had no idea what a Highly Sensitive Child was. Sure, I knew my son was sensitive about some things; I assumed he might be shy, an introvert maybe. Sometimes I just thought he was being difficult, defiant, purposefully trying to test me and push me to my limits. I was told time and time again that he was a “difficult” child, and although it drove me crazy, I eventually started to believe it.

Just last year, we thought we were alone. Three and a half years after our son was born, we still felt like we were the only ones having to constantly deal with a screaming child at a restaurant; the only ones who always had to cancel plans because our child woke from his nap in a bad mood; the only ones who couldn’t get our son to go ahead and try the slide because it’s fun. We blamed ourselves for the fact that our son would cry during every single shower because he couldn’t stand the water in his eyes. We were accused of not having done our jobs properly as parents because he would run away screaming if another child tried to play with him.

Just last year we had to turn down yet another birthday party invitation to try and save ourselves from having to explain to other parents why our son won’t stop crying and why he won’t join in the “fun”. Just last year I found myself at a loss for words when faced with family members and friends asking me why our child is “like that”.

And just last year, while desperately looking for answers online, I read a recommendation for a book called The Highly Sensitive Child by a mother who described her daughter as someone who cried at parties and hated the playground. That was the moment everything started to change. I couldn’t believe there was another child out there who felt the same way my son did about things and places that are generally regarded as “fun for kids”! A few seconds later, I bought the book. And a few days later, I could confidently say that my son was a Highly Sensitive Child. A wave of relief washed over me. After relief came joy. And after joy came determination. After I had read and understood the book, I was determined to be more understanding and supportive of my son. I was determined never to let anyone make me feel like it was bad that my son was “like that”. I was determined never to let anyone tell me that we “ruined” our son. I was determined to try everything I could to show relatives, friends, teachers, the world, that some people are born Highly Sensitive and that it’s not a bad thing. I was determined to show them that it was actually an extraordinary thing, even if it didn’t seem so at times.

It was just last year that I had to put up with another pitiful look from a teacher after I tried yet again to explain to her that my son was Highly Sensitive; a look that told me she didn’t believe there was such a thing and that she was just trying to be polite using the non-stop nodding technique; a look that told me I was a crazy mother in denial desperately trying to defend her son; a look that sent me home wondering if I , in fact, just might be a crazy mother in denial desperately trying to defend her son. And today, I am reading about High Sensitivity in the news, almost every day. I am thrilled that today, mothers of Highly Sensitive Children don’t have to feel alone or crazy or desperate. Today, parents who are worried, friends who are curious, and teachers who are in doubt can read about the science behind empathy and high sensitivity here:

Are you highly sensitive? Check your MRI scans

Are You A Highly Sensitive Person? You May Have The Empathy Gene

Cry at films? Blame your genes: Scientists say 20% of people are affected by ‘sensory processing sensitivity’ that makes them more emotional

Do sad songs make you cry? You could be a ‘Highly Sensitive Person,’ study says

“Highly Sensitive Person” Is An Actual Scientific Diagnosis, So Now You Have An Excuse

Sensitive? Empathetic? Could Be in Your Genes

‘Highly tuned’ people react strongly to happy faces

Are You A Cry Baby? You May Be Part Of the 20% Of The Population Affected by Sensory Processing Sensitivity

Empathy may lie in your genes

Why Some People Are Genetically More Sensitive or Empathetic than Others

Do Sad Songs Make You Cry? Study Identifies Sensitivity In The Brain

‘Sensitive people’ show heightened activity in empathy-related brain regions

Empathy May Be Genetic

HSPs’ Brain Activation, Compared to Non-HSPs, Indicates More Empathy and Awareness

No, actually, I’m not too sensitive!

That’s right folks; we are genetically programmed to feel things more deeply. Incredible, isn’t it? It’s not just in our heads; we don’t exaggerate everything; we’re not being dramatic. Nature built us to feel more than the average person, or in other words, the remaining 80% of the population. I find that to be truly amazing. The downside to this is the weight of it all, especially on our little ones. It’s hard work to feel so much and to be aware of so much. It can be painful to be so deeply empathetic. It can be overwhelming to process every tiny bit of information we receive through our senses. Imagine having to deal with all that at the age of 4, or 2, or even as a tiny baby. It’s no wonder our Highly Sensitive Children react the way they do to the world. Not only is everything new to them, but it’s bigger, brighter, stronger and louder than it is for most people.

The publication of this paper is a big deal for Highly Sensitive People and parents of Highly Sensitive Children. I do realize we are a long way from there, but this is a big step forward. Family, friends, teachers, caregivers and doctors will know, soon enough, that High Sensitivity is indeed “a thing”.

Before the news came out, I had already reached a point where I could confidently say that I understood my son so well that nothing anyone said or assumed or “diagnosed” could change that. But it took me four and half years to get here. Years filled with so much doubt and pain and tears and blame. Now, not only can new parents get online and find a scientific explanation for why their baby cries endlessly for no apparent reason, or doesn’t sleep unless he’s held, or screams when people come over, or wakes up if you breathe a little louder than you should. Not only can they read the numerous books that are being published on the topic of high sensitivity. Now they can also join some amazing communities online; communities that are private, safe, and so incredibly supportive. On more than one occasion, being part of these groups has helped me keep it together when I felt utterly broken and alone. I have found answers to questions I could never get from Google. I have heard parenting stories from all over the world that have helped me be a better mother to my Highly Sensitive Child.

And to think, just last year, I had never even met another parent of a Highly Sensitive Child.

Rejoice parents of Highly Sensitive Children. This is the beginning of a new and exciting era for all of us!


 

Here are some links to the wonderful communities I am lucky to be a part of:

 Highly Sensitive People are genetically programmed to feel more deeply

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Pushing a Highly Sensitive Child

The last two weeks have been quite eventful, to say the least, jam-packed with incredible and surprising achievements by both our kids: milestones reached, habits changed, risks taken, fears overcome. What’s funny is that it seems that the last two weeks have been eventful for many mothers of Highly Sensitive Children. I have read a great number of stories from moms whose kids have done amazing things; things that point in the direction of positive change; things that have left these moms relieved, happy, and proud.

I don’t know what it is that resulted in so many people witnessing such great stuff in the short span of two weeks. Was it the stars? Was it the moon? Was it something we all read that resulted in some drastic change in the way we do things that led to this? I honestly can’t say. But I can point out one event that took place two weeks ago that, I believe, started this snowball rolling.<!–more–>

Two weeks ago, the school year was coming to an end. My son’s class had been preparing for the big performance that would take place in the school court in front of all the other Kindergarten classes, the teachers, and the parents. That’s a big deal for anyone, let alone a bunch of three and four year olds. But the class had worked very hard, and I could tell from my son’s non-stop “performing” at home that there was a lot of excitement around the big event. Luca, as well as the other children, had memorized the words to the song they were going to sing, the date of the big day, what they were to wear on that day, and that they had to be there extra early that day. Whenever we talked about the big day at home, our little boy always expressed his anticipation to us, made sure we would be there to watch, and then sang his song. Which is why it never occurred to me that he might be suffering from a bad case of nerves. That fateful Monday morning was rehearsal day, the day the kids were supposed act out the entire show the way they would the next day. As we walked to class, Luca was he usual self until we reached the top of the staircase from where he could see his class. That’s when he froze, put his hand on his belly and said: “Mom, I’m not feeling very well. I have a tummy-ache and I need to go home.”

On occasions such as this one, when complaints of aches and pains come up, I can usually tell if the booboo is a real booboo, or is of the type that moves around, is caused by some kind of worry, and is created to achieve a specific goal. However, I am never entirely comfortable with my choice if I’ve decided the complaint is of the latter nature. I always find myself worried that I may have unfairly assumed there is nothing physically wrong with my son. And that’s why I found what happened next especially difficult for me to deal with.

When the teacher saw Luca crying, she tried to calm him down by assuring him this was just a practice run, that it would be fun, and that he could just sit there and watch if he didn’t want to sing on stage. Nothing she said or did worked, after we had already tried everything and failed. At some point, I felt like we were wasting time. I thought this would be hopeless and I knew that I would end up taking him home anyway, so there was no use in even trying. I wasn’t even upset about it, although I did worry that he might regret his decision when we got home since he was so excited about the whole thing. As the teacher persisted, I decided to get up and take my son home before things got any worse. And that’s when it happened. Before I had the chance to do or say anything, the teacher took Luca by the hand, told him she’d take him to see the school nurse, and off they went. Luca left his dad and me behind and didn’t even look back.

A few minutes later, the teacher returned by herself. Naturally (or maybe not so much), I jumped to my feet worried and asked what had happened. That’s when she told us we should just leave because he was fine. She assured us that she’d call us if he got really upset, but that she was sure he’d be okay. It’s a good thing my husband was there with me to give me the push I needed, because otherwise I don’t think I would have agreed to just leaving him there. My problem with this strategy was that it felt sneaky and unfair. I was to leave my son without prior warning when he was really down and really nervous and in need of his mommy. I hated myself for walking away, but a part of me knew it had to be done. After all, if things did get bad, I’d be back in a matter of minutes.

After what seemed like an eternity (about 15 minutes after I got home), the teacher sent me a message telling me Luca was fine and that he was actually enjoying himself. And what a relief it was to hear that! All he needed was that little push and he was doing just fine, out of his comfort zone, doing something he’d never done before, and having fun doing it.

When I went to pick him up later, I squeezed him so hard I might have hurt him a little. Then I asked him about his day, and his tummy, and he told me that the nurse had rubbed on some ‘magic cream’ which made him feel better. Then his face lit up as he told me about his rehearsal, and then about all the cars the other boys had brought in for show and tell. All was normal. No scars, no trauma, no resentment, no nothing.

My first thought after what I’d heard was that I needed to find out where I could buy some of that magic cream which obviously works miracles on tummy aches, and quite possibly other booboos. My second thought was that I was wrong. I was wrong for having assumed he wouldn’t be fine. I was wrong for having been so ready to take him home and have him miss out on an opportunity like this. I was wrong for worrying about hurting him by leaving him. I was wrong for not seeing that taking him home would have done much more damage than leaving him to cope in a very safe and controlled environment with people we can both trust.

Then I remembered a wonderful post I had read exactly one week before rehearsal on a blog called Journeys of the Fabulist, in which the blogger said: “We want to stretch them [our kids], but not so much they snap.” Yes. I think the importance of this concept is something we are all aware of as parents, and although it sounds great and makes sense on paper, it takes a fair amount of courage to bring ourselves to do it when we’re faced with sad little faces and tears. And I hate to think about what might happen if we failed to do this when it really mattered. Our kids might never learn to swim, to make friends, to enjoy different foods, to take risks, to go to parties, to speak in front of a crowd, to ride a bike, to drive a car. Some of these things come naturally to some children, but not all of them, and specifically not the cautious Highly Sensitive Child (HSC). I can safely say that most parents, including myself, will encourage their children to step out of their comfort zone. And yes, it’s very important to know when to back off; but now I see how important it is to recognize an opportunity to give a little push.

Now, I’m not sure what to call what happened next, but it was like a door was opened, and my son just decided to step right out of his comfort zone. It was like he had undergone some drastic transformation that led him to do many things differently. Every single day of the last two weeks, something, or even a few things have happened that made our jaws drop. He has gone from being extremely picky and conservative about his food to surprisingly adventurous, going from vanilla ice cream to a godawful flavor called Blue Sky. He graciously took his medicines, including a nasal spray, without a fight when his stubbornness almost always led to him throwing everything back up. He has gone from someone who despised (and was terrified of) sprinklers, getting his haircut and fire drills to someone who has nagged us endlessly to take him to the water park, to get a haircut and to a fire station open house. He has transformed from a child who used to completely avoid even being near those coin operated rides at the mall to a carousel bully (I had to put a stop to that power trip when he pulled down a boy almost twice his size off “his” Batmobile). He is more confident in the things he does. He is less worried and more carefree. He is smiling more than he used to; he is laughing more than he used to. He has broken out of his shell, and he seems really happy about it too!

I am so tempted to share with the whole world a detailed rundown of everything that happened since “the push”, but I won’t because it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it happened. Pushing a child, highly sensitive or not, is a hard thing to do, but there are times when we can spot our children’s readiness to step out. And when we as parents are too weak to recognize it (like I was that day) or too soft to do anything about it, then it’s good to have other caregivers we trust to give us the push we need to stretch our kids.

The day after rehearsal day was performance day. The day did not go as I thought it would. It went so much better. After I walked him to his class and gave him a kiss, he didn’t cling on to my leg. He accepted the fact that he would walk with the rest of his class to the court where the stage was, and where I would be waiting with his dad. When he did walk out, he spotted us sitting in the audience and smiled at us. There was no crying or running. He sat through the whole show when the other classes were performing, cheering them on and applauding like a little grown up. And when it was his turn, he got up there, gave us a smile and broke out his awesome dance moves.

With every bone in my body I fought the urge to run down to him, hold him tight, and let him know I was there for him. I must have stared at him for a good hour and a half, something I’ll have to stop doing before he’s old enough to be embarrassed. And then he looked at me, calm and collected, pulled his cool shades down and gave me a big smile. And while he gave me that wonderful, heart-warming look, I could almost hear him say: “It’s okay Mom. I’m right here.”

pushing a highly sensitive child comfort zone

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Lessons From a Highly Sensitive Mother: Empty Your Bucket, by guest blogger Amanda van Mulligen

It is my pleasure to introduce to you a fellow blogger and very active member of the HSC community. Amanda van Mulligen is a freelance writer. British born, she was whisked off to the Netherlands on a promise of a windmill wedding and now raises three sons with her Dutch husband. She writes about expat life, about living life in a second language and an alien culture, about all things parenting and on the topic of highly sensitive children over on her blog Expat Life with a Double Buggy. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter (@AmandavMulligen).

When I first read Amanda’s post, I felt like I could have written it myself. Nothing can prepare a new mother for what comes after her baby is born. The drastic lifestyle changes; the non stop feeding/cleaning/changing cycle; the pain; the blues; the crying (by both baby and mom); the questions; the doubt; the sleep deprivation. Ah, the sleep deprivation. And yet, it’s a whole other ball game when the mother is a Highly Sensitive Person with an extremely demanding child. I only wish I had found communities put together by people like Amanda to get the support I so desperately needed.

Enjoy this beautiful post!<!–more–>


When my first son was born he cried a lot. Every evening around six o’clock for four or five hours, unless he was being held in exactly the right position. You could set your watch by it. And he wasn’t exactly a quiet baby during the day either.

There were days when he wouldn’t lie in his bed; he wouldn’t take a nap lying down at all. He would only sleep upright on my shoulder. Sometimes even holding him wasn’t a foolproof solution.

People around me called it colic. The Dutch around me said it was stomach cramps. And when his brother was born we had the same ritual, except the continual crying already started in the afternoon.

I now know my eldest is a highly sensitive child. And, in learning that, I discovered that I too am highly sensitive. That means I need down time. I need alone time. Without it I get cranky. Without a break from people, noise and the daily comings and goings of our busy household I get stressed and tearful.

But I didn’t know that then, whilst my sons cried for hours at a time in my arms. I thought I was a terrible mother, one that got incredibly frustrated when her three-month-old baby failed to comply with the unwritten rule of nap times in his own bed.

I felt on more than one occasion that I wasn’t cut out for motherhood because internally I raged when my son wouldn’t lie in his bed for his needed sleep, not even for ten minutes during the day. Sometimes I even externally raged.

When I couldn’t put him down at all during daylight hours, when my only respite from a baby in my arms was my husband coming home in the evening I felt guilty. Guilty for not being able to cope. Guilty for feeling so upset. I was frazzled and wiped out and it made me feel like I was an unfit mother. And that made me feel even more helpless.

But over the years, watching my eldest son grow up with all his sensitivities, I have learnt to understand myself too.

I’ve learnt I wasn’t a bad mother seven years ago; I was a new mother who barely knew herself.

I know now that the reason my sons’ nap times were so important to me was that it was a physical necessity for me to sit alone, even if it was just for ten minutes, during the day.

When my son was five we started explaining his day in terms of filling a bucket. Every experience, every sound, interaction, smell or touch he has during the day goes into the imaginary bucket he carries around with him. It all goes in unfiltered. His bucket fills quickly, some days quicker than others, but as the bucket gets heavier and close to spilling over we see it reflected in his behaviour. He’s quick to anger, quick to shed a tear, he’s tired, feels stressed, has feelings he cannot explain or understand and generally feels drained and overloaded.

When we know his bucket is filling fast, or we are too late and it is already full, he takes some quiet time out and plays with Lego in his room or in a little camp he makes on the sofa with cushions and blankets, or he listens to classical music or a children’s relaxation CD and he empties his bucket out. When there is room in his bucket for more he joins the world around him again.

That’s when the penny dropped. That peace and quiet at lunchtime, that sacred time when my children napped, that was my moment for emptying my bucket out. Without that time when my babies were sleeping my bucket got dragged around with me for the rest of the afternoon, slopping over with emotions, happenings and the noise of a baby’s relentless cries and my accompanying feelings of helplessness.

In a moment of clarity my guilt, self-doubt and fears about being a fit mother evaporated.

I need quiet time at some point in the day. That’s a fact. Like I need to eat and drink. Like I need interaction with other people. Like I need to breathe. Without it I stop functioning at full capacity.

And now that I know it I build it in to my day, despite being a mother to a seven, four and two year old. My home is a long way from being a quiet sanctuary with three growing boys in it, but one period of quiet time a day is an absolute rule in our home these days. Whilst my youngest sleeps at lunchtime my eldest is at school and my four year old quietly builds or plays, draws, uses his LeapPad or watches TV at a low volume.

During this time I make sure I sit alone. I enjoy the silence. I write. I read. I work. Whatever I do, it is something quiet where I can be alone with my thoughts. I empty my bucket out.

And without this space the rest of the day is a write off.

I just wish I had known all this seven years ago, and avoided the feelings of confusion and guilt. Newborns are hard enough for any new mother, but for a highly sensitive mother the trials of early motherhood somehow hit harder. So be kind to yourself. Give yourself breathing space. Look after your own needs too. Make time to empty your bucket. And most of all let go of the guilt.

Lessons from a Highly Sensitive Mother Sensitive and extraordinary guest blogger

- Amanda van Mulligen


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This thing we call empathy

Empathy is the most essential quality of civilization

The other day we adopted a panda bear. I wasn’t planning on doing it, but my son drove me to it.

The panda now lives with us. He sleeps in my son’s room, and even though my son isn’t really interested in playing with him, his mind is at ease knowing that we saved him from his potentially dark destiny. Who knows what the future can hold for the hundreds of thousands of poor plush panda bears, lying in huge piles inside those cold wire cages all over IKEA.

It’s heartbreaking really. Well for us highly sensitive folk anyway.<!–more–>

When I was little, I was deeply empathetic. It made me sad when others were sad. I couldn’t bear to see anyone in pain. Cruelty towards people, animals, nature and things was a completely unfathomable concept to me. Even now in my mid thirties, I can neither understand nor accept what drives a human being to hurt or kill another; what it is that leads some people to feel power, or worse, amusement in harming defenseless animals; and how it is possible for people to cut down a majestic tree in a matter of minutes, without the tiniest shred of remorse. As a young Highly Sensitive Child however, having luckily grown up with little or no exposure to the cruel realities of the world, my empathy was not limited to people. I felt things so deeply, that I could see life in my dolls, my toys, my clothes, our furniture, our cars, our house. Anything that was a part of my life and helped to make me happier or more comfortable was so precious that I made every effort to protect it and treat with love, respect and care. Because if I didn’t, those things would be sad. And then I would be sad.

Having been like this as a child, I totally understood the importance of that panda bear. And what made him important was that my 14-month-old had chosen him the big pile and taken him around the store with us. He held him by one paw and swung him back and forth. He hugged him, cuddled him, and gave him an open-mouth-toddler-kiss on the snout. He showed his big brother the new friend he’d made. And then at some point along our journey, as toddlers will do, he let go of him and never looked back. When my four-year-old noticed his brother’s new friend had gone missing, he panicked. He pleaded with me to go back and find the bear. And even though I explained to him that his brother didn’t want to play with him anymore, he insisted we go back and find his lost friend. After retracing our path, I eventually found the panda and brought him back. I showed the toy to my toddler who shook his head to let me know he’d had enough. So I turned to my 4-year-old who held his arms out and hugged the bear as soon as I’d given it to him. You could see it in his face; the relief that the bear was safe.

A few minutes later however, as we continued on the endless arrowed path of the furniture wonderland, I heard my son mumbling very sadly. I walked up to him, put my hands on his shoulders and asked him what was wrong. That’s when the tears started rolling down his beautiful rosy cheeks as he asked me if we could take the panda bear home with us. Knowing that it’s not a great idea to give in to your child’s every request, I did quickly mention that he already had many toys and that we didn’t need any more. But as soon as he repeated his plea, I dropped it. I didn’t even want to say anything to begin with because I knew this had to be done. This wasn’t a car he “needed” to add to his collection or a super cool helicopter with two propellers that he absolutely had to have. This was my son trying to rescue something that, to him, was alive and had feelings and needed help. He was trying to make a difference.

Over the past week, I have heard back from over 40 mothers who have witnessed the same phenomenon in their children, some maybe to a lesser extent than others, and they all mentioned how “crazy it may sound” or “how difficult it was to explain it to other people”. And they all said that they had gone through something at least somewhat similar when they were kids, which is why they “get where it’s coming from”, even though many couldn’t really explain it. Having read through all these mothers’ stories, I found that we were all in the same boat when it came to this mysterious characteristic. Like all these mothers, I could neither explain it nor point it out earlier on, even though I had seen “it” in my son since he was very little.

And what do you call this exactly, when you try to put your finger on it? The definition of empathy is being able to put yourself in other people’s shoes, to feel what they feel. So how can you feel empathy towards a toy? Or a tree? But if a child is able to anthropomorphize a tree, a toy, an old t-shirt, a cookie; when a child is able to see feelings where they don’t necessarily exist; when children create such strong links with everything that crosses their path and touches their lives in some way, well then it becomes perfectly clear to me how they can feel empathy so easily towards anything. It becomes sad when we give away old clothes, throw out broken toys, or sell old furniture. It’s upsetting when we drop a cookie on the floor, and not because we don’t have any more cookies, but because we’re leaving one behind. It becomes heartbreaking to a child to watch a balloon float away into space, never to be found again.

As an adult, I can confirm that these strong empathetic feelings cease to be brought up by objects. Yes, sometimes it makes us sad when we lose or break or sell something, but it’s sadness we feel, not empathy. Having to sell an old car makes us sad because it was part of our lives for so long, because of the memories that come with it, because of the stories it gave us, and not because we are hurting its feelings (unless you make the mistake of naming your car like I did my poor old Betsie). Instead, our empathy is incredibly strong for people, and all those other things we used to feel change into deep love and respect for things, animals and nature. These are the feelings that make me sad when I see others littering when no one is looking, or taking endless showers, or vandalizing public property, or tearing down a park to make a parking lot. This is what leaves me oblivious as to how too many people don’t really seem to care about what is happening to our world, our environment, our planet; to culture, to society, to civilizations; to our future, and to our children’s future.

I sit here now and ask myself why I was confused by my son’s behavior, why I was at a loss for words when people asked me why was acting the way he was, or why I was sometimes embarrassed by the scenes he’d make. Granted, it’s not always fun to have your child scream and cry inconsolably during the romantic lighting of Chinese lanterns at your sister’s wedding. But when you’re not in the middle of a crisis, it’s nice to try and see this “thing” our kids go through as a package of things that mature into something exquisite. Something perhaps the world needs more of.

In trying to come up with a name for all this, it all started coming back to me, all the wonderful things that come with such intense feelings. And now I see it. His ability to express sadness at the age of not-even-three by explicitly stating he was feeling sad; his constant worrying about me being happy, studying my face every now and then and saying “Mommy, smile?” before he even learned to make the simplest of sentences; the I love you’s that started coming at such a young age, completely genuine and spontaneous, without our having to ask for them; his trying to stop the cutting of 3 tall trees in front of our house, completely rejecting the “termites” excuse that the landlords gave us, at the mere age of 4.

I still don’t know what to call this whole thing. I won’t pretend that I’ve figured it all out, because I haven’t. But I do know that even though it may not seem like it sometimes, this thing we call empathy is strong in our little HSCs, and it no matter how it expresses itself early on, it’s important that we recognize it, understand it, and nurture it. It is this thing that makes us better sons and daughters, better mothers and fathers, better neighbors, better citizens, better people.

And as for our little panda bear, well, my son totally lost interest as soon as we got home. And a few days later when I asked him why he wanted the panda so bad, he said to me that it was his baby brother who wanted the panda. And it doesn’t really matter anyway; my son successfully rescued a panda in need, my toddler has a new friend, and the panda seems to be quite happy in his new home.

Empathy is the most essential quality of civilization, empathy, highly sensitive children

Alex enjoying the company of his new furry friend

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Let it Go!

The lovely Brenda Dronkers from Highly Sensitive Souls invited me to write a guest post for her lovely blog. Brenda is one of the few very active people in the Highly Sensitive Child (HSC) community. She does amazing work in spreading the word of the magic and wonder that we have all seen in our little HSCs. I encourage you to visit her Facebook page and join the incredibly supportive community. She also runs a closed group where discussions are kept private.

I also hope you enjoy my post Let it Go. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!<!–more–>

let it go parenting enjoying the moment with your kids

“(…) Anyone who is a parent knows the importance of limitations, routine and discipline when it comes to raising children. And although it may not always be pleasant, we need to let our children know we are serious. We can’t always be just pals. We can’t always stay up as late as we’d like; we can’t always have Oreos for lunch; we can’t stop brushing our teeth because it’s yucky or stop taking showers because we don’t feel like it. We can’t always let it go. But when we do get the chance once in a while, it’s nice to embrace the moment and enjoy it for what it is.”

- Let it Go! by Leila Boukarim, originally posted on Highly Sensitive Souls

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Thank Goodness for Different – A children’s eBook about feeling, well, different.

Meet Lilly.

Lilly feels different, and that doesn’t make her very happy. Lilly’s mother explains to her that we are all different, and shows her how the things that make us different can make our world a better, more beautiful place for everyone. She beautifully illustrates to Lilly what the world might be like if everyone and everything was the same. Lilly starts to see that the world needs “different”, and starts to think about all the things that she is that make her unique.<!–more–>

Thank Goodness for Different is a children’s ebook that focuses on “feeling different”. This is and has always been a topic we can all relate to, young or old, and can be a real source of anxiety for many of our little ones. All the illustrations in this book were drawn and crafted by hand, using beautiful paper, paint, and a whole lot of love.

You can find my book at Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/433010), available in PDF, mobi (for Kindle), and EPUB for iBooks. I would love to hear what you think, so please do leave me a review on Smashwords.

I sincerely hope you enjoy this book with your little ones.

Thank Goodness for Different, an ebook about feeling different, self-esteem, confidence

Thank Goodness for Different

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We know our children best

This will be a difficult post for me to write.

Sometimes in life we will hear negative things being said about us or even worse, about our children, and after we let the news sink in, we deal with it in our own way. We will decipher and process and analyze what we’ve heard until we forget what it really was or where it came from. It makes us crazy with fear and worry, wondering if there is any truth to it, or what may have triggered it in the first place. And after we’ve driven ourselves completely mad, we finally manage to convince ourselves that there was nothing to worry about in the first place, and that we know best, and that if there was in fact something fundamentally wrong, we would know. And then everything goes back to normal and we feel fine, until the next time we hear it again.

Yes, sometimes certain things do need to be pointed out to us. Sometimes there may be something about our child that needs to be dealt with early on. Sometimes, something may come up that we cannot control or deal with on our own. But no one can convince me that if in fact there was something to be dealt with, something “unusual” so to speak, that this would be news to the child’s parents. Even if it is unclear to the parents what this “thing” is exactly, I refuse to believe that they are unaware of its existence. Continue reading

Blog Hop: Why Do I Write?

I started blogging in mid-October last year. I never really planned on it. Never saw myself doing it. But now that I am, I’m loving every minute of it.

Exactly one year ago, I left a wonderful job at a big multinational, packed up our things, and moved to Singapore with my family. The transition from working-mom to stay-at-home-mom was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to go through. I’ve always loved my job, and always worked hard to strike a healthy balance between the office and my family. The challenge always was to do less of the former to focus more on the latter. Now that I’m home, I’m faced with a totally different challenge: trying to remember to give myself some “me time”, time to think, time to unwind, time to recharge. And although it doesn’t always happen, I am happy that I did manage to discover what I want to do with my life right now, given my current circumstances. I now know I want to do those things I used to dream of doing when I was stuck at the office working for someone else. Continue reading