5 Things That Helped our HSC Cope With the World

I have been writing about our experiences raising a highly sensitive child (HSC) for three years now. Not as regularly as I would like, but still. My website stats tell me that there are people out there who are reading, every day, more people than I ever imagined would, and so that must be a good thing. I’d like to think that our stories are helping in some way, to some extent, and that’s all I really wanted. And that’s why I’ll keep writing, openly and honestly.

One thing I haven’t been able to do is offer advice like many articles do. I have very mixed feelings about advice, and although a lot of it out there is helpful, a lot more of it is not.

I got to see firsthand, after having two very different kids, that advice doesn’t often work as a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. What may work for one child may not work for another. What may work for most children, may not work for a smaller group of very normal, and lovely children. And the parents of those children should not be made to feel otherwise when the advice they think should work, doesn’t.

That’s actually my biggest problem with advice, as the mother of a child who belongs to the smaller group.

Many people have asked me what we’ve done to help our highly sensitive son. For those of you have been reading our stories, you’ll know that the little boy who once hated people and couldn’t deal with noise, is now one of the most sociable children I know.

To this day I don’t have any one answer to that question. The changes our son has been through are immense, and it wasn’t just one thing that was responsible for this. I do however have a list of things I know helped, and some that I suspect may have helped.

Here they are, the 5 things that helped our HSC cope with the world.

5 Things That Helped Our HSC Cope With The World, highly sensitive, support, understanding, growth

(1) The Move

When our son was 3, we moved to Singapore, a wonderland for families with young children. As opposed to our daily life back home, we started to spend most of our time outdoors. Since he was tiny, our son was always extremely peaceful when we were outside, in places that of course weren’t crowded or noisy. Singapore is also a very social place where neighbors just knock on your door and kids visit all the time. In the beginning that made him very anxious—it made me anxious as well; I’m highly sensitive too—but in the way that conditioning works, things slowly started to change and he now is the one who goes knocking on doors.

(2) Being There

When we moved I left my full time job and became a stay at home mom. I have no idea if my presence helped at all, but if anything, I was there to take him out all the time. I am in no way suggesting that other parents should consider staying home to be there. Sometimes that’s not really an option. And to be very honest, it drove me absolutely crazy in the beginning, which wasn’t good for anyone. But I’d like to think, now that I’ve been through it, that it wasn’t for nothing.

(3) Finding the Right School

Our son’s first school was a nightmare for all of us. The teachers were inflexible and judgmental. They never missed a chance to let us know how difficult he was. When he started at his new school after the move, he was suddenly surround by teachers who were calm, patient, and allowed him to sit in the “quite corner” of the class for as long as he needed to. The teacher would put him in her lap during circle time if wanted to take part but was nervous. She would meet with me frequently to talk about his development at school and at home, and together we would agree on the next steps. She was firm but gentle. She knew when to gently push him to do something she knew he was ready for. She gave him his time and her love and understanding.

And as I type this, I can’t help but cry, because we felt our life change when we had her in it. I strongly believe, with all my heart, that a teacher can make the whole difference. This one did.

(3) Play Dates

Play dates were something we never had before the move. The opportunity to meet with kids after school was great to help our HSC learn to play with others, starting slowly with one child at a time. We avoided group play dates because those were too much. There was a time when I thought they were useless, watching my son play in one corner by himself and his friend entertaining himself in another. But eventually, one baby step at a time, play dates became more social, and very educational.

(4) Story Books

Since he was very little, our HSC has been inspired by stories. He will often go to the bookshelf and find a story to help him with his struggles. Unfortunately, not many stories speak to the HSC—although today I feel like that number is increasing—and that was when I decided to write stories to inspire him. My first draft of All Too Much for Oliver, which I’ve since published, really resonated with him and he wanted me to read it over and over again. Now I can’t say if that helped him, but I’d really like to think it did.

Of course, I’m not saying your should go write a book for your child, but you can refer to this list of HSC-friendly picture books recommended by mothers of HSC from all over the world. You can also sign up for my other blog where I review books that are perfect for kids like ours.

(5) Knowing What’s Up

When we found out our son was highly sensitive—which was when we discovered Elaine Aron and her book, The Highly Sensitive Child—our attitudes and expectations automatically changed. Everyone at home seemed to calm down and relax about things. Instead of worrying about why he wasn’t doing something yet, we understood that he was taking the time to observe and understand, and that he would go ahead when he was ready.

I really think that when parents are calmer about things, kids will pick up on that which helps them become more confident. The opposite of course is also true. We weren’t horrible parents before we found out, but we were worried and tired, and we were desperate to have “normal” lives. Once we let go of all that and accepted things as they were, things started to change.

 

I’ll say again that children are so very different, even if they share the sensitivity trait. So what worked for us may not work for other families. Some kids require much more time to adapt and understand themselves, and that’s fine. I will never take credit for the changes our son went through, but I do like to think the support we offered helped make his journey a smoother and happier one.


Now on to you: Is there anything you did that you felt may have helped your HSC grow? There’s a lot we can learn from each other, so I look forward to reading your stories. 

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6 thoughts on “5 Things That Helped our HSC Cope With the World

  1. Laura Hornblower

    Thank you so much for this post. This is answering a lot of questions for us right now. Its such a relief to find someone who writes so openly about HSC and so personally. X

    Reply
  2. Becca in Barcelona

    Lovely post,Leila!
    I’d say that for us the most important change was your number 5 – just knowing that he (and I!) were HSPs illuminated our lives!

    Once we understood, and like you got over trying to make him not turn out like the (previously seen as) bad parts of me, things got so much easier. I stopped trying to encourage him to stay at the park after school and make friends like all the other kids did, or orchestrate playdates to help him connect with other kids(again, like all the other kids did!) . Mostly because I was reliving the social anxiety of feeling I should stay behind and mingle and connect when i really am not comfortable doing that, and trying to push us through it.
    So a blanket policy of going straight home after school, giving him enough time to decompress, explode, for us to play quietly or noisily but in our safe space, without all the stimulation of a million kids running around or parents chatting in groups, gave us a huge breather. There were no more daily dilemmas of staying or going, more down time, time together, calm evening routines. And importantly for us, the space and time for him to process the intensity of school, as even though ours is much like yours now Leila, there are a lot of kids and a lot of free movement between classrooms – stressors! For the same reason, saying no to birthday parties on Sunday afternoons, and only one “busy” event each weekend, if any. We try to arrive at events early, so we don’t walk in to a mass of people, and are aware of techniques we can use to calm ourselves down.
    2 years down the line and we are all much happier for the change, my son has started to make his friends in his own time and own way, understands why he gets overstimulated, and doesn’t have the pressure of expectations to fit in by being like the rest.

    Reply
  3. Christa Owen

    “Being there” seems to be what helped our HSC the most. Unfortunately, she’s 14 now and it seems to be getting harder. I can’t be there all the time, and she wouldn’t want me to be (at least not visibly to others!). Starting high school has been very difficult.

    Reply
  4. Pris D in San Diego

    It’s nice to hear about your move to Singapore and the understanding of the teachers there. As Dr Aron says in her book, sensitivity must be much more accepted there. My daughter has had the benefit of a small, loving preschool and I’m having a lot of anxiety about finding a kindergarten that won’t be overwhelming to her. All are around 24 students per class and the teachers seem pretty academic. Probably no sitting on laps going on.

    Reply
    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      It’s true that you can find this sort of thing in Singapore, but unfortunately it’s also not as common as we would like. We got lucky with our school as well as our teachers. It can be so stressful when the school doesn’t acknowledge that some kids simply function better in quieter, more loving settings. We can’t force them all to be the same and behave in the way. And although that makes sense to most people, when it comes to practice, things are very different. In the last few years I have seen things change, and very quickly. I can only hope that when we look back 20 years from now, this can all feel like ancient history.

      I wish you the best of luck Pris. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for anything at all…

      Reply

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