Clash of the Sensitives

When Parent and Child Are Both Highly Sensitive

My six year old is highly sensitive. He is growing and learning about himself and the world around him. He is constantly thinking about everything, over analyzing every situation and occurrence so that even the most trivial of things become challenging. Because his brain is in overdrive, he has trouble falling asleep at night. Tired, confused and emotional, he tends to get overwhelmed with everything, much too often.

I am a highly sensitive mother of two boys. I am an expat living oceans away from my family, trying to run a house, juggle two jobs, and raise my kids right while desperately struggling to take care of myself and enjoy life’s journey. I think too much. I analyze everything to shreds. I have trouble falling asleep. I am tired all the time. And I get overwhelmed with everything, much too often.

Clash of the Sensitives: When Parent and Child are both Highly Sensitive - Sensitive and Extraordinary Kids, Highly Sensitive Children, Relationships, love

A few weeks ago, my son was making his way through yet another phase. During this unpleasant time, there was a lot of arguing, yelling, teasing, and door slamming. There was defiance, anger, and yes, even tantrums. The storm has since passed, but I find myself thinking about it now, wondering if it was triggered by something specific, fearful that perhaps that something might have been me.

I have spent countless hours over the years asking myself if I’m doing the whole parenting thing right, spending enough time not at home with the kids but rather with the kids. Am I listening as much as I should? Am I giving them what they need? Am I yelling too much? Am I a yeller?

And if I don’t like the answers to those questions, how can I change?

Most days I honestly feel like I have nothing left to give. I am drained physically and emotionally, incapable of even speaking to my husband once the kids are in bed. If I conclude that I in fact need to “give more”, how in the world would I do that?

So here comes the big question: How do you give your highly sensitive children everything they need when you’re not getting what you need?

Too often, I come across advice articles online giving stressed out moms the secrets to a happy life in the form of lists of things to do designed to help you cope with the grind of daily life. One common theme that stands out is “self-care”, and that’s about the only thing that makes sense to me while reading through them. The how-to’s on the other hand, while very sensible and lovely, serve only to plant a seed of doubt in my head that I can easily do without.

Drink a cup of tea in a quiet room. Run a warm bath with essential oils. Exercise. Eat healthy, balanced, warm meals.  Get plenty of fresh air. Yeah, right.

Over the years, I have come to learn that life doesn’t always accommodate routines that are ideal, routines that make room for tea and relaxation and sunshine. The days are long, and they’re full on. There is constantly something happening and things need to get done. There’s no time for loveliness, which is very unfortunate because loveliness is essential.

That’s not to say that I don’t get any pleasure out of life at all. I do. Life is good (most of the time), even if it doesn’t involve candles and sweet smelling oils. With time, we adapt to the pressures of life and find our own little ways to empty our buckets. I have my coping-strategies list, but it’s one that works for me and my lifestyle and my circumstances. It consists of things like listening to music while cleaning the kitchen, drinking hot cocoa on a stool in the bathroom while the kids are in the tub, reading books on my daily commute, and meditating with Andy for ten minutes on Headspace. I can’t claim it works for everyone, but it works for me.

When I get my music, cocoa and ten minutes in the dark; when I empty out my bucket, I’m ready to help my child empty his. Once we’re both calm, we can sit down and talk to each other, share our feelings, discuss what went wrong and how we can prevent it from happening again. We apologize to each other and promise we’ll do better tomorrow. We hug, we kiss, we cuddle, and love washes over us, neutralizing all the negativity that consumed us when things got to be too much for either of us to bear.

The lovely people who brought Dr. Elaine Aron’s work to life last year with their documentary “Sensitive, The Untold Story” are working hard to do it again! This time, they’re working on an important piece called Sensitive In Love, which focuses on highly sensitive people and relationships. It was actually this project that got me thinking about my relationship with my highly sensitive son, one that has come a long way from the day he came into my life, a sweet little stranger, and will continue to change and grow as we both grow together.

Being highly sensitive involves emotions that often feel too big for us to contain, which is why being in a relationship with a highly sensitive person (HSP) or as a HSP (or both!) can pose challenges that are still unfamiliar and misunderstood. Let’s all work together to make sure this film is made possible by supporting it on Kickstarter

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8 thoughts on “Clash of the Sensitives

  1. Kate Clyne

    Thanks for this particular blog. I, too, am a highly-sensitive parent of a highly-sensitive child. My already stressed and rocky world was turned completely upside down when, in September, my HSC was diagnosed with CROHN’s Disease. It’s has been an absolute nightmare. The treatment drugs are terrifying. His disease, 9 months in, is still not managed, and we are now facing possible diagnosis of a second auto-Immune disorder. As you can imagine, his responses to every facet of this disease are very extreme, and we have a hard time figuring out how bad a situation truly is. Being hyper-sensitive myself, I also have a hard time not overreacting to things. We cannot believe this is our life and that we cannot achieve a stable, decent existence for our child. We feel utterly powerless and have such worry for his emotional state. It feels good to read someone else’s account of feeling absolutely depleted a lot of the time. My biggest soul-saver is trips to the gym Mon-Fri. This is ironic since I’ve always thought of exercise as something to be ‘endured.’ But I do believe that without it, I would be a crumpled mass in the corner of some room in my house.

    Thanks for confirmation that here are others out there who walk this path and truly understand.

    Best to you and your family, always.

    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      Oh Kate, I am so sorry you and your family are going through all that. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to both help your child adjust and stay sane throughout the process. I hope that there is some kind of light at the end of this tunnel and that you do strike some kind of comfortable balance. I’m glad you found an outlet that helps you to re-gain your strength and balance. Exercise is said to do that and I hate that I haven’t managed to incorporate it into my life. Your HSC is very lucky to have you by his side.


  2. Beth

    I’m also an HSP parenting an HSP (and two more kids). My problem is that when I get upset about something/overstimulated myself it takes me SO LONG to come back down to neutral. So even though I practice “self-care” and use nap time to engage in calming, fulfilling activities, etc., sometimes I find that it still wasn’t enough time for me to process and work my way through it. And three kids under 7 are not concerned about my over-stimulation and need for a minute, haha. Our family’s schedule makes it so I parent solo M-F, as the kids are waking up as my husband leaves for the day and in bed before he’s home. So I really appreciate this “me too” post – that life as an HSP can be beautiful, but also hard. And it’s so hard to create enough margin.

    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      I hear you Beth… It’s ridiculously hard. I have two kids and struggle to get what I need. I can’t even imagine what it’s like having 3. You’re my hero! I have too often reached points when I feel like even if I get what I need, I can’t seem to completely empty my bucket. That’s when I decide a vacation is in order, but that of course never happens. I wish I had answers, but I don’t. In fact I don’t think anyone truly does. We’re all in the same boat even if our struggles are different. I hear things get better when the kids are older. I’ve chosen to hold on to that 🙂

  3. Neile

    Thanks so much for this. This is so me! I hadn’t tried the cocoa while kids in the tub, but I listen to music and dance while cooking, read books on my commute and also do guided meditations using an app on my phone. It so helps! I find the daily meditation almost essential to ensure peace of mind and home xxx

    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      It really is! It almost feels like I’ve plugged myself in and charged my battery. Now if only I can be more regular about it…

      Thank you so much for reading Neile x


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