Expectations from a Highly Sensitive Child

I returned home today after having dropped off my son at school, after a month-long Christmas break, and I was relieved. I am sad to say that I honestly did not expect the first day to go so well. It started well, and ended well with a wonderfully reassuring email from the teacher.

When we got to my son’s class, one mom was sitting outside on a bench with her tearful son, trying desperately to console him and get him into the classroom. Luca saw his friend in this awful state; he even saw him get up and walk away as his mother tried to talk him into coming back. She kept telling him that he had to do this today; he had to get in class. Luca, being extremely empathetic, sat there on the bench near his classmate before he walked away trying to be friendly, and although this whole scene made him a little reluctant, he got up a minute later and walked into the classroom.

As we walked in I told Luca that we should say hello to his new teacher, who was sitting in the ‘quiet corner’ of the class with another little boy whose face was red after a seemingly difficult and tearful drop-off. Seeing yet another child so upset about the first day school, I thought that Luca’s breakdown will come any minute. But to my surprise, despite all the sad faces in the room and our relatively long goodbye, Luca just made his way to the play area after giving me a kiss. And that was that.

I’ve always been aware of the negative connotations that come with the word “sensitive”. Much too often, sensitivity is perceived as a weakness. Those who are highly sensitive have been labeled as soft, pathetic, high strung, nervous, cry babies, and the horrible list goes on. Having grown up highly sensitive, I should know. But I should also know better. I have lived the challenging, unpleasant childhood of a Highly Sensitive Person. I knew these labels were unfair, and although I have oftentimes questioned my strength, and even worse, have seen myself as weak, I have proven both to myself and to others otherwise. And here I am today, the mother of a Highly Sensitive Child, expecting my son to be weak.

Over the Christmas break, on Christmas day in fact, we suffered the unfortunate event of my son falling over and hitting his head on the corner of a protruding tile, cutting his forehead, leaving his whole face, his clothes, our clothes and the floor completely bloodied. Seeing him like this, I had to force myself to be strong.  In a state of panic I picked him up, took him inside, and tried to calm him down while screaming and panting myself. And then, as I tried desperately to make my way to the car to take him to the nearest emergency room, I passed out. When I finally came to, I took a cab to the hospital where my husband and mom had taken my little boy, and as I ran inside, I saw him sitting in the waiting room ever so calmly, talking and playing as if nothing had happened, while I was still trying to fully regain consciousness. I hated myself for having been so weak when my son needed me. I have suffered from blood-injection-injury phobia my whole life, but with time I have learned to deal with some of the things that used to make my faint almost instantly years ago. And I thought that when it really mattered, I would be able to pull myself together and remain functional. But on that day, I couldn’t. My husband and mom tried to comfort me by telling me that had they not been there, had I had no one to count on, I would have managed on my own. Although I really want to believe it, I can’t. And here was my four-year-old, highly sensitive and yet stronger that I could ever wish to be, sitting in the ER smiling and giggling and proudly showing the doctor the binoculars he got for Christmas while he checked his forehead. When I was in the taxi making my way to the hospital, all I could do was try to imagine what state my son was in, and the state I imagined was not good. It didn’t even occur to me that he would handle the pain of the wound, the shock of the fall, and the sight of his hysterical mother so well. But he did. When it came down to it, when things got serious, Luca pulled himself together and showed incredible strength. Luca, a four-year-old boy, is my hero.

And today, Luca’s strength shone through yet again. He walked into that classroom like he would any other day. It is worth mentioning that the two tearful boys I mentioned earlier have been described by their teachers and have been perceived by myself as “the strong boys” of the class, the ones who adapt quickly, the ones who play hard, who run fast, who talk the most, who are the loudest and the most sociable. Their extroversion led us all to automatically label these kids as ‘strong’ which influences our expectations of them. And this is the mistake we often make; we label people based on prejudice, on perceptions, on what the media has taught us, regardless of what we know deep inside. We are programmed to think and feel and react a certain way, before we even have time to think. It isn’t the “crying on the first day” that’s the issue here. Crying after having spent a month at home having fun is normal behavior. It shouldn’t surprise us regardless of whom it came from, or whom it didn’t come from. The issue at hand here is that of false expectations. Or just plain expectations.

I also mentioned earlier that our goodbye today was pretty long. Well that was partly because I was introducing myself to some new moms whose kids joined the class today, and partly because I wanted to say hello to the new teacher. But mainly it was because I kissed Luca goodbye about fifteen times before I left, wishing him a good day every single time. Those first days are never easy!

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11 thoughts on “Expectations from a Highly Sensitive Child

  1. RH Ramsey

    Deep.
    Expectations, sensitivity – both topics worth addressing in parenting. Your post is beautiful. I find at times my kids are my heroes, too. As Leila said, kids are extroardinary. Truly

    Reply
    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      Absolutely, they are both very important topics, and it’s funny how highly sensitive children are so good at making you see things you wouldn’t otherwise even think of. I learn things from that little boy everyday. He makes me a better person. Thank you so much for your lovely words RH Ramsey.

      Reply
  2. Leah

    Hi, I have read through a couple of your posts and I ask this out of complete ignorance (so please take it as such): What is a “Highly Sensitive Child”? I have heard of Sensory Processing Disorder, but I had not heard of this diagnosis. I am glad to see that he has you because you understand and work with him as he is.

    Reply
    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      Hi Leah! A Highly Sensitive Child (HSC) is a child who can feel things much more than the average child. Between 15-20% of the population is actually Highly Sensitive (myself included). This type of person has been labelled in the past as shy or introvert, whereas 20% of Highly Sensitive People (HSP) are actually extroverts. It was Dr. Elaine Aron who coined the terms HSP and HSC. She also has test for adults and children to help determine whether or not you or your child are Highly Sensitive. Her book was a game changer for us! We always knew there was something about him that made him different, and not in a bad way, but we never knew what it was, or why he didn’t enjoy the things other children did such as the playground, water sprinklers, birthday parties, and the company of other children. If you’re in doubt, go to Elaine Aron’s website. And please do email me if you’d like to talk about this! Thanks so much for your question!

      Reply

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