“Why is my child different?”
If you’re anything like me, you’ve compared your child to your friend’s child, the child at the playground, the child next door, and worst of all, your child’s sibling.
We all know it’s not right, but sometimes we really can’t help it. We compare to reassure ourselves everything is okay or to prove to ourselves that things are not. And what other reference do we have than other children?
For a number of reasons, my husband and I have caught ourselves too many times watching other children in awe as they climb trees or jump into a pool, completely carefree and with such ease you can’t help but conclude that this is what all children are built for. Splinters, bruises and water up their noses mean nothing to them. Because, we tell ourselves, they’re kids. And that’s what kids like to do.
Too many times we have wished our child could be a little more like those other children.
And way too many times, we have compared our son to his little brother, who, since he was born, was so different from our eldest in the way that he behaved, the way he took risks, and the way he was around other kids, just to name a few. It was something we weren’t used to, and so it naturally gave way to many unfair comparisons.
Even though we will still sometimes do it secretly, my husband and I have learned through the years that one of the worst things you can do to your child—and yourself as a parent—is to compare your child to other children, or yourself to other parents. This is obviously true for all children, regardless of whether or not they’re highly sensitive. Nevertheless, I do find the topic especially relevant to highly sensitive children because we generally resort to comparisons when we feel our children stand out in ways we—or others—perceive as negative.
I know it’s easier said than done because we naturally tend to look to the world around us for differences and similarities to better measure and understand what we know. But before you compare your sensitive child to another—and then make judgments and set expectations based on that—consider the following:
Highly sensitive children tend to be perfectionists. This means that while other children might be drawing, painting, building, using scissors, or playing an instrument, yours might still be perfecting her skills before she shows the world what she can do.
Highly sensitive children are cautious. Climbing, swimming, swinging from trees, and going up and down the stairs might be second nature to most kids. Yours, however, is assessing the risks of those physical activities other children enjoy so much, and calculating his every move, trying very hard not to get hurt. And really, is that such a bad thing?
Highly sensitive children have a lower threshold of pain and discomfort. Yes, it is frustrating—perhaps even a little embarrassing—when our children seem to “over”react by wailing uncontrollably over minor scrapes, bumps and bruises, while other kids seem to be able to pick themselves and dust themselves off, moving on to the next thing as if nothing happened. Although it feels like our sensitive little ones are exaggerating, chances are they’re not. They do feel pain more intensely and will react accordingly.
Highly sensitive children have rich and complex inner lives. Too often, I feel like I’m talking to myself when I try to say something to my highly sensitive child. It almost feels like he’s not there, and the blank look on his face doesn’t help. He will later demonstrate that he was very much “there” by repeating every word I’d said and then giving me his deep analysis on the matter. Even though it feels like the lights are out, there’s actually a whole lot going on in there.
Highly sensitive children are like sponges. Their thin skins will allow everything to affect them. To make things worse, they can pick up on the subtlest of changes in their environments—including those changes in your attitude, tone and facial expressions. When you start to judge your children based on what you see in others, whether you like it or not, your child will know something’s up, and the result won’t be good for her confidence and self-esteem.
Highly sensitive children are very hard on themselves. The last thing they need is for you to be hard on them.
Everyone is unique, highly sensitive or not. Because children are all different, regardless of the similarities they might share, the will behave differently, feel differently, think differently and even develop differently. As a parent who has once freaked out about every little difference she noticed and every milestone that wasn’t reached “on time”, I learned the hard way that as long as my child is learning, developing, and not hurting himself or anyone else, there’s no need to worry.
Needless to say, parenting a highly sensitive child comes with some very specific frustrations, some of which can be very isolating. But parenting in general is usually a frustrating and challenging thing, no matter what our children are like. And always keep in mind that the child you see at the playground, next door, and in your daughter’s classroom may not be the same child at home. In other words, you’re not with those other children all the time and have no idea what happens when you’re not watching. I can grantee it’s not always as peachy as it seems.
Our highly sensitive child, from day one, has shown us such wonderful things in the way that only sensitive children can. The journey hasn’t been an easy one, but it’s been magical in so many ways, and we wouldn’t have it any other way, no matter how much easier it could’ve been.
As a side note, I want to add that comparing our children to others can sometimes help us point out serious issues which need to be dealt with. Comparisons on their own are not necessarily a bad thing. However, it’s when we start judging our children or asking them to be more like other kids and less like themselves, that things can turn very sour and real damage can be done. I hope I was clear about that in my post.
I’d love to hear from you! Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below. We can all learn so much from each other!
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