It’s what kids do: The Highly Sensitive Child and disappointment

It's what kids do - The Highly Sensitive Child and disappointment

I have a confession to make. I got mad at my five year old because he failed to properly rip a piece of paper.

On the occasion of the Saint Martin’s Day celebrations this year, I volunteered to make lanterns with the children in my son’s class. Being a lover of crafts, I got busy looking up lantern-making tutorials that would be easy enough for the kids to make, yet fun and as creative as can be when making something with a bunch of 4 and 5 year olds in under 30 minutes. After what seemed to be hours of searching online, I finally found the perfect one.

Or at least I thought it was.

I watched the tutorial over and over again, trying to imagine the kids actually going through all the steps and thought this would be easy as pie. What fun it would be for them to rip up piles of colored paper, dunk them in a pool of liquid glue and then smear everything onto a balloon!

I got so excited about it I decided to make one myself. I got all the supplies the tutorial calls for and asked my son to join me. I explained to him what we had to do, and asked him to help me rip up the lantern paper into little rectangular bits. Easy enough, right?


Assuming a demonstration wasn’t in order, I watched him struggle with that paper, gripping it at both ends and pulling, as if he were trying to stretch it. And because I just assumed that ripping paper would be second nature to a child of five, I jumped to the conclusion that my son simply did not want to focus on this project, which made me kind of mad. I took the paper from him, and in my not-so-nice-tone explained to him how one rips paper using the thumb and index finger to hold it properly at the edge. After I’d shown him, he tried again using the technique I’d just demonstrated, but still failed.

Why won’t you focus? I asked him. Don’t you want to make this lantern with me?

He did want to make the lantern with me, but was feeling a little discouraged after I’d ruined the fun with my lecture.

My husband eventually took the kids out, and I ended up making the lantern myself. Besides the paper-ripping episode I’d had with my son earlier, I didn’t see any reason why this wouldn’t go smoothly in class.

When I got to class a few days later, the teachers were already piling up the paper and blowing up the balloons. After we’d set up, I stayed close enough to my son to help him out with the paper if needed me to. I explained to the kids what we’d be doing, and although they didn’t cheer like I was hoping they would, they seemed happy enough. I showed them how to rip the paper and gave them the go-ahead. I looked over at my son and was happy to see that he was managing okay. I was however still a little surprised that he was making quite an effort to rip the paper, until I looked up and was taken aback by what I saw.

All the kids in the class were struggling with this paper!

Shock quickly turned to shame when I realized what I’d done. I was actually upset – with my five year old – for not being able to rip a piece of paper. Thick, waxy, lantern paper.

It’s been about two weeks since this happened, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Which is probably good. In the midst of all the screaming, the tantrums, the house work and the stress that life brings with it, it’s easy for us to occasionally lose focus, and so maybe a reminder is essential to keep us in check.

Incidents like this are also a good call for introspection. After I risked upsetting my little one – who is just that – because of my silly expectations, possibly causing him to be reluctant to do anything in front of me for fear of disappointing me, I got to thinking: This was not the first time something like that had happened.

It is true that as parents, we want to see our children thrive and grow and learn, and be the best that they can be. We want to make sure they’re learning all that good stuff we’re trying so hard to teach them. But as soon as they start doing more than we think they might, our standards suddenly go up and we expect more of them, sometimes forgetting that they’re still just kids. Just because my little boy tends to make me forget that he’s just five with all the mature things he says and does, it’s still okay for him to be immature. Because that’s what little children are. Immature.

Just because he often says the sweetest, most beautiful things, and sounds like 15 year-old when he says them, it’s not unbelievable that he thinks there’s nothing more hilarious than spitting and the spontaneous use of words like “poop” and “fart”.

Just because he’ll remember his grandmother’s favorite color because she happened to mention it in front ofΒ him over a year ago, it’s alright if he keeps forgetting to use soap every single time he washes his hands.

Just because he is aware of when he has hurt my feelings and will apologize to me immediately and with such sincerity, it doesn’t make it horrible that he will need to scream and yell at me when he’s having a bad day.

Just because he will know when he is being irrational and will often put me in my place when I’m being irrational, doesn’t mean he won’t ever be irrational.

Just because he’s been reading and Googling on his own since before he was three, it’s alright if he still needs our help going down the stairs and falling asleep.

Just because he stands up for his little brother, sternly warning other children never to try and take away his toys again, doesn’t guarantee he will happily share his own toys with him and never again pinch him when I’m not looking.

Just because he almost always thanks his dad and I at the end of a fun-filled day, grateful for everything we’ve done for him, I should probably still expect him to occasionally order me around and take my motherly services for granted.

Just because he is deeply empathetic and will check on anyone who is down or hurting to make sure they’re okay, doesn’t make it horrible that he will sometimes be responsible for hurting someone.

Just because he knows more about the solar system than I have learned in my entire life, it’s alright is he still refuses to learn to hold a pencil properly.

It will come. All of it will.

And in the meantime, it is good to remember that our kids, no matter how great or mature or funny or smart or even gifted, are still immature, and it should not come as a shock to us when they behave as such.

Highly Sensitive Children know when they’ve done something wrong or failed, and the fear of failure is what makes it so difficult for many to actually try new things. This makes it all the more important for us as parents to radiate encouragement rather than disappointment. I will often catch my son discretely glancing up at me, studying my face, trying to measure his performance based only on my expression; and he can read me better that I can read myself. He will pick up on the tiniest crinkle in my forehead and slightest changes in my tone and breathing. And he will use this to judge and define himself and his abilities.

That is powerful, to say the least. But it is power than can either discourage and destroy a person, or help that person grow and strive to be better. That’s big, and it’s scary. And no matter how many times I have to repeat the same thing over and over, and no matter how frustrating it can get, I must remember to keep my cool and stay positive. The last thing I want is for our son to ever feel like he needs to live up to our expectations.

After all, the effects my reactions can have will certainly be long term, so it’s best to keep them good. And really, so what if he couldn’t rip that paper or say please or not listen to me when I spoke? It’s not just him. It’s what kids do. It’s what growing up is.

And sometimes it can be pretty hilarious!

It's what kids do: The Highly Sensitive Child and disappointment, failure

Both my son and his adorable friend had their shorts on backwards today.

What are some of the things your kids do that drive you crazy? How do you deal with them? Any tips would be GREATLY appreciated!


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23 thoughts on “It’s what kids do: The Highly Sensitive Child and disappointment

  1. Marie-jose

    Well Leila, I can’t tell you how any times I felt exactly like a monster towards my kids, just today I was giving my daughter her bath and I am trying to teach her to bath herself for a while. Instead on focusing on the task she was singing and dancing and I scolded her. So imagine my shame when she told me :” but momy I am making a show just for you!”

    I was so focused on her becoming independent that I forgot that she was just a “not even” 5 years old, who dreams and imagine and plays, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      It’s just so easy to lose it, isn’t it. We get so tired and we snap, and then we feel guilty forever… But then we snap again. Some days are just so hard that I find it impossible to focus on my breathing and stay positive. I have to say though, after this last incident, I have managed to catch myself before I actually lose it. The only thing I guess we can do is try to take the light stuff lightly. That and possibly take a vacation.

  2. Nancy

    I have a highly sensitive son who is now grown. His lifestyle is very creative and he doesn’t like to be too tied to “things”, so when relatives ask about him I have a hard time explaining for them to understand–sensitive people have to live differently. Sometimes it sounds like you are too hard on yourself and your parenting, and having parental expectations is NOT a bad thing. That is how a child learns about the different “authorities” he will encounter in his life, and how to make the necessary adjustments needed to get along and live within the parameters the world expects. As parents you are his “teachers” and “guides” to navigating this intense world he lives in and you must have a real plan for what you intend to teach him and show him by example but not give mixed or confusing messages. Being a highly sensitive person myself I pick up on subtle clues from others that sometimes cause me to feel bad about myself–it helps to have people around that give love and support and just encourage you that you are “alright”.

    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      Nancy, thank you so much for your comment. It’s so good to hear from someone who is more experienced as it does help with the guilt and the fear that I may have ruined things forever. I am also highly sensitive and I tend to obsess over these things, which is definitely not healthy for anyone. But yes, you’re absolutely right, it is our job to provide them with the tools they need, but I think sometimes I just need to work on the “delivery” of my message to make sure it helps rather than hurt.

      Thanks again Nancy for sharing your wisdom with me! I really appreciate it!

  3. Sonia

    Its funny you are writting about this subject Leila because just tge other day we were discussing with Andreas how sometimes we forget we are dealing with a four year old boy instead of a teenager. He has spoiled us so much with mature behaviour that when he does something silly and his behaviour is exactly what is expected of a four year old we get mad. Gladly we are two as parents and when one is being irrational the other one is usually there to bring balance back.
    In any case just loved the timing of this blog and how even though you are miles appart some things still seem to be happening in parallel to our boys.

    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      It really is good when moms and dads help to keep each other in check to. Stress will often get the better of you, and it’s good to have someone let you know when you’re being a little harsh.

      I miss you so much! I’m so glad you could relate to this πŸ™‚

  4. fairydustlady

    I am raising my 3rd child. He is 14 now. I have learned each child is different, and it is my job to not so much form them as to just love and nurture them and allow them to be themselves. To celebrate the quirks, to try to live in the moment. Of course, giving ourselves room to be human, make mistakes, and apologize to our kids in a way that we aren’t putting ourselves down, but just acknowledging that we are not perfect, but we love them and they love us too. It sounds so wise to me when I write this down, and I have to smile because I have not reached any point of “knowing”, just following my instincts and loving the best way I know how in the midst of my own challenges. Thank you for writing this. It is in sharing of yourself and your heart that adds to this world we all share. Bless you.

  5. Bronwyn Joy @ Journeys Of The Fabulist

    I can just imagine this. I find it very unpredictable what they can and can’t do sometimes. The things that seem like they should be so simple aren’t – yet the things you don’t expect of them they excel at!

    But it’s true with the former that sometimes my frustrations get the better of me, too. It’s good to have other kids around as a reminder that they’re no worse than anyone else, on average.

  6. Yvette @ BigTrouble

    This is such a thought-provoking piece – as always. I definitely need reminding with both my little one and our older nephew, it is easy to misunderstand what they do and don’t struggle with and handling that is such a tricky balance (for me). I’m never sure when to let them try (and possibly struggle) but be independent, and when to step in.

    I love your ‘just because…’ list, so very true – they are amazing and complex and I really must never forget that.

    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      Yvette thank you so much! I always love to hear from you!

      And yes it is so tricky to know when to and when not to step in. I often have to stop myself after I’ve already taken that first step, which confuses my son! I try very hard to wait for him to ask for help and then to show him how to do something, and encourage him to try again. He takes great pride in his achievements after he’s tried very hard, so it’s really worth it. We’re both practicing this now with Legos and we’re both getting better πŸ™‚

      I felt like such a monster when this happened, but I’ve been hearing from so many moms who do the same thing. And of course, hearing it from someone else not only makes you feel less bad, but the story becomes more understandable. Of course this is going to happen. It’s inevitable. We’re only human and raising kids can be exhausting and frustrating and that will get to you, but being aware of our mistakes is what’s important. And even though we may not be able to stop ourselves every time, at least we’re headed in the right direction.

      Thanks for reading Yvette!

      1. Yvette @ BigTrouble

        No problem, I always so enjoy your posts and you write so honestly, which I really respect πŸ™‚

        I think as parents we are constantly trying and learning new things just like our children so of course we aren’t always going to get it right. And that’s okay – it surely wouldn’t be good for my son and nephew to see me as perfect… thank goodness I don’t have to worry about that!!

    2. Leila Boukarim Post author

      (I just had to do some serious editing to make my comment somewhat comprehensible. I’d be surprised if you understood any of it! I just read it and had no clue what I was trying to say. I typed it on my phone while laying in bed at 1 am… That is my excuse and I apologize πŸ™‚ )

  7. Amanda van Mulligen

    So familiar. I can often see my eldest searching for the right answer on my face to questions I ask. He’s reading expectations on my face – and it’s been a painful learning process for me to manage that. He then thinks his own feelings are wrong because they don’t match mine – eagerly trying to please! Afraid to have a go at something in case I get frustrated because it doesn’t work…… Parenting is a lesson in showing patience even when you don’t feel it……… Parenting is oh so much more complicated than I ever could have imagined!

    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      “Parenting is a lesson in showing patience even when you don’t feel it”… YES! It’s just so hard sometimes, and they will push you to your limits. This is the ultimate test we will ever have to go through, the time we find out most about ourselves and, strength and self-control.

      Thanks for your wonderful comment Amanda x

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  9. Penny Leveritt

    Thank you for this post! As a HSP with an HSC, I think that sometimes when I get frustrated with my daughter, it’s because I am concerned for her – it seems like almost a sub-conscious reaction. I am so glad that these days the idea of a highly sensitive kid is becoming more known and there are such great resources such as your blog on how to work with and thrive with high sensitivity.

    I grew up in the 70’s as a sensitive kid, and the method of handling my sensitivity from my family – well-meaning as they were – was “Buck up, kid! Life is hard!” It can be so difficult for me sometimes not to include my baggage in those times when my girl is struggling or seemingly struggling. I am working on staying cool and calm, and trying to remind myself of that cathartic and wonderful moment for me after reading The Highly Sensitive Child when I understood that my daughter and I are on the same sensitivity team! She and I are in this together. The tough bit is that my occasionally frustrated and angry reactions to her sensitivity are not logical – they are pure emotion and based in fear and worry.

    I try to remind myself that as opposed to my upbringing, we are working with and trying to celebrate my daughter’s sensitivity.

    We have a way to go in my house, but we have come a long way too. My daughter is now 9, and trully I see that she is coping better with things. I think I am too.

    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful story Penny. I, like you, sometimes get frustrated and feel I react in inappropriate ways when my son does something. With time I started to notice that this didn’t just come from my concern for him, but also from the shame I used to feel for being the way I was. I have learned with time to keep my cool, bu sometimes it really is tough (like when he screamed yesterday because there was fuzz on his feet which was “scary”). But yes, luckily we are witnessing a whole new era for Highly Sensitive People; an era of information, awareness, and a passion for spreading the word! Not long ago I felt completely alone in this, and today I am part a huge group of loving and supportive parents. It’s incredible!

      Thank you so much for reading Penny. It means so much that you have found my blog helpful.

  10. Jennifer

    Yes, I can relate to this story! I have now a mere 7 years practice with my HP daughter, and I have discovered some magic! If I mess up, get frustrated with her, yell, whatever…I will come back to it and talk to her about my mommy mistake. We talk it out, and rejoice together how nice is it we do not have to be perfect humans, but can learn from our mistakes. This has really helped build her self-esteem as well as repair her little heart when needed!
    It is helpful for me to heal my guilt of messing up as well πŸ™‚
    Thank you for all you share!

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