Posted by Gina Perkins, Pre-School Mommie | Posted in Gina Perkins, The Preschool Mommy | Posted on 28-02-2012
I have always known that DJ is different from other kids. And let me just say, I kind of despise using the word different to describe her. I think that all too often, we hear “different,” and we think “wrong.” There’s nothing wrong about her. She’s truly an incredible kid – and I’m not just saying that because she’s mine. In this case, different means really, really special – unique, amazing and better than I could have ever imagined.
DJ was born sensitive. She has been a love-bug since the moment the doctor placed her on my chest. She’s most content when she’s in the arms of someone she trusts. She craves affection and closeness from those she is familiar with. We practiced co-sleeping with DJ (in fact, she never slept a nap or night in her crib). I have often wondered, guiltily, if we made her sensitive through our version of attachment parenting, or if we were subconsciously attune to her needs from really early on. Had we ruined her? And then, after obsessively worrying, I’d think, “Yet, she’s totally independent and confident once she’s comfortable with her surroundings.” She’ll ask us to leave when she’s ready to be on her own, and she’ll push us out the door or ask for alone time when she’s done with us! However, because of her desire to be so intimately connected to others, she is, naturally, crushed when she feels rejected.
I have long known that the conventional methods of discipline don’t work with DJ. Time outs, any sort of isolation, public reprimanding, a raised voice or even a hint of disappointment sends the poor bug into a total meltdown. Not the kind of meltdown that occurs when a child feels remorse, but the kind of meltdown that screams “Don’t you still love me?” It’s heartbreaking. For a long, long time now – I have initiated “time-ins” with DJ. When she’s really acting up, I will ask “Do you need a cuddle?” and we will retreat to a quiet corner, have a tight hug and talk through what’s bothering her, what behavior I expect of her, and how she can make the situation right again. Inevitably, she apologizes without hesitation, and we move on – all with a strengthened sense of security in our bond.
I’m no super mom. This process is exhausting, especially when all I really want is to sit DJ in her room, alone, so that I can steal a moment to myself. It’s hard when I’m really mad because it’s challenging to temper my own emotions (Hey, I’m Italian, German and Irish…passionate is putting it nicely!). It’s constant work to keep my reactions in check – always, always considering how my outbursts can affect my daughter. However, ultimately, I know that if I stay calm, the end result will be a million times better than if I lose my cool. In the same ways I must control my disposition – so must I control my impulses to sneak up on and scare DJ, to attack her with a vicious game of tickle-monster, or to shout wildly with excitement when something moves me.
While much of my parenting techniques with DJ were born from intuition (and of course, trial and error), I have been soaking up a book called “The Highly Sensitive Child” by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. I am fortunate enough to be involved in a community of wise, candid and eager-to-share moms through DJ’s co-op Preschool. One of the moms noticed that DJ’s personality (and my challenges) were so similar to that of her older daughter and herself. She recommended that I read “The Highly Sensitive Child,” and I accessed Amazon from my cell phone right then and there and placed my order – shipping option, stat! I was so excited to learn of a resource that described my daughter so perfectly. An author who spoke my language, and finally some reassurance that I have been approaching discipline in a way that compliments my daughter’s needs. Oh, and that DJ was born sensitive. We didn’t create it. I’m not even halfway through the book, but I am learning so much. In fact, I am learning that I am also a Highly Sensitive Person. Likely, the reason why I was able to recognize DJ’s differences so early on, and why parenting her with a little more tenderness just made sense to me.
I am learning that (and please forgive the comparison), much like dog breeds, there are all sorts of breeds of Highly Sensitive Children (HSC). There are a dozen different variations of HSC’s, but that all HSC’s share some common characteristics….they are sensitive. Sensitive to sounds, to textures, to change, to taste, to the feelings of others, the reactions of others, their environment. In DJ’s case, she’s one of the rare HSC’s who is also incredibly daring and courageous (honestly, a really kick @$$ kid!), and can’t be described as an introvert. Once she’s comfortable in a situation, and has done her fair share of evaluating and watching, she’s ready to take on the world! To compliment her courageous personality, she is incredibly empathetic and is always the first to comfort a child crying on the playground. She’s sassy and sweet, so sweet. DJ connects deeply with animals, and asks a million questions about what they, or people, are thinking and feeling. She’s already showing signs of being artistic, and is incredibly thoughtful and communicative about her feelings. She’s drawn to the stories of others, and is genuinely interested in how relationships work. These are all typical behaviors of HSC’s.
The reason why I wanted to write about this is twofold. It’s partly because I want other parents who can relate to know they’re not alone. There’s a name for what might seem like a particularly dependent, shy or overly sensitive child. The other motivation for writing about this is probably my biggest reason….and that’s to remind parents that no one knows your child better than you do. Over the past 2 1/2 years, well-intended people have been full of advice about how I should approach DJ. In moments of weakness and self-doubt, I have tried to implement their techniques (which, likely work for the other 80% of children), only to cause her further distress. However, when I listen to my gut and take what others might perceive as a softer, even more passive approach, DJ inevitably responds favorably. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking the advice from others, and even accepting their unsolicited advice, be sure to always view that advice through the filter of your own parenting prowess.
Celebrate your children, especially in the ways in which they appear different. It’s these very differences that, when fostered, will be exactly what propels your children into greatness. There is a great line in the beginning of “The Highly Sensitive Child,” that reads, “If you want to have an extraordinary child, you must be willing to have an extraordinary child.” This means that you must embrace the work involved with learning what your child’s special needs are, learning how to behave in a way that compliments their needs, and adapting your own inherent qualities so that they build up, and not destroy, your child’s unique qualities. This parenting stuff is hard work, but that’s what makes it so rewarding. When you see your child begin to thrive because you have taken the time to learn about them, there’s no greater feeling – no greater source of intimacy, or stronger foundation for bonding.
If you want to learn more about HSC’s, here’s a great link: http://www.hsperson.com/pages/child.htm