Anybody who has spent more than ten minutes with my three-year-old son will know that he is a sensitive child; a highly sensitive child, in fact.
When he is in the company of people he is familiar with, and in surroundings that he is comfortable in, he is a confident young man. He cracks jokes, acts silly and interacts freely with people. However, if he is in a new situation or an environment that he is not used to, he sometimes struggles to adapt.
I love my son for who he is. He has a sweet, beautiful and gentle soul and I wouldn’t change him for the world. However, all of the love in the world doesn’t change the fact that parenting my sensitive little boy is a challenge at times.
Simple things are usually a struggle for us.
- Groups of people singing scare him, so bounce ‘n rhyme sessions are out.
- He has about three favourite outfits and if I ever try to get him to wear anything else, he flat out refuses
- Entering unfamiliar buildings
- Going to the dentist
- Going to the orthoptist
- He’s scared of strangers
- He’s scared of dogs (even really tiny ones)
- He’s scared of other children that he’s not familiar with
- He’s scared of the hairdryer, hand-dryers in public toilets, and any toy that makes a similar kind of noise
It’s not like he hasn’t been exposed to these things as a child. We have regularly attended baby and toddler groups since he was little, exposed him to a variety of different foods, and done our best to give him a varied experience of life. He’s always been sociable. However, it became clear by the time he was about 8 months old that this was not an easy-going child. And, as he has grown, it has become more pronounced.
I blame myself completely. When he was a small baby, he lived in a home that was infused with sadness, anger and shouting. I was very ill with postnatal depression, and I am so ashamed to say that I exposed him to my raw emotions too many times. I scared him with my shouting, I confused him with my crying and he likely picked up my negative emotions and feelings of regret. So yes, I blame myself wholeheartedly and every time I see my little boy struggle, I feel a sickening pang of guilt in my stomach. It’s my fault.
I try not to dwell on it too much. After all, not all highly sensitive children had the same negative start to life that my oldest unfortunately had. You can’t raise the same child twice, so I will never know whether this is just who he is or whether I had a major hand in his difficulties.
Responding appropriately to his sensitivities is a challenge at times, but what I find more of a challenge is dealing with others’ responses to him. He has never had a proper check-up at the dentist, because it scares him so much. I explained to the dentist at the last attempt that if he just had 20-30 minutes time to adjust to the environment and the people in it, he would probably have cooperated – but unfortunately she couldn’t give us that much time. The appointments are 10 minutes long, and that’s how it is.
And that’s true of pretty much everything. The world is not equipped for my little boy. And it often feels like I am fighting a losing battle in trying to get the world to accept him. In the face of well-meaning friends and family who encourage me to “toughen him up” and “let him get on with it”, I will continue to (try to) be a patient, unconditional parent and allow him the space and consideration he needs to grow into the world.
And, I have to say, although his sensitivities may be challenging he is also the sweetest, gentlest, kindest empathetic little soul I have had the good fortune to meet. His perception of the world may be more finely-tuned but that makes him very, very special in my opinion. He isn’t wrong, or broken. He doesn’t need to be fixed. He just needs to be accepted and embraced for who he is, and I will continue to try to do the best by him.
Have you got a sensitive child? What are the most challenging and wonderful things about mothering them?