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The delicate business of raising a sensitive child

My eldest is a very sensitive child. She reads facial expression as well as tone and combines that with what a person is saying to come to her understanding. She comprehends concepts that we think are beyond her age until she mentions something in passing. She is wary of people until she gets to know them quite well (which often results in people thinking that she is rude) and if she doesn’t like someone it is instantaneous and it is forever. 

There have been a few people in our lives that she has taken an instant dislike to. We don’t force her to give them a second chance because her reasons are quite deep considering the limited vocabulary of a child. At three years old she took an instant dislike to someone who visited us with the reason that ‘she’s smiling but she’s not smiling’. This is pretty damn accurate because said person does smile while saying the most cutting things. With the simplicity of a child she decided to not be friends whereas we as adults are less inclined to end a friendship because it is seen as socially unacceptable. Instead we continue with the obligated niceties until eventually we lose contact even when we know that the ‘friendship’ is empty.

When her feelings are hurt the effects are long lasting. It’s a combination of sadness and confusion as to why someone would be mean to her. My dad said something in passing to her almost two years ago (when she was two) as a joke. She still asks every few months why he said that. She cannot comprehend why he would make a joke at her expense that wasn’t funny to her and it still worries her to this day. My poor father has apologised and tried to explain that he was joking but to no avail. Just the other night she tried to close our room door because her sister was asleep. The handle made a loud clicking noise and my husband told her not to touch it because the handle is too noisy. I heard this from the kitchen and didn’t give it a second thought but when I looked up I saw her face crumble and she started crying quietly. Even though his words had been calm, his mind had been busy with other things and without realising it, his facial expression had been quite fierce. I don’t know which of them was more upset after that. 

So far we have been able to protect her little heart from being hurt too much or for too long. We explain things to her as soon as it happens so that she doesn’t dwell on it without understanding. These days of living in a bubble have sadly come to an end though. She is at school now and has been for the past two months. It has been an emotional rollercoaster. First there was the initial adjustment of being away from me after us spending every day of the past four years together. Then she made a friend and school became something to look forward to. This little girl became her best friend and they would play together, sit together, eat together, paint together, etc, etc. I’m not sure what happened but before they closed for mid-term break her friend started to not be so friendly. She was making ‘angry faces’ when they were eating lunch and ‘not listening’ when they were playing. This broke my little girls heart. She cried her eyes out the night before school closed and again yesterday when she went back. She hates anyone seeing her crying so for her to break down at school like that, this must really be worrying her.

I get that this is how she will learn about social interaction and building relationships. I know that it is unreasonable to expect her not to be hurt. I understand all this. Yet that doesn’t make it any easier knowing that her feelings will be hurt on a regular basis. She thinks every child is her friend because she wants to be their friend. How do I explain that not everyone will want to play with her? That sometimes kids are mean for no reason. Even though it’s a reality it’s quite a difficult thing to explain to a four year old. Especially to one who has people pleasing tendencies. I don’t want her to stick around people who treat her badly just because she doesn’t want to hurt their feelings by leaving. 

We told her yesterday that if her now ex-best friend is being fussy that its ok to go and play on her own. That she doesn’t have to only play with one friend. This backfired because she took the advice literally and played all alone. So today we told her that its good to play with the other kids and make lots of different friends. Fingers crossed that this works out better.

In a world where child suicide and bullying is a heart breaking reality, we need to find a way to equip her with the tools to protect herself emotionally while not losing a fundamental aspect of her personality. She is gentle, caring, loving and empathetic. I know all parents want to teach their kids how to be confident in themselves and not put up with mistreatment from their friends but if you also have a sensitive child you will understand why this is more important than ever. 

Its really difficult watching your child struggle with life. This is something I never really thought about before having kids. Part of our plan is to get her involved in one or two extra curricular activities from next year. We want her friend base to be more than just her school friends. We need to make sure she has different avenues of friendship and support while she is still at the age where she comes to us if something worries her. It’s also crucial that she feels safe and secure in our love for her. I don’t ever want to be the parent who’s child is too scared to come to them with a problem. I know this will become more difficult as she gets older but I will never stop trying. 

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