Calling All Highly Sensitive Parents: You Are Not Alone!
A plate crashes to the floor, your toddler screams with frustration while your older child is hounding you with “mommy, mommy, mommy!” and your spouse is trying to have a conversation with you all while you are cooking dinner. You feel bombarded and overwhelmed, and possibly at your bursting point when you may shout in distress for everyone to be quiet. And even when they do become quieter, it takes time for your body to calm back down. You still feel that overwhelm bubbling inside you and it’s hard to think straight. What you need is to be alone in the peace and quiet until the chaos settles down and you can feel like yourself again.
Does this sound familiar to you? If so, then you may be a highly sensitive person (or HSP).
As a parent, it can be helpful to recognize if you are a highly sensitive person and what that means for your parenting and household. It is also possible that one of your children may be highly sensitive as well.
What is a highly sensitive person?
Dr. Elaine Aron has written books about The Highly Sensitive Person and describes it as someone that is easily overwhelmed by bright lights, loud noises, strong smells or coarse fabrics, and also feels “rattled” with a lot to do in a short time or when days are busy and needs to withdraw to a private, quiet or even dark room or place to get relief. (According to https://hsperson.com/)
Parenting comes with many challenges for an HSP. Kids like to get noisy and rowdy when they are playing some times. There can be a mess of toys scattered about any given room and abrupt screaming that is sometimes shrieks of fun and other times because someone got hurt or was told no. As you may or may not realize, these environmental stimuli can be overstimulating for someone that is highly sensitive.
Kids often need their parents to help them with their emotions. When young children get upset, they need their parent to stay calm and show them how to handle emotions in a healthy way. Many HSP are very good at regulating themselves and may have even mastered emotional boundaries. But then there is this little child that tests all limits and boundaries, and is overflowing with emotion. People that are sensitive can struggle with taking on other people’s emotions and energy. While this often makes them very intuitive and empathic, it can be quite draining when it is for longer periods of time.
If you are friends with a very emotional person and meet up with them, you may find yourself needing some recovery time of quiet solitude to rebalance your mood and energy after each meeting. However, when it is your children that bombard you with their big emotions and needs, you often will not find the same break to recover. This happens in your home and even in your private spaces (*think kids pounding on the door and crying while you’re in the bathroom).
It can be overwhelming to manage your own feelings and be constantly needed and surrounded by other peoples. Especially when kids are meant to test limits at so many developmental stages that they frequently are challenging you in one way or another. Add to it the environment is no longer your peaceful sanctuary, but looks as though a tornado of toys and kid things has ripped through it.
So, acknowledging your needs as a HSP is the first step. You need recovery time that is alone and quiet. Is there a way to have this need met? Can your partner, friend or family member help you get some recovery time? Ideally this would be each day, but take whatever you can get! And consider how else you can problem solve to have your needs met.
For me, I’ve found that I get overstimulated by the amount of noise at times, so I have looked into noise cancelling head phones or ear plugs to filter for me. It can help me feel less frazzled in those times. I have also taken to having quiet time in the car with the radio off.
Consider if there are extra noises around your home that are unnecessary. Look at how many noise-making toys your kids have and whether your family keeps music or tv on in the background. If you have the opportunity, you can consider setting up a play area in the home where the kids can be as noisy as they like, and set rules about noise and rough housing in other parts of the home. There are small parts that you can control that just may make a big difference in how you feel and react.
Change always starts with awareness. The more you can become aware of your experience, the more you can be proactive about it instead of reactive. Recognizing that you may be an HSP (or your partner or child may be HSP), will help you all talk more openly about your challenges and to figure out the best ways to prevent or handle those overwhelming moments in day to day life with more grace and compassion.