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We’ve tried everything. Everything. We’ve read books, we’ve exhausted all of the options we can come up with. We’ve even gone into avoidance mode. Nothing is working.
As it turns out, our daughter is likely what is characterized as a Highly Sensitive Child. It’s a trait that Dr. Elaine Aron has defined.
It means that the world can overwhelm our daughter. And she can have overwhelmingly passionate responses that are difficult to address with the normal parenting tools.
I could, and probably will, write a whole different post on what is going on at some point, but for now just envision big, huge tantrums. I can’t even call them tantrums. Massive fits. It’s like our daughter is gone in these moments. They are intense, extreme fits that our 4 year old is having, and nothing stops them.
I try to explain it, and it seems to come across as normal 4 year old behavior testing boundaries. But it’s not. It’s not normal to go on for hours. It’s not something we can ignore and will just go away in 5 minutes.
They happen daily for awhile. Sometimes multiple times a day. Then we get a few days of a break. Then it starts up again. I can see it being triggered and I do everything in my power to stop it from progressing.
But my efforts fail most of the time.
Outside of the house, our daughter is perfect. She transitions tasks easily in school, she listens well, she’s a rule follower and aims to please. She is mature, and she is kind.
She’s an incredible person and wise beyond her years.
The only hint you’d have, is that she is “shy”. She doesn’t like to say hi to new people, and she gets scared, nervous, and anxious when there is chaos.
She sits on the sidelines many times when other kids her age are playing and running around. And she is the child that is terrified of the balloon swaying the in the wind at a birthday party.
Other than that, no one would ever know there was anything going on.
Step inside our home, however, and you’d hear screaming. You’d see a child stomping and acting out. You’d see a daily bedtime struggle.
You’d see a child that says “no” and runs away from us. A child that is starting to get physical with the objects and people around her. You’d see so many surprising behaviors.
You’d see a child with BIG feelings. A passionate child that is smart, strong willed, stubborn and determined.
Some of these behaviors are new. Some are becoming worse. Some are things we’ve seen hints of for awhile now. But all of them are amplified at the moment.
And now you’d start to see parents that are exhausted. You’d see parents that are patient, and parents that have lost their patience.
You’d see parents that cry and wonder if they went wrong somewhere. Parents that feel like this can’t be “normal” 4 year old behavior.
Our glasses have effectively tipped over. It feels as if we are no longer helping her in any productive ways.
We have tried and tried and tried and tried. Our glasses were once full and overflowing with ideas. We are out of ideas. And eventually our glasses were drained, as they fell over in sheer exhaustion.
We have no new ideas to fill them with. We are mentally exhausted to the point that we can’t even fill up our own glasses to help ourselves. We feel empty. We feel lonely. We feel confused. We need help.
That’s they key. Admitting that we need help. We need fresh ideas. We need support for our child.
We’ve tried that huge parenting toolbox that we have. And it really is extensive! (See below for a printable list of the tools we’ve tried).
And then we’ve strayed into the “tools” we don’t like: flat out punishment and taking things away, yelling and losing our cool- not on purpose, but almost inevitable when you are out of things to try and ways to channel your energy into anything productive.
We tried hard to stray away from these things, and stay on the positive discipline route. We tried hard. But when nothing worked, we lost our focus as well.
The other reality is that our daughter has been through a ton of hard emotional things in a short period of time:
Our dog Chelsea died when she was 1.5. She was there in the room as we said goodbye.
Her sister died at birth when she was 2.5. She misses her and talks about her daily.
We moved into an apartment, while our new house was being built, and then we moved into our new house. She went to a new school. And then her baby brother was born.
Couple all of those things with the fact that she is a highly sensitive child, and it seems about right that the behaviors and struggles would be heightened and at their worst right now.
About a month ago, the book about the highly sensitive child was recommended to us by one of my blogging friends. It was SPOT on.
A couple of weeks ago we talked with her doctor. Therapists and doctors always tend to tell us we’ve tried it all. They never have any new suggestions. We get marked off as A+ parents and sent on our way.
It is frustrating beyond belief, because we need ideas. We need something to work.
We simply can’t have tried it all.
The only suggestion the doctor came up with was MORE school. More challenges. She may need that, but I knew in my heart that wasn’t going to solve all of the problems.
Then, my genius husband did something. He did a search on therapists for highly sensitive children!
I would have never thought to do this.
But his search yielded results. Just near by, there is a practice that specializes in highly sensitive children.
Yesterday, I went to our intake appointment.
I felt like I was talking to someone that knew our daughter.
She understood every little thing about her, and she even predicted a few things about Caroline’s behavior that she shouldn’t have known.
Caroline fits the highly sensitive child mold so well, that this therapist knew all about her like she’d known her her whole life.
I was astounded.
She also told me she had new ideas for us. She was going to be able to teach us new tools. The sound of that made my heart just about jump for joy.
Not only does this process involve therapy with Caroline (in the form of play therapy), it will have a group therapy parenting session (basically a training course for us).
My husband and I will take a course about how to handle our highly sensitive child. How to build her up. How to help her. How to build our relationships.
I am ecstatic. My husband and I had tears in our eyes as we talked about it yesterday.
I can’t wait to see what they teach us, and what we learn about our daughter. I am so glad that we will be able to learn how to support her and how to help her.
Caroline is an incredible person. She needs parents that are willing to let her be incredible and find ways to support her. I am so very glad that we are on that path to support.
So, to all of the parents out there… if your parenting toolbox is packed full and seems to still not be enough… Keep searching. Find that path. There is a way. There is support out there.
Do that obscure google search that you’d never think to do. Someone out there has the tools for you.
The fact that you want to find it, means you are great parents.
I hope this path is all I think it’s going to be. I am eager to learn. I am eager to get our sanity back and to be able to help our daughter.
I am so thankful that I have a husband that is also eager to do those things. I am forever thankful that he was able to put us on the right path.
- The calm down tool kit that is linked to above is a printable item that has been an amazing resource for us. It is something I created to help our daughter identify her emotions, and then choose a calm down technique. It's worked so well!
The following is a list of some fantastic tools for your parenting toolbox when it comes to your child's behavior.
- Ignore tantrums
- Provide natural consequences instead of punishment that makes no logical sense
- Give choices that are acceptable "Do you want to brush your teeth on your own, or have Mama help?"
- Praise good behavior throughout the day
- Talk about ways to calm down and practice during happy moments
- Provide comfort and security with schedules and routines
- Build in special time with Mama or Daddy during the day if behaviors seem attention driven
- Build in mental stimulation and physical stimulation blocks each day
- Show empathy and truly hear your child
- Talk about and identify feelings (here is a printable calm down tool kit)
- Show your child your true feelings and show them disappointment
- Give explanations when appropriate
- Say YES. Put a positive spin on things if you can.
- Stay consistent and discipline in a way that makes sense for your family
- Remove child from others, and explain that they may return when calm (focus on the calming down aspect instead of it being simply a time out)
- Expect first time obedience (counting to 3 is expecting 3rd time obedience)
- Give a heads up that a transition is coming (do one more thing, 5 more minutes, etc.)
- Have an early bedtime and keep nap/rest time as long as possible
- Give a heads up as to what the consequence is going to be. "If you choose to throw a fit over having to stop playing, you won't be getting the toy back for the rest of the day."
- Have your child look at you and make eye contact before giving instruction.
- Have your child respond to you after giving instruction "Yes, Mama"
- Apologize to your child when you need to and set a good example in that way
- Say please and thank you to your child and treat them with respect
- Offer hugs
- Maintain your composure and don't yell
The list provided is such a fantastic set of tools. These tools, however, when used on a highly sensitive child... they aren't working. Ignoring a tantrum is a JOKE. It escalates it and causes it to go on for hours.
We've done so much. We've tried everything we can think of. We've even asked professionals for more ideas. They say we're doing it all. They say our list of go to tools is a great one. They praise us.
These things worked for a bit. They worked when our daughter was younger. They aren't working now.
So, while this list is one that I would recommend to all parents, it is a list that is lacking for the parent of the highly sensitive child.
I hope to be publishing a list specific to the highly sensitive child after having learned more and gone through our upcoming therapy sessions.
For now, I do know that positive praise is something you do not want to do with a HSC. They feel that they don't deserve the praise, and it can make their behavior worse. So for now, I'm stopping that. I simply thank her and move on. And I know that ignoring tantrums is the last thin you want to do.
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