Imagine that everywhere you go, speed metal music is blaring in every store, at work, even in your car. How much harder would your day be having to filter that out? To not feel affected by the volume or lyrics or inability to just concentrate on other things? Annoying? Difficult? Exhausting? This is what a typical day can be like for a sensitive child.
Is your child an Orchid, Tulip or Dandelion?
I read an article recently that talked about different sensitivities of children. It discussed whether you have an Orchid, Tulip, or a Dandelion. An Orchid is a child who is more sensitive to environment and/or sensory input. Bright light, loud noises, lots of people, scratchy clothes…some or all of these can be difficult for an Orchid. Dandelion children are better able to handle stressful triggers and uncomfortable situations. If your child is a Tulip, that means they are a combination of both.
My son, John, now a senior in high school, is probably an Orchid but possibly a Tulip. He was and still is sensitive to certain situations, but also loves the Diablo sauce at Torchy’s Tacos. 😉 Raising him was hard at times for his father and I because we just didn’t understand what was going on. He cried easily and often, feeling things deeply compared to others. He was also one of the most compassionate children for his age, making sure we didn’t step on bugs on our way to the park and would be the first to run over to a child who fell and was crying. Too much change upset him, as if he was overstimulated to begin with and tolerating more was somewhat painful. We figured out over time that we had to make his life at home as boring and bland as possible because he would react so strongly to school and the world around him. Today, he loves horror movies and wearing tight jeans, so yes, he adapted, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still sensitive (thank goodness he never reads my blog posts!). If any of this sounds familiar, then you may be raising a sensitive child. Is your child an Orchid or Tulip? And if they are prone to be more sensitive, what can you do to raise your child in an environment they can thrive in?
How do you know what kind of child you have? And is it nature or nurture?
“Sensitivity is an inborn temperament that comes hard-wired and remains with highly sensitive people for their whole lives.” Michael Pluess, a professor of developmental psychology at Queen Mary University of London, has found that our life experiences, particularly those early in life, also have a big impact.
“We found that about 50 percent of differences in sensitivity between people are due to genetic factors, the other half by environment,” Dr. Pluess said.
If you are curious about yourself or your child, here is a Sensitivity Quiz that I found online. I took it myself and I’m a Tulip, closer to an Orchid than a Dandelion. If you have a sensitive child, chances are, you fall closer to an Orchid than a Dandelion, too.
How do you raise a sensitive child?
Children who are more sensitive to their surroundings and others’ emotions need the right conditions, like an Orchid, to bloom beautifully and completely. What does your child need? I’m sure he or she is letting you know already =) (I always like to say our children train us to become a good parent), but what more can you do? And how can you help them to be more flexible? Here is what is recommended:
- Accept Their Sensitivity: Don’t fight it. Instead, try to help them find peace in their environment so that home is a place they can truly relax and recharge.
- Provide Downtime: Sensitive children need a place they can go to calm themselves. In our classrooms at Sunrise Montessori, we have a quiet spot with pillows where only one child can sit to help those who need a break from overstimulation.
- Set Limits: Our children all need this, but especially children who are more sensitive. They can’t see or understand what is going on, but you can. Like the railings on a balcony, limits help them feel safe. For example, if you know that watching TV just before bed will make it harder for them to fall asleep, then set a time each night when the TV is shut off.
- Praise Their Efforts: When you witness your child doing well in a stimulating environment, let them know! Help them to see what is good and bad for their bodies and minds.
- Provide Rewards: Did they do well running errands with you? Give them a hug and let them know!
- Teach Feeling Words: It’s important, especially when they are young, to verbalize their feelings. Help them find the right words that explain what is going on in their bodies or with their emotions.
- Teach Problem-Solving: You can do everything above and none of it matters if your child isn’t adapting to the world on some level. Help them to learn self-soothing strategies, like reading a book or running outside when they get home. Show them what they can do to control their environment better, like seeing friends in smaller groups instead of large ones.
Having a sensitive child may make parenting more of a challenge, but the rewards are sweeter! Your sensitive child views the world differently and more compassionately. They care deeply about others. Conversations are more complex and layered. If you have a child who is more like an Orchid or Tulip, they need your help so that they feel like a native instead of a guest in their life. And you as their parent are the one who can show them the way.