We are raising a brilliant, warm, funny, creative, strong-willed, highly-sensitive child, who just celebrated his sixth birthday.
A couple of months ago, Ilay asked for a family vacation for his birthday; touched by his heartfelt request (last year, he asked for hamsters!), we had it booked.
When we arrived at the hotel, all happy and excited, it turned out that I had forgotten one crucial thing—a super crucial thing – Ilay’s pajama.
When Everything Matters
Ilay’s pajamas are not only pajamas; they’re his comfort zone, his home, his epitome. He changes into a pajama as soon as he’s back home, and he never goes to sleep in anything but a pajama. He always wears a set, and he loves choosing his pajamas.
And I didn’t pack a pajama.
The things that seem completely irrelevant to us, are often those that matter the most for strong-willed, highly-sensitive humans.
When Empathy isn’t Enough
There wasn’t enough empathy in the whole world to soothe Ilay (nor does he even accept empathy, anyway). There wasn’t enough self-empathy to soothe Jonathan or me as we genuinely believed we’d be kicked out of the hotel that night for all the loud feelings.
All we could do was stand there, helpless, as Ilay went through his fear (how will I ever fall asleep?), lack of clarity (how will I ever fall asleep?), discomfort (nothing feels like my pajama!), annoyance, and disappointment (how could you forget?), disconnection (how could you forget?), anxiety (how will I ever fall asleep?), tiredness, and agony (I’m so tired and I will never sleep).
When All Strategies Fail
I took the path of strategies that I know to work. Claiming full responsibility and making amends didn’t help. Offering solutions didn’t help. Validating and naming feelings didn’t help. Nothing worked.
I then reminded my overwhelmed self that even though I was the one to forget the pajama, I wasn’t the one facing these feelings now; they weren’t mine. And so, I humbly accepted acceptance and told myself that there’s nothing I can do about it but be here for Ilay when he is ready to find his solution.
After what felt like forever, Ilay did come up with a solution because that’s where true resolutions come from – they come from within.
When it Doesn’t Seem to End
When he woke up in the morning, he still had some of these feelings burdening him. He wasn’t willing to go for breakfast because he didn’t know what it would look like or how many people would be there. He wasn’t in his element, feeling comfortable or known. He was still afraid.
Yes – all because of a pajama.
When You’re Raising a Strong-Willed, Highly-Sensitive Human
Mental preparation and clarity are crucial to humans who value routine and whose brains thrive upon sensory representations like the brains of most highly-sensitive humans.
And when these highly-sensitive humans happen to be incredibly strong-willed and young, knowing what to expect and having the world align with their expectations is key to their peace of mind. And as their parents, it’s our responsibility to lay the foundation for their expectations.
When You Plan
When your child is both highly-sensitive and strong-willed, you can’t forget to plan. And when I say plan, I mean drilling down to the smallest resolutions that mean nothing to you yet mean everything for your child.
Planning and knowing what to expect gives your child clarity, confidence, and comfort – the three C’s that can make or break any experience for the highly-sensitive, strong-willed child.
When You Avoid My Mistake
In addition to simply not planning, I also believed that “I can do it myself.” The problem is that when we do things ourselves, we don’t include other people, and since we really can’t do everything ourselves, those people are usually the ones to pay the price.
To avoid my mistake, plan everything you can, and plan together with your child. Let them make as many choices as possible – clothes, games, toys, toiletries, hats, etc, help them celebrate their autonomy and practice decision-making.
Then, use their senses to offer them their three C’s. Location pictures and descriptions, possible menus, food choices, typical weather, and what we can do if it changes.
Plan what you know, and plan for what you don’t know. And if it sounds like all this planning will take the fun out of every experience, know that if you’re raising a highly-sensitive, strong-willed child – there’s no fun without planning.
Want to talk to me about raising your strong-willed, highly-sensitive child? Join my life and parenting support group on Facebook. I’d love to help you plan so you can avoid my mistake.