In the summer of 2020, the New York Times published an article titled “Is Your Child an Orchid, a Tulip or a Dandelion?” The concept is simple. Children who are dandelions can thrive in almost any environment, orchids need the most specific environment to grow and flourish, and tulips lie in between. We discovered our children’s temperament through time, patience, and trial and error. Even as babies, I started to suspect that something was unique about our family. I use the collective term family because high sensitivity runs in my children, husband, and myself. For highly sensitive people, new experiences can be anxiety-inducing, crowded places draining, and burnout can happen quickly if we aren’t careful. We have to protect ourselves from the sensory overload that makes up our modern world. Highly sensitive people feel things deeply, are intuitive, and have rich inner lives. It really is a gift, as long as you learn how to live in alignment with it. If you suspect you or your children may be highly sensitive, I highly recommend taking this free quiz (there’s one for adults too).
American society often rails against the sensitive temperament. Quiet children are questioned about their caution, and shyness is treated like a negative trait to overcome. I remember feeling shame about my introverted nature growing up. Being labeled as shy and compared to those who were louder felt humiliating. After many years of processing, I realized that there are many advantages to having a more cautious nature. Some of these include keen observation skills, an empathetic nature, and enjoying deeper, more meaningful relationships.
Throughout our marriage, my husband and I have found what works (and what doesn’t) for our highly sensitive family. Demanding jobs with long hours and near-constant stimulation are not a good fit. Packed weekends are out. Keeping up with the news cycle and social media posts are also a drain on our energy and moods. Some of these things can’t be helped. Becoming a parent can be especially difficult for a highly sensitive person. Lots of noise, lack of sleep, and unpredictability are taxing on anyone, particularly someone with a sensitive nature. But once that season was over, we began to find a rhythm that worked well for our family. If you, your child, or your whole family are highly sensitive, here are some tips that worked for us that may help you as well.These ideas aren’t only specific to our children because what affects one of us affects all of us.
Work from home - I know this isn't possible for everyone. But with the pandemic, lots of people found themselves working from home and enjoying it. Even if it’s just a day or two a week, the lack of traffic, workplace stimulation, and deciding your own daily rhythm can help the week feel more calm.
Find the best fit for your child’s education - We have tried both Catholic school and currently homeschool. They certainly both have their benefits. At the moment, homeschool is working well to give our children lots of time to deep dive their interests, space to play and be in nature, and relaxing social situations with time to socialize at their own pace. If this is not an option for you, finding a kind and understanding teacher and explaining your child’s needs at the beginning of the school year can make a world of difference too.
Consider occupational therapy - We have done OT several times over the last few years. We have a fantastic place not too far from home that works with children of all ages who need support in regulating their sensory systems. Highly sensitive people are often sensory avoiders and OT is a safe place to practice new motor skills, interact with unfamiliar people and materials, and take risks. We have seen so much growth with each round and then use these tools to help our children at home.
Prepare for new experiences together - Whether you’re going on vacation, trying a new restaurant, or preparing for a new activity, these novel experiences can feel scary. It is easy for us adults to forget how little control children have. They rely on us completely and we have a myriad of prior experiences and resources to pull from. I like to talk about the new situation, show pictures or videos, and compare it to similar events. We answer any questions the kids may have, while also reminding them that we often have to be flexible and that things don’t always go according to plan.
Create space for daily downtime - Once our oldest stopped napping, I knew that we would still need a break in the day. Enter quiet time. Even at 5 and 8, this is still an almost daily occurrence. It is necessary for us sensitive people to have quiet pockets in our days to be alone and recharge. The kids have quiet toys in their rooms, along with books and drawing supplies. I like to read for about a half hour during this time. There’s always more I could be doing, but I know I’ll be calmer and more present if I get a midday reset.
High sensitivity is another way God has made each of us unique. Highly sensitive people may have an easier time exhibiting the gifts of knowledge, understanding, and fear of the Lord. Through their deep thinking and high level of empathy, sensitive people can really channel the desires of the Lord and help others do the same. When these qualities are encouraged, highly sensitive children can flourish and grow in God’s image. Rather than a problem to be fixed, high sensitivity should be treated as a gift to understand and accept.
Katy Klimczuk is a former reading specialist turned homeschool teacher and children’s author. She lives in Michigan with her husband, two children, and two cats. She hopes you find joy and connection through her work. Follow along at https://www.instagram.com/katyklimczuk/.