A highly sensitive person (HSP) can be deeply affected by just about anything that happens around them, for good or for ill. The behavior of their friends, family members, and other companions can have an especially large impact, which creates some interesting challenges for HSPs who are fortunate enough to be parents.
Many highly sensitive people who have children are concerned that their HSP traits will inhibit their performance as moms or dads. This does not have to happen. In fact, a highly sensitive person can make an outstanding parent if they take the right approach to the job.
If you’re an HSP with kids, here are seven things you can do that will help you have the most joyful and rewarding experience possible as an HSP parent:
#1 Set boundaries that acknowledge your HSP traits
As a highly sensitive person who is also a parent, it is especially important for you to know your limits. Children are frequently active, demanding, and inquisitive, and they rely on you to take care of them and tend to their most essential needs all of the time. This will make them a constant presence in your life, and while you’ll normally be delighted to have them around, you should know when your sensitivities might be an issue.
When you take a personal inventory, you may come to realize that you’re most sensitive to loud sounds. Or to being touched too often, or to having people intrude in your personal space. Or your anxiety may be triggered if you’re required to perform too many tasks in too short of a time. Or perhaps people who say rude or insensitive things to you can hurt you deeply and ruin your day.
Do some of these apply in your relationships with your children? If they do, these situations should be addressed right away and changes should be made to offer you more protection. You must set some limits and insist that they be respected. Your boundaries must be clear and firm, and you should make sure you have the space you require if some of your kids’ troublesome behaviors are natural and healthy and shouldn’t be curtailed.
#2 Don’t deprioritize your needs
Being a parent is the most selfless job a person can have. Your kids will always come first, even after they’ve grown up and moved out of the house.
All of this implies a certain amount of self-sacrifice. But you shouldn’t ignore your most vital personal needs. No matter how busy you become, you have to take time for yourself. You need private moments where you can relax and unwind, where you can escape from continuous sensory and emotional stimulation. This is critical for your mental and physical health, as a highly sensitive person you need calm and quiet moments just as surely as you need food, water, and air to breathe.
When you take time to de-stress and decompress, and do so on a regular basis, your children will benefit from it just as much as you do. You’ll be a highly sensitive parent who is able to stay calm, cool and collected. You’ll remain patient and will be able to control your temper, even in situations where your kids’ demands and expectations have left you feeling desperate and overwhelmed in the past.
#3 Create a daily schedule and write down the rules
Kids can be messy and forgetful. They may constantly leave things strewn about the house or in their rooms and never bother to pick them up, even after promising they would. They may leave their dishes unwashed, the lights on when they leave a room, or the refrigerator door open after they’ve retrieved a snack.
There are a thousand examples of this type of behavior, all of which are anathema to HSP parents like yourself, who appreciate cleanliness and order and feel anxious and miserable in cluttered or disorganized home environments.
To change this unsettling dynamic, you can try two things. One is to create a detailed written schedule each and every day, which explains everyone's responsibilities and lets them know when certain tasks should be completed. The second is to make a comprehensive and printable list of all the household rules, so your kids will know exactly what is expected of them at all times. This more structured approach to home management can help your children break their problematic habits, which will be good for them in the long run and marvelous for you every day.
#4 Talk to your children about at least some of your HSP characteristics
Many highly sensitive people think they should keep the truth about their HSP traits to themselves. They may do this automatically with their children, thinking that it’s wrong to reveal emotional vulnerability when kids need parents who are strong, reliable and responsible.
The instinct to keep your identity as a highly sensitive person hidden from your children is understandable. But unless your children are simply too young to understand, all of you will be better off if they have at least some idea of the challenges you face on a daily basis.
This knowledge will help them understand why you prefer to avoid certain environments, possibly including some that they enjoy. It can help them make adjustments in their behavior, so they won’t do anything to make you feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable. And perhaps most importantly, they will almost assuredly feel closer to you because you’ve trusted them enough to confide in them about your vulnerabilities.
#5 Organize family activities that work for everyone
Are you still trying to figure out how to balance your needs with those of your loved ones, and with those of your children specifically? One way to solve this conundrum is to organize family activities that are interesting, educational, and/or fun for everyone.
Group visits to the library, home movie nights or game nights, family camping trips, long hikes, walks or bike rides, and outings to the mall during slower times are just a few examples of activities that your kids could enjoy just as much as you would. You’ll be in more peaceful environments, where sensory overload is unlikely. Yet there will still be plenty of opportunities for pleasure and enjoyment for all members of the family, regardless of their ages.
Vacation planning should also take your HSP traits into account. Together as a family you can choose destinations and recreational plans that will offer something to delight everyone, including you. This type of loving and thoughtful collaboration will put you all on the same page, as your needs will be acknowledged and respected along with everyone else’s.
#6 Learn to trust your empathic instincts and let them be your guide
Being a highly sensitive person can create challenges when you're a parent. But there is a wonderful upside to being an HSP parent, and if you handle things the right way your highly sensitive person traits can help you forge a more satisfying relationship with your children.
As an HSP you have an instinctive ability to read people like they are open books. Your highly developed empathy allows you to form strong mental and emotional connections with your companions, and those connections will be especially powerful when they are forged between you and your children. The empathic links you create with your kids will run as deep as any you’ll ever have, and they can help you build bridges of compassion and understanding that will last a lifetime.
Once you've learned to trust your empathic instincts and employ your empathy as a parenting tool, you may be shocked to discover that you know what your kids are thinking and feeling before they do. If you can convince them to speak to you about their fears, concerns, hopes and dreams, you'll have no difficulty relating since you’ll be able to experience their feelings as if they were your own, for at least a little while. When you’re this in tune with your kids, you’ll be able to offer advice that really hits the mark and lets them know you’re truly on their side.
#7 Remain alert for signs of highly sensitive tendencies in your kids
If one or more of your children is exhibiting signs of being a highly sensitive person (and who would be more qualified to spot that than you?), you can be a major source of wisdom and a positive inspiration in their lives. You can offer sympathy, advice, understanding, perspective, and enlightening stories about your own experiences, which will help prepare your child for the life challenges they may have to face in the years ahead.
Most importantly, you’ll be able to explain to them why being a highly sensitive person is a good thing rather than a bad thing. While they have some vulnerabilities, highly sensitive people are empathic, compassionate, inclusive, non-judgmental, considerate, diligent, and responsible. These marvelous characteristics determine their attitudes and behaviors in most instances, and their possession of such admirable traits is what allows highly sensitive people to form mutually satisfying relationships with such a wide range of people.
By showing them how lucky they are to be the way they are, you can help your highly sensitive child build a healthy self-image. As a parent that is the best gift you could ever give them, since it will improve their chances of finding success and happiness throughout their life.