Raising a sensitive child

I have often wondered how much of my personality comes from my nature and how much comes from my environment.  Having a child is reflecting some of that back to me.  I’m seeing things emerging in my kiddo’s personality that I realize have to be more nature driven than environment driven because she’s only 2-1/2 and hasn’t been aware of her environment for all that long.  One of the biggest things is sensitivity, which I mentioned a bit on Monday.

I have always been a sensitive kid.  I could tell when my parents were having a bad day.  I was upset when other people were upset.  I cried at movies.  I sobbed when we’d play Bambi and my mom would pretend my older brother, playing the hunter, had shot her when I was 3 or 4.  Even as I got older, these sentiments persisted and deepened in some ways.  There was the time when my husband (then boyfriend) was driving me back across town to my college residence hall and hit a possum a few blocks away.  The possum literally got up and walked away, but I was sobbing so much he turned the car around and took me back home to see if my parents knew what to do with me (and this was after we had already been dating for about four years!).  That kind of stuff has been pretty normal for me.

I’ve wondered before whether my sensitivity comes from my innate personality or if it comes from my upbringing.  I was the youngest and the only girl; my parents did protect and shield me from many things.  But, I think they also saw how upset I’d get about things.  No wonder they shielded me.  My brother saw R rated violent movies way before I did because, quite frankly, I couldn’t handle them.  I still don’t handle them well.  We won’t even talk about scary movies.  I watched part of “Pet Cemetery” at a slumber party in fourth grade and it still scares the crud out of me to think of it.

As I’m seeing my child’s personality unfolding, I’m realizing that over-sensitivity is more nature than I thought.  She already has it.  If someone is upset or pretends to be upset, then she worries about them.  We have a person in our lives who likes to get attention from little ones by pretending to pout and cry.  It bothers Lexiana a lot.  She worries.  She goes straight over and pats this person’s leg and tries to comfort however she can.  Other little ones don’t notice this as much. Even last summer when her vocabulary wasn’t what it is now, she comforted her cousin who was visiting and very scared of our dog.  She kept patting his back gently saying, “It’s OK.  It’s OK.”

While all toddlers can get upset at the smallest thing at any moment, I think my kiddo sometimes does this even more so, especially when it comes to getting in trouble.  We hate making her cry.  It’s not fun for any of us.  There have been times when we’ve had to be harsh because she was putting herself in danger or she wasn’t listening.  Then she sobs.  She feels horrible.  Granted, she learns her lesson (and there are times we do have to do this for her own good), but she takes it very, very personally.  There are other times where we aren’t even being harsh in the slightest and it completely hurts her feelings.

And she punishes herself.  I’ve had a few times when I hated putting her in time out because she had already been berating and punishing herself prior to the actual punishment.  It sucks.

So, now I’m thinking about what I will teach her about being sensitive.  I try to think of the things I’ve learned.  It’s not very easy being an overly sensitive person in this world.  It can lead to broken hearts and hurt feelings.  Wearing your heart on your sleeve most of the time is seen as weakness.  What will I say to my child when she cries for another person who is hurting?  What will I say when she reaches out to someone and they turn around and take advantage of her?  What will I say when someone makes fun of her for crying?  What will I say when she encounters insensitive people who thinks it’s funny to try and make her cry?  These are hard things.

I hope I can tell her to be proud of who she is.  I want to tell her that crying is not a sign of weakness.  One of my challenges has always been that I cry easily, yet I despise crying in front of other people.  I’d almost rather stand in front of someone in my underwear than cry in front of them.  Seriously.  I don’t want Lexiana to be ashamed to cry.  And I definitely don’t want her to ever feel bad for having a big heart.

There are some benefits to being overly sensitive.  I think I am sometimes a better listener and a better writer because I feel people’s stories distinctly as they tell them to me.  I have teared up with sources as I interview them about a difficult topic.  I have laughed with them over funny stories.  I have cheered with them through victories.  I think I am a better daughter, wife, mother and friend because of being so sensitive.  I am aware of other peoples’ feelings.  I think about them and consider them before I make decisions.  Sometimes that sensitivity leads me to find ways to better help others because I think of what they are going through and what they most need.  Constantly I pray for people I know and people I don’t know because I am so moved about their situations and don’t forget them.

My sensitive girl already has a servant's heart. She loves helping with chores like taking the trash to the curb.

I’d like to share these things with Lexiana as she grows up.  She’s going to have to learn how to function in this world as a sensitive person.  She’s so full of love and goodness and hope and sympathy already.  I see her with a servant’s heart so young.  She asks me throughout the day if she can help me with whatever I’m doing.  When I wasn’t feeling well this past weekend and went back to bed while she hung out with my husband, she tucked me in, gave me her favorite doll to sleep with, patted my leg and told me to let her know if I needed anything.  She is a sweet, compassionate, sensitive girl.  I cannot imagine her any differently.  And I am thankful for her.  I don’t want this world and the people in it to ever change that in her.  I will teach her the good things about being sensitive.  I will help her deal with the hard things about being sensitive.  I will hold her and hug her when she cries.  I will soothe her hurts as much as I can.  She will never really know how much I’d take them on myself for her to avoid them (at least until she has her own child).

I will teach her that it’s OK to cry.  It’s OK to hurt.  It’s OK to feel pain.  And then it’s time to move on and not get stuck in pain and bitterness.  I will also teach her that it’s OK to take the risk to love.  It’s OK to reach out and help.  It’s OK to share part of your heart with someone else when they need it most, even if they don’t appreciate it.  Most of all, I will teach her that it’s OK to just be her.  And if anyone has a problem with the way she is, then it’s their loss.  I will teach her that God can use her sensitive spirit (in fact, He gave it to her) so that she can reach out to others in various ways including through prayer, the written word, the spoken word, song and more.

I pray I can teach her these lessons through word and action as she grows up.  Right now is the easy part when she’s young and the hurts are minimal.  Right now is the easy part because she moves on pretty well to the next thing after having a broken heart.  And right now is easy because I know how to comfort her with hugs and songs.  I pray for strength and wisdom to help her through all the hurts in her life as she grows.  There will be challenges, but more than anything, I want her to know that her dad and I will always be by her side, ready to wipe her tears and help her however we can — even when she’s a grown-up.

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