On sensitivity

I know several parents who find their children more sensitive to a myriad of things (making mistakes, loud noises, groups of people) than they expect or think is normal. What parents often find helpful when they find themselves noticing profound differences between the way their children function and they way they themselves function is to read up on personality type systems, like Myers-Briggs. Whether or not they agree with the notion that each of us has a type-able personality, parents often find that looking at their children’s behavior through this kind of lens helps them more effectively manage the differences in their family.

An example is a homeschooling mom and daughter I know who function very differently, and the mom finds it very frustrating. She took her daughter out of school because her anxiety had grown so acute that it was affecting her health. She’s been much healthier and happier since she left school, but her mom worries about how little interest she has in being around other people. She doesn’t have any trouble interacting with others, and enjoys occasional play time with others her age, but she prefers to spend a lot of time at home with only her family. This mom loves being around others and has trouble understanding how her daughter can be so content without spending a lot of time with a lot of other people. When she started to think of it as a difference between an introvert and an extravert, one who craves solitude and thrives in it, and another who craves social interaction and thrives with that, it was easier for her to work with her daughter to build the kind of activities and experiences that really worked.

The book I’ve been reading about sensitivity is called The Highly Sensitive Child. I have to say that I’ve been a little skeptical as I’ve wandered into this idea – that some of us are just born more sensitive to certain kinds of input (sound, social interaction, information). But I see the potential for similar relief in parents of children who seem to be “overreacting” to things. Whether or not there’s a discernible group of people who experience things in one particular way, it’s useful to step back and consider that each of us experiences things differently from one another. In the same way that we enjoy different activities, we might be affected differently by different kinds of stimuli.

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