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How Do You Handle a Highly Sensitive Child?

Jeremy:
So, what do you do if you find that within your kids, there’s one of your kids or more that are just really highly sensitive? How do you handle the highly sensitive child? Dr. Thomas Boyce, who is a professor emeritus of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco wrote an amazing book about, The Orchid and the Dandelion. I love the way he kind of took this, I was listening to some of his interviews. He talked about, how there are kind of orchid children, who are highly sensitive.

Orchids if you don’t care for them a very particular way, they tend to die. Dandelions just spring up everywhere, they’re almost impossible to kill, they’re very resilient. And so he used this analogy to try to tease out the fact that, we oftentimes treat these two children the same and it’s not healthy. So he spent his entire career really researching these kinds of two types of children, and particularly what does it look like to help the highly sensitive child? And, over many years of research, he had a finding that I thought was really interesting.

He said, “The depressing thing that he discovered, was that highly sensitive children tended to do much worse later in life, and so they were highly sensitive in the home, they became very damaged, and then they really lived out tragic lives, oftentimes as compared to their counterparts, the dandelion children.” He said, “With one massive exception.” And it’s really interesting when he teased this out. He said, “There were homes in which orchid children, highly sensitive children were raised, and they actually vastly surpassed their counterparts, the dandelion children.” And he said that, “When they were raised, particularly in loving, attentive homes,” he said, “that had consistent routines,” he said that, “They just amazingly flourished.” And he said that.

So he has really dedicated so much of his life to going around trying to help families that have highly sensitive children, to establish, predictable, consistent routines, for these highly sensitive children, and to not give up hope. And to know that yeah, if you do just sort of treat these highly sensitive kids, like there are dandelion kids, then real damage can be done, and it is difficult for these kinds of kids to recover. On the other hand, highly sensitive children have very particular gifts, that if they are raised in these sort of predictable, consistent environments, they tend to really thrive into their adulthood.

And you guys know that, one of the things that Jeff and I, and at Family Teams we talk a lot about, is the idea of establishing seven day rhythm for your family. And men, I cannot stress enough. If you have highly sensitive kids, it’s so important that you establish consistent rhythm for them because, they really thrive in the ability for them to understand their environment, for them to feel safe in their environment, and then just all of these parts of them start to unlock. And if they’re constantly feeling unsafe, they’re constantly feeling like they have to protect themselves in different ways, these sensitivities can really create a situation as a doctor Boyce is talking about, where longterm they just can’t thrive.

And so, this is why we just emphasize, it’s really important to think about this, are you establishing really consistent rhythms as a household? And are you crafting an environment in which you’re sensitive kids who have these kinds of gifts, can really unlock and flourish? But Jeff, how have you guys thought about this one?

Jeff:
Yeah. No, I agree. I think it’s just so important, we can’t hit that enough that, when you’re … And when we say routine, we don’t mean rigid, we mean like things that your kind of life can anchor down in, and swirl around. That’s the difference, right? And without that, you lose the meaning, you lose the purpose, it’s kind of like a launching pad. I feel like giving people something to put their teeth into, especially your kids, allows them to then launch further. It’s like a stronger felt … Like if you try to jump from sand, you’re going to go less high than if you try to jump from concrete. You know what I mean?

And so I think routines, and sometimes they’re those firm foundations that allow you to jump higher actually, which is exactly, I think what this is saying. And so I think, just think of those, be creative, experiment. And that’s what I would say is, experiment with those, but kind of also work backwards. What do we want it to look like? How do we want our home to feel? What do we want it to do? And then can we work backwards from that? And like right now, we’re in a season of that where we’re kind of … We really had kind of, not a ton throughout the day, besides like quiet time and breakfast and all that.

And now that our kids are getting a little older, we’re starting to experiment with like, now like block rituals and routines, where it’s like every two hours it’s kind of named now, right? Now it doesn’t mean you’re doing something for those two hours, but just like put a name on it, make it a little bit more of this, so you’re always experimenting and moving and kind of shaking around. So, I would just say, yeah lean into that, and especially with the … In the sensitive … In children that are sensitive, I love this. And so I think that’s really, really important.

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