I have a sensitive child. She is beautiful, considerate, intelligent, exceptionally well mannered, and very, very sensitive.
Her sensitivity is one of the things I admire about her the most, and one of the greatest challenges in parenting her. Besides being the What If Child, she worries mostly about being perfect. She wants to have the best grades in the class, be the funniest among her friends, the most considerate to strangers, and the person who makes the rest of us look bad with her flawless mannerisms. She loves to teach others what she knows herself and would follow a 2 year old around all day to give their mom a break and keep them entertained. She never wants to see anyone unhappy and wonders what she can do to help if sees someone in need. (In fact, she suggested I write about sensitive kids so others can learn too) She doesn’t want to ever let her parents down, and if she notices we are upset, she will do everything in her power to right what wronged us or at least do what she can to cheer us up.
She beams when she is praised and crumbles when she feels like she has disappointed someone else. She sets high goals and beats herself up when she doesn’t achieve them. I know, I know, sounds horrible doesn’t it? Who would want their child to try their best always?
Of course I want her to try her best, but when her best isn’t cutting it that day, I want her to be okay with it, and she’s not…yet.
Her frustrations bring her to tears quickly and her anger typically causes her to withdraw. Her feelings are hurt easily and she frets over any perceived injustice. She sulks if experiences don’t meet her expectations and can be a bit possessive about friendships and wanting them all to have great meaning. She is the perfect definition of a perfectionist. This should make her very happy.
My challenge is that I have to be aware of hurting the feelings of my sensitive child when I call her out with what she does wrong…and she does make mistakes. Lots of them. Because when I point out her mistakes, she OWNS them. It proves to her that she is less than perfect and confirms her fears. The disappointment she has in herself is sometimes the worst consequence of all. Does this mean I should be easy on her because she is sensitive? Not at all! Because if I start to lower my expectations, she will have nothing to torture herself over. Nor can I give up my sarcasm, for then I would be a shell of myself and no good to anyone.
But realistically, lowering my expectations to accommodate her sensitivity does not teach her how to manage her insecurities, which is essential in this world of ours. In order to live comfortably in our often overly critical society, she will need to learn to love herself unconditionally and accept the imperfection of others as well. And teaching her these skills while maintaining the beauty her sensitive nature offers, is the best lesson I can give her.
As her parent, I do not have any control over what she says to herself, but I do have control over what I can teach and share with her. So we talk. I share my honesty and my own experiences of imperfection and disappointment when I don’t meet my own high expectations. And how I get over it and what works for me. We also play out the worst case scenario if she doesn’t achieve her expectations and what the consequences will be. Besides personal disappointment, they are rarely life altering. We also talk about why we want to be so good at everything, where the drive comes from and how powerful it can be, but how even the best inventors and philosophers in the world had to make mistakes and learn from them. Mistakes are often the best education to getting it right. And lastly, we talk about the value of practice. How none of us knew how to walk at birth and had we stayed on the ground every time we fell from a missed step or lost balance, we’d still be sitting there. Practicing how to change our thoughts and reactions can be very, very hard. But the more we practice, the easier it becomes, just like everything else.
My sensitive little cherub is an incredible daughter, friend and human being. And someday I hope she sees herself the way I see her. Until then, I will praise and elevate her, console and hug her and continue to teach her the consequences of her actions. I will also drive myself nuts wishing I could be the voice in her head and continue to want to protect her from all things painful. After all, I am her mother. But since I can’t, I will work on my own practice of having faith that she will figure it out, her own way, and she will do it perfectly.