Before my children were born, I prayed that they would have my husband’s temperament. He’s so easy going that if you didn’t REALLY know him you might think that nothing gets to him. You remember your mother’s warning, “Just wait, you’ll have a child just like you one day.” Well despite my prayers, my first daughter is just like me. It frustrates me to my very core, but at the same time nobody knows better than me all those statements likely to hurt her feelings or fuel her anxiety and what she needs to hear when she’s doubting herself.
Last night, I had to stop the self-doubt from creeping in when she started to explain that her teenaged camp counselor told her that if she didn’t practice enough for the talent show she was going to make a fool out of herself in front of her parents. I told her that while teenagers might know how to have fun with kids, they don’t always know how to talk to them. It takes a parent to truly know how to talk to a child. I think it takes that kind of selfless parental love to understand a child, especially a sensitive one like Hannah. She thanked me for always knowing how to make her feel better. I silently thought, that’s because I am you sweetheart and I’ve already been down every path you’re embarking on. Years ago, I had to have a pep talk with her Kindergarten teacher before the start of school. “She’s super bright, but very sensitive,” I explained. She’s very hard on herself. So the following is what I would like the world to know about my sensitive child.
1. Address Her Specifically – If you wish to address one child who’s misbehaving, but choose the approach of making broad generalizations about consequences to the whole group this is not going to fly. My daughter can and will think you are in fact addressing her specifically unless you tell her you’re not. I have to remember not to do this myself at home. If it’s Jay who’s misbehaving I can’t make a general statement about poor behavior without making it clear I’m not talking to her. In an effort not to embarrass one child, you’re heaping unnecessary guilt and worry on a good kid. She takes it all personally and she genuinely wants to do well. I may see the DIVA, but I guarantee you that you adults of the world see only the STAR so be careful what you say.
2. Don’t Insinuate She Could EVER Disappoint Me – If I’m disappointed in anyone, it’s the way some people make my daughter needlessly worry she might let me down. Perhaps this camp counselor thought it would reflect badly on him if his campers messed up their routine for the talent show, but insinuating she could ever let me down is bogus. I love her crazy dancing. It’s not always pretty, but it reflects the beauty of her heart. She still dances like no one is watching and I want to keep it that way. There is NOTHING she could do that would make her a failure in my eyes.
3. Show Her It’s Ok To Make Mistakes – This is the hardest thing for me to teach her. I am her after all. I know how hard she tries and I know how hard she is on herself when she makes mistakes. I’m so grateful to her Kindergarten teacher for reminding her that even he makes mistakes. She would take getting answers wrong so hard that she would burst into tears in class. I can relate. I don’t ever want her to feel like mistakes are anything other than a learning opportunity. Nobody can avoid making mistakes and some of the best successes in our lives only come after we make numerous mistakes along the way.
4. I DON’T Want You To Change Her – I don’t want you to “toughen her up” so she doesn’t get so upset by what you say. She’s a literal kid who takes what you say at face value. She has misinterpreted things I’ve said because I forget this fact. I want you to understand that she believes what you say so I would rather you take a second to think before you speak than try to stop her tears later. I’m a crier too. It’s the way we’re built; all heart and no armor. We do everything fully. There simply is no half way. It’s the thing I’ve hated and loved about myself my whole life.
The worst thing you can do is make her feel like it’s not normal to get upset, even if it’s just with herself. To clip those wings would also clip her deep passion for everything. To risk all means getting hurt, but there is no personal growth without those things. I have little philosophies I call Erinisms . Today’s was: “Perfection stunts your growth.” In other words, we grow because of our flaws and to change them means taking away who we are and what we stand to learn from them. I may never fully appreciate it in myself, but in my daughter I see the beauty of it. Her sensitive heart is something I NEVER want her to lose. We don’t love people for their lack of flaws, because they are who they are because of them.
So I’ll always have to tell my daughter not to worry. I’ll always have to remind her that doing her best is good enough. That’s the truly hard part about parenting a child exactly like you. I have to teach her what I’m still trying to teach myself. The only thing I NEED her to know is that being sensitive is NOT the curse it feels like sometimes. It’s what I love most about her.