Sunday, April 8, 2012

Highly Sensitive Advice?

My three-year-old daughter M.  is (for lack of a better description) a super sensor.  Like most personality traits, it cycles in its intensity but there were several weeks when we would go through half a dozen shirts before she'd settle on one. and then we'd go through three or four pairs of pants before she would find a pair that would work.  To make matters worse, during that intense period, usually her clothes would start bugging her after 45 minutes (which nearly always coincided with me trying to get out the door) and we had to go through the whole process again.  Truthfully, during those few weeks we were never on time anywhere. And M. only wore pants when we were outside.  It just wasn't worth the battle in our own home.  S. and I used to (okay, still) joke that M. has the same cry for breaking a leg and a tag bugging her.   You may laugh , but it is 100% true.

I was feeling very frustrated with the whole thing until a visit to a friend's house changed my perspective.  One of M.'s friends has the best dress up clothes.  Princess dresses, leotards, tutu's, veils, fringe, boas--you name it.  M. desperately wanted to wear them.  She kept trying them on, bursting into tears because they "bugged her", and asking me to help get them off.  Once she calmed down, she would try on the same dress again because "maybe it wouldn't bug" her this time and go through the whole process again.  After giving up on one dress up, she would then go through the entire process with a different dress.  This was perhaps the first time I realized how uncomfortable clothing must feel to her.  She REALLY wanted to participate in dressing up but her super sensors wouldn't let her.  And this was also the first time an outsider got a glimpse of what getting M. dressed really was liked and her sympathy was very validating, but that is another story.

Obviously this was a trying time for my patience but things got a little better when my friend handed me a book (Raising your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka), and said that it might give me some ideas for M.  To which I said, "um, thanks but I don't really consider M. spirited."  "Well . . . some of the chapters seem to apply" said my tactful friend.  hmph, I thought.  But she was right.

Raising your Spirited Child had a whole chapter on kid's sensitivities to clothes (I really only read those chapters because in other ways, M. is the opposite of spirited) and the chapter was fantastic.  Although, to be honest, the behavior analytic side of me was embarrassed that I didn't think up the interventions on my own.  I totally should have.  Anyway, the minute I finished reading the chapter I busted out labels for all of M.'s clothes.  She suddenly had a sock drawer, a shirt drawer, a pant drawer, etc. etc. etc.  I told her that sometimes clothes bug her and that is okay but it is (and here is the important part) her job to change her clothes not mine.  Suddenly the battle was gone.  Suddenly M. felt empowered.  Suddenly things seemed to bug her less (I am not kidding) and when clothing did bug her, she knew what to do. It was such a drastic change and an incredibly simple intervention.  I could not believe I had fought the battle for so long. 

The other thing I did that seemed to help (and I don't think this was in the book but reading it inspired me) was to write a little picture book for M. about wearing clothes.  She loved the book and responds well to that type of learning.  My whole purpose shifted from trying to get M. to get dressed quickly, to teaching her strategies that she could employ on her own to handle her sensory issues.

All of this brings me to the book The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine N. Aron.  I figured that if a book about spirited children had some great ideas, a book directly about sensitive children would be even better.  I was wrong.

Admittedly, I am not the best person to review parenting books.  I tend to feel like most (if not all) good parenting ideas are behavior analytic in nature and that different books just put different padding around those ideas.  That being said, this book was exceptionally annoying.  First, it was SO WORDY.  She would take pages to say things that could have been explained in a bullet point.  Second, I felt like most of the book was a cheer leading section for highly sensitive kids.  I did not need this.  I already think that M. is awesome and I already can see how her highly sensitive nature has its pros and cons (just like any personality trait).  and finally, this book was sorely lacking in practical advice.  For example, when talking about how easy it is to feel frustrated with your highly sensitive child, Aron's advice is to  . . . wait for it . . . be patient.  Wow.  Why didn't I think of that?   Clearly I was not a fan of the book.  If you need advice on your "highly sensitive child" (I still like the term super sensor) check out Raising your Spirited Child.

As for M. she is doing much better.  We have our bad days.  Just this morning, we tried on 5 pair of socks before I decided it would be okay for her to wear her shoes without socks.  But overall she is doing MUCH better.  In fact, last weekend we went back to her friends house and she wore all the dress up options and she only started crying once.  Apparently the sleeves slipping down bugged her but once she calmed down she suggested the solution of using a twist tie to hold them up.  Now that is progress.


  1. "Raising Your Spirited Child" is a definite must-read for many parents! It has helped me in so many ways. I think it is time for me to re-visit it.

  2. I totally remember having a conversation with you about this at church when you were late because M had just decided she needed to change her clothes again while walking out the door. I LOVE that little book you drew. I need to be more creative like that.