As is often said, parenting is perhaps the most competitive sport. I found this out the hard way with my first baby, who seemed to come into this world with higher needs than my friend’s babies. I joined the usual mom support groups: La Leche League, ‘mommy and me’ classes, and a new moms group at church. As I looked around, other babies seemed happy and peaceful; mine was irritable, fussy, and not at all pleased to be in the world. While I didn’t know about the Highly Sensitive Person trait at the time, my baby was definitely sensitive–in every conceivable way. I was also a highly sensitive mom, attuned to my baby yet frustrated that I couldn’t seem to meet his many needs. I embarked on a journey to understand my new identity as a mother and to find my intuition as a parent of highly sensitive children.
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Initially, I checked out parenting books from the library by the armful and combed the internet for advice. My friends at the time were implementing Babywise, Ferber, and other strict baby-training methods; meanwhile, I was up every hour and a half with my greedy nurser who could not bear to be apart from me and wanted to feed as frequently as possible. He wouldn’t fall asleep alone and never slept in his crib despite our trying. Co-sleeping was the only way I got any rest. None of the books’ methods worked, including crying it out, which traumatized both my husband and I, not to mention our son.
Several months into the parenting journey, I realized that few books helped with my particularly challenging baby. Then, I came across Dr. Sears’ Fussy Baby Book. It was the only book that had advice meant for parents of high-need babies. I returned all the other books, I stopped searching the internet, and I quit talking to my mom-friends about their (easy) babies.
I decided the only way I was going to make it through this experience was to trust my own intuition and lean into books and advice that supported the road I was on. It wasn’t easy, but this lesson I learned with my first child set me up well for harnessing my sensitivity and becoming an intuitive parent.
Being Highly Sensitive and Becoming an Intuitive Parent
When survival is on the line (a mother cannot survive without sleep) you are forced to dig deep. Everything was hard with my first child: sleep was elusive, nursing was incredibly challenging, and he fussed and would hardly go to daddy so I could get a break. He wouldn’t go to any other caregivers until close to one. After a few months of struggling against these hard realities, I accepted that God must think highly of me to give me such a challenge right out of the parenting gate.
When I put the books away and said goodbye as best I could to avoid the comparisonitis during playdates, I became a better mom. Instead of asking for advice and worrying about whether I was doing a good enough job, I tried to get quiet and attend to his needs when he fussed and just be there in the way that he seems preprogrammed to need me. Instead of railing against the situation, I leaned in and rose to the challenge. New freedom emerged. I recognized that I was the only mom assigned to this child and his needs were my responsibility to attend to. While I did have part-time consulting work to return to after two months off, I inched back and only said yes to what I could handle given my new challenges.
Becoming an intuitive parent requires you to listen intently to yourself, to reduce the demands you ask of yourself in times of trial, to limit your expectations of anything beyond survival, and to be present in the moment as much as possible.
That first year was the hardest year of my life, but I wouldn’t change the lessons I learned that made me into the parent I am today. I went on to have three more kids and used many of the same intuitive parenting techniques with my subsequent children, aiming to meet each of their needs as best I could.
My oldest baby boy is now 20 and in college. He’s well-adjusted, loving, kind, confident, and not at all needy.
Intuitive Parenting in the Baby and Toddler Years
During the baby and toddler years, being intuitive looks like lots of holding and snuggling (if your child responds to touch positivity), nursing on demand, co-sleeping or using a co-sleeper bed, limited separation from mom and dad, and providing closeness as much as the child needs.
Some people assume that kids who are parented according to their needs become demanding tyrants. In my experience, this was not the case. When my babies or toddlers needed extra cuddling, extra help, or extra love, I merely provided it because I could. Many times, they would feel confident to go in the nursery at church or stay with a friend’s kids for a few hours because they were tanked up with closeness and love from me.
As they mature, children begin naturally separating and not needing 24/7 connection, but every child is wired differently. That’s where listening to your intuition can become the Highly Sensitive Person’s superpower. At the time, I didn’t know about the HSP trait. But in looking back, I see that I was incredibly sensitive to my children’s needs and it became something I could use to quickly anticipate their needs to avoid meltdowns.
Intuitive Parenting in the School-Age Years
As your child leaves for kindergarten and grows from a young school-aged child to an older school-aged child, massive change takes place. In the younger years, you can use your sensitivity to see what your child needs before and after the experience of going to school.
Whether your child is an HSP or not, take them for a tour of the kindergarten room. Go through the steps of getting ready, walking to school, and even practicing saying goodbye. A good intuitive parent anticipates the skills a child will need to do what is asked of them. Aim to avoid comparing yourself to other parents (which is nearly impossible).
Take time to listen to yourself and what you need to obtain closeness with your child. Ask them what they need and offer to provide what you can to fulfill their needs. It isn’t always a perfect match, but explaining to a child when the time for closeness and connecting will come can go a long way in maintaining connection.
Intuitive Parenting in the Teen Years
As Highly Sensitive Children mature, they frequently take two steps forward and one step back. Some kids are more outgoing; others are incredibly anxious or worried about their appearance. Schools today require so much group work and presentations from the front of the class. For HSP kids, finding the right school situation can be vital to meet their needs. Some prefer a normal public school environment; others thrive in a charter or home school setting.
During the teen years, I’ve found that intuitive parenting looks like listening to your teen as they individuate, learn who they are, take risks, and subsequently fail and need support. Peer friendships are huge and your kids will look to you for guidance on how to navigate drama in peer relationships, especially the girls. Don’t jump in and try to fix it, but aim to listen, ask questions, and allow your teens to intuit their own responses. You can pass down your intuitive parenting style to your kids and they will become the type of people others love to be around.
6 Top Tips for Being an Intuitive Parent to Highly Sensitive Children:
- Listen to your gut when you know something is wrong
- Make a decision to meet a baby’s every need as best you can
- Let go of the shoulds and coulds; focus on the have-to’s
- Aim for close attachment and connection to determine what’s going on in your kids’ lives
- Spend individual time with each child on a daily/weekly basis; show interest in their worlds and ask sensitive questions about their friends, classes, and feelings
- As kids mature, give them permission not to share if they don’t want to; show them respect and give it as needed
At the end of the day, you are uniquely wired to meet your children’s needs. As they grow up, there will of course be some needs that you cannot, or should not, fill. By listening to their needs and getting sage advice from other wise parents when appropriate, you can become a great parent who is sensitive and intuitive to her kids’ needs.
Be sensitive, be free
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