Lessons Learned: 8 Pieces of Advice from a Highly Sensitive Preschooler

Today’s Lessons Learned essay comes from Brittni, a dancer and visual artist from Grafton, MA. Brittni also works with preschoolers and in this moving essay, she shares lessons she has learned both from working with preschoolers and self-identifying as a highly sensitive child. And goodness, this piece definitely resonates with me, given that parenting my fiery sensitive Violet has taught me so much.

Dear Grown-ups,

First of all, thank you. Thank you for trying so hard. I know I am a handful. I know I am confusing. I know that sometimes I make you want to pull your hair out. I am not your average child and so most of the techniques and habits used successfully with other children do not apply to me. So please allow me to supply you with a few tips that will make both of our lives a little easier:

1. I apologize for my seemingly unexplained tantrums. I feel so much love, fear, wonder, anxiety, joy, frustration...It is often too much for my little heart to handle and I have to let it all out. I have yet to develop coping strategies or ways to express my intense feelings, so I resort to long, loud, and tearful meltdowns that probably make you feel quite helpless. Please try to be patient with me. I am just as confused as you are during these episodes. Long loving hugs and a soothing voice will bring me out of my object-throwing ear-splitting drama-fests.

2. It means the world to me when you validate my concerns. I do realize I have more concerns than the average child, but if you can make an effort to acknowledge them and make me feel understood, we are likely to skip right over a potential hurricane meltdown (see above).

3. Raising your voice three octaves just to speak to me is not necessary; I can hear you just fine at a normal pitch. Also, a little space please. Do you bring your face within centimeters of your fellow adults’ faces when asking them a question? I certainly hope not because it would probably make them feel just as claustrophobic and invaded as it makes me feel.

4. Please stop calling me shy. The more you call me “too shy” or “too quiet” the shyer and quieter I become. You express concern that I never talk, but when I do talk you look at me like I just performed a stunt, which makes me feel very self-conscious. I will talk when I want to talk, but mostly -- for now -- I just like to listen.

5. Please do not force me to do an activity that I don’t want to do. Picking me up and putting me on the swing against my will on the preschool playground, or telling me I must sing with the rest of the group makes me feel utterly powerless. I will do things on my own time. When I am ready, I will hoist myself onto the swing by myself thank you very much. And I will sing with the group once I have memorized all of the words in the song; that's just the way I operate.

6. Disciplining me with a loud voice, angry eyes, and assertive body language is overkill. When I have done something wrong, I know even before you say anything because I am so very sensitive to your mood and body language. When you are disappointed, I am flooded with guilt and have therefore been sufficiently punished. A few words explaining why what I did was wrong, or even just a moment of meaningful eye contact is often all it takes.

7. Let me create. All I need is a box of crayons and some paper and I am golden for the rest of the afternoon. I am at my happiest when given the freedom to explore my creativity.

8. Finally, I will always be this sensitive. I will always feel everything intensely and I will always be a handful to both myself and to my loved ones. My saving grace is that empathy, creativity, and compassion are traits that tend to come with being highly sensitive. So if you can hang in there and be patient with me now, I will try my best to return your efforts as I get a little older.


A very small person in a very big world

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Image credits: Christine Koh