It’s what kids do: The Highly Sensitive Child and disappointment
I have a confession to make. I got mad at my five year old because he failed to properly rip a piece of paper.
On the occasion of the Saint Martin’s Day celebrations this year, I volunteered to make lanterns with the children in my son’s class. Being a lover of crafts, I got busy looking up lantern-making tutorials that would be easy enough for the kids to make, yet fun and as creative as can be when making something with a bunch of 4 and 5 year olds in under 30 minutes. After what seemed to be hours of searching online, I finally found the perfect one.
Or at least I thought it was.
I watched the tutorial over and over again, trying to imagine the kids actually going through all the steps and thought this would be easy as pie. What fun it would be for them to rip up piles of colored paper, dunk them in a pool of liquid glue and then smear everything onto a balloon!
I got so excited about it I decided to make one myself. I got all the supplies the tutorial calls for and asked my son to join me. I explained to him what we had to do, and asked him to help me rip up the lantern paper into little rectangular bits. Easy enough, right?
Assuming a demonstration wasn’t in order, I watched him struggle with that paper, gripping it at both ends and pulling, as if he were trying to stretch it. And because I just assumed that ripping paper would be second nature to a child of five, I jumped to the conclusion that my son simply did not want to focus on this project, which made me kind of mad. I took the paper from him, and in my not-so-nice-tone explained to him how one rips paper using the thumb and index finger to hold it properly at the edge. After I’d shown him, he tried again using the technique I’d just demonstrated, but still failed.
Why won’t you focus? I asked him. Don’t you want to make this lantern with me?
He did want to make the lantern with me, but was feeling a little discouraged after I’d ruined the fun with my lecture.
My husband eventually took the kids out, and I ended up making the lantern myself. Besides the paper-ripping episode I’d had with my son earlier, I didn’t see any reason why this wouldn’t go smoothly in class.
When I got to class a few days later, the teachers were already piling up the paper and blowing up the balloons. After we’d set up, I stayed close enough to my son to help him out with the paper if needed me to. I explained to the kids what we’d be doing, and although they didn’t cheer like I was hoping they would, they seemed happy enough. I showed them how to rip the paper and gave them the go-ahead. I looked over at my son and was happy to see that he was managing okay. I was however still a little surprised that he was making quite an effort to rip the paper, until I looked up and was taken aback by what I saw.
All the kids in the class were struggling with this paper!
Shock quickly turned to shame when I realized what I’d done. I was actually upset – with my five year old – for not being able to rip a piece of paper. Thick, waxy, lantern paper.
It’s been about two weeks since this happened, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Which is probably good. In the midst of all the screaming, the tantrums, the house work and the stress that life brings with it, it’s easy for us to occasionally lose focus, and so maybe a reminder is essential to keep us in check.
Incidents like this are also a good call for introspection. After I risked upsetting my little one – who is just that – because of my silly expectations, possibly causing him to be reluctant to do anything in front of me for fear of disappointing me, I got to thinking: This was not the first time something like that had happened.
It is true that as parents, we want to see our children thrive and grow and learn, and be the best that they can be. We want to make sure they’re learning all that good stuff we’re trying so hard to teach them. But as soon as they start doing more than we think they might, our standards suddenly go up and we expect more of them, sometimes forgetting that they’re still just kids. Just because my little boy tends to make me forget that he’s just five with all the mature things he says and does, it’s still okay for him to be immature. Because that’s what little children are. Immature.
Just because he often says the sweetest, most beautiful things, and sounds like 15 year-old when he says them, it’s not unbelievable that he thinks there’s nothing more hilarious than spitting and the spontaneous use of words like “poop” and “fart”.
Just because he’ll remember his grandmother’s favorite color because she happened to mention it in front of him over a year ago, it’s alright if he keeps forgetting to use soap every single time he washes his hands.
Just because he is aware of when he has hurt my feelings and will apologize to me immediately and with such sincerity, it doesn’t make it horrible that he will need to scream and yell at me when he’s having a bad day.
Just because he will know when he is being irrational and will often put me in my place when I’m being irrational, doesn’t mean he won’t ever be irrational.
Just because he’s been reading and Googling on his own since before he was three, it’s alright if he still needs our help going down the stairs and falling asleep.
Just because he stands up for his little brother, sternly warning other children never to try and take away his toys again, doesn’t guarantee he will happily share his own toys with him and never again pinch him when I’m not looking.
Just because he almost always thanks his dad and I at the end of a fun-filled day, grateful for everything we’ve done for him, I should probably still expect him to occasionally order me around and take my motherly services for granted.
Just because he is deeply empathetic and will check on anyone who is down or hurting to make sure they’re okay, doesn’t make it horrible that he will sometimes be responsible for hurting someone.
Just because he knows more about the solar system than I have learned in my entire life, it’s alright is he still refuses to learn to hold a pencil properly.
It will come. All of it will.
And in the meantime, it is good to remember that our kids, no matter how great or mature or funny or smart or even gifted, are still immature, and it should not come as a shock to us when they behave as such.
Highly Sensitive Children know when they’ve done something wrong or failed, and the fear of failure is what makes it so difficult for many to actually try new things. This makes it all the more important for us as parents to radiate encouragement rather than disappointment. I will often catch my son discretely glancing up at me, studying my face, trying to measure his performance based only on my expression; and he can read me better that I can read myself. He will pick up on the tiniest crinkle in my forehead and slightest changes in my tone and breathing. And he will use this to judge and define himself and his abilities.
That is powerful, to say the least. But it is power than can either discourage and destroy a person, or help that person grow and strive to be better. That’s big, and it’s scary. And no matter how many times I have to repeat the same thing over and over, and no matter how frustrating it can get, I must remember to keep my cool and stay positive. The last thing I want is for our son to ever feel like he needs to live up to our expectations.
After all, the effects my reactions can have will certainly be long term, so it’s best to keep them good. And really, so what if he couldn’t rip that paper or say please or not listen to me when I spoke? It’s not just him. It’s what kids do. It’s what growing up is.
And sometimes it can be pretty hilarious!
Both my son and his adorable friend had their shorts on backwards today.
What are some of the things your kids do that drive you crazy? How do you deal with them? Any tips would be GREATLY appreciated!
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