One of my sons is what most people call sensitive. He cries easily and wears his heart on his sleeve. There was a time I considered taking him to therapy because he would get upset over EVERY. LITTLE. THING. And I had no idea how to handle this and was feeling overwhelmed by it.
The highs are sky-high, but the lows are so very, very low.
When we meet his teacher at the beginning of a new school year, we always give a little disclaimer about his sensitivity and what she might encounter during the day with him. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to warn her, but I also don’t want her to be surprised when he melts down over something seemingly benign. Because he’s probably the only kid who has ever been like this, right? Ha, I’m sure teachers have seen it all.
He was a calm, happy baby.
He was a robust seven pounds, 14 ounces at birth. I say “robust” because he was almost two pounds heavier than his older twin brother. That extra weight, at least to me, seemed to make him a better eater and sleeper. He slept eight hours straight when he was two months old, from what my fuzzy mom memory recalls. His older brother was a challenge during the “witching hour” and needed more attention. He was generally less happy, and I instinctively thought it was due to the lower birth weight and needing to “catch up.” So it was a relief to have one easygoing baby in the throes of early twin parenthood.
Somewhere around two years old, he seemed to assert his sensitive side. He was a bear after he woke up from naps. It would take, on average, 20 minutes for him to get over what we have dubbed “nap hangover” and maybe turn his frown upside down. We had one dinnertime battle with him because we insisted he at least taste the vegetables we gave him, and he was not having it. He was carried, screaming and crying, up to his room because he refused to put a tiny slice of summer squash into his tiny mouth.
Anything not a chocolate Teddy Graham or an M&M didn’t really pass muster.
Vegetables are still his least favorite food, but I’m happy to report there are no more dinnertime battles over them. He accepts that they are a required meal staple.
At about age four, he was tearing up regularly about so many innocuous things, I started making a list. Partly for my and my husband’s amusement, I’ll admit. Entries included when he got pizza sauce on his finger. Not hot pizza sauce, which I would kind of understand, but just pizza sauce. (He doesn’t like to be messy.) And there was an entry about when I told him I love him more than flowers, and he wants me to love flowers just as much.
Of course, I had a list going for his brother too. It was about one-third the size. It consisted of unsurprising things like tripping while walking up the stairs or forgetting to give his father a good-bye kiss.
They’re not all rainy days.
He is easily entertained and cheerful a lot of the time. He loves with his whole heart, and when you are the subject of his radiant admiration, you definitely feel it. He’s a fantastic artist (already better than me, which isn’t saying much, but still). Is this his artist temperament? He writes and illustrates stories and then proudly reads them to us. He is charming, friendly to everyone, and super observant.
When he’s upset, it takes a lot of effort on my part to stay calm and not get frustrated with him. He’s just over seven years old now, and it’s easier for him to understand and respond to reason. Such as, “Yes, it’s sad your friend can’t come over. I understand. But your friend has the flu, and he would probably be miserable and tired, and playing wouldn’t be fun. Plus, you hate being sick, remember? Isn’t it better if he comes over when he’s healthy and you can have the most fun possible with him? Ok, good. I’m glad we agree.”
Sometimes, I feel like I’m walking on eggshells to try to avoid a meltdown.
Other times, I feel I shouldn’t try to protect him so much. But I remember feeling all the feelings when I was his age. I cried when I was upset, and I often couldn’t explain why. My parents would get frustrated with me because of this. I want to practice empathy with him when he’s struggling.
When I notice he’s reacting more volatilely (Is that a word? Should it be?) than usual, I try to think about why he might be upset beyond the obvious. Is he hungry? New tooth coming in? Is he maybe getting sick? Is he tired?
Something in his little nervous system is contributing to this moment, and if I can get past my own reactions, I can maybe understand what it is and help him. I want him to be happy, of course, but I also want him to understand his own emotional experience. We can’t be happy 100% of the time, but we can learn how to handle our feelings appropriately. I’m so happy his school gives us feedback about his social-emotional behavior as much as his writing, reading, math, and physical skills.