The Highly Sensitive Child, Part Three: Pushing Through an Overwhelming Environment

Now that we have an understanding of how your child experiences the world, we can help support him/her.

1. Plan

Talk to your child about the new experience when you first receive the invitation, and then starting 3 days before the event, discuss it each day. Spend a few minutes talking about what is to come and focus on the facts, along with solutions to possible problems:

“We will go inside and check in at the counter. Then we will get bowling shoes and pick out a ball. There will probably be loud noises and kids running around having fun. We will pack your iPod so you can take a break if it gets too loud or too busy. Let’s go make a playlist to help you stay calm if you need it.” Redirecting the conversation to something she can control in the moment, like making a playlist, will help her feel empowered in solving her own problems.

2. Expose

If you can, try going to the alley in advance just to walk around and expose your child to the environment. The 5-minute experience inside the building can help decrease the amount of stimulation she feels when she walks in for the party. The layout will be one less thing to get used to. You can use this time to pick out a spot that would be good for that music break when she’s not in panic overload.

3. Prepare

Be sure to pack that mp3 player, along with other items to help your child feel secure in this new environment. A few ideas: stress ball, stuffed animal, fidget toy. These items can help your child take a break while staying in the environment, which is the goal.

4. Evaluate

Think to yourself, what is a reasonable expectation for your child as you work to push her out of her comfort zone? That she stays for 30 minutes? Takes at least one break before you leave early? Plays one full round of bowling? If your child regularly refuses new situations, and melts down wanting to leave immediately, staying for the whole party the first time is not a reasonable goal, even with these new tricks up your sleeve. Again, as you are slowly introducing her to the activity, you must also adjust your goals for her.

5. Validate and (gently) Push

You will go to that party. It may be overwhelming for your kid, but you will have a plan. Validate her when she says she doesn’t want to go. Hold the expectation that you will still go, even if it seems like it’s too much.

I know you’re wondering if you can keep this up. It’s overwhelming to think that you will have to do this for your child forever. BREATHE. You won’t have to. Think of these extra steps as an investment.

You are investing in your child’s ability to push beyond anxiety and discomfort.

You are investing in her ability to self-soothe. She will learn to generalize these skills in new experiences in the future.

Most importantly, you are investing in your relationship, as she will feel understood as you acknowledge these experiences really are quite tough for her.

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