No More Mommy Tantrums

mommy tantrums

You see it everywhere: Parents pushed to the limit.

At Macy’s, a dad mocks his sobbing child.  “Wahh wahh, I’m being such a baby!” he says, winking at me as if to say, “Aren’t kids ridiculous?”  The boy cries even harder.

At the library, a mom yells at her child, “Be quiet!  We’re going home now because you can’t remember to be quiet in the library!”  She drags her out kicking and screaming.

On the sidewalk I overhear a dad saying to his boy, “Man!  It’s only 8:30 in the morning and you’re already annoying me!  I seriously can’t handle you right now!”  His boy looks defeated.

You can tell I’m an eavesdropper from this post.  Sorry-not-sorry!  It’s partly an HSP thing– this hyperawareness of others’ emotions.  It’s almost impossible for me to pass over a parent and child in conflict without taking it all in.

Trust me, I’ve had my meltdowns, too!  I’m not really hot-headed or prone to anger, but when I reach my limit, I tend to get cold.  I shut down. I might roll my eyes and give a guilt trip.  I think that kind of coldness is just as hurtful as a full-blown mommy tantrum.

But fortunately, I’m steeped in enough awesome parenting resources that remind me over and over to be calm. Breathe. Be cool.  Your kids are people, too, even when they are acting crazy. It’s normal for them to act crazy.  They deserve to be treated with respect all the time, not just when they are angels.  I repeat these things like mantras almost every day.

Janet Lansbury calls it wearing your superhero suit like a shield.  I love that image.  Because to your child, you are a superhero.  You are your child’s fearless leader.  You are bigger, stronger, wiser than they.  You are their role model for how to handle overwhelming feelings.  We add fuel to the fire when we are anything besides calm, consistent, and compassionate.

It’s so very hard to exude this zen attitude when your kid is crying and flailing in the frozen foods aisle and you have to leave your cart full of groceries in a hurry (I speak from experience.)  But you’ve got to fake it til you make it. You’ve got to exercise those zen muscles until a chill response is second nature.

Here’s what it looks like for me:

Your child hits another child in public.  You are mad, embarrassed and panicked.  Breathe, walk over, and calmly but sternly say, “I won’t let you hit.”  Hold down his hands and look him in the eye.  If he hits again, repeat “I won’t let you hit.  We need to go home now.”  Pick up the kid and go home.  As he throws a royal tantrum in the car, say “You sound frustrated and mad.  You wanted to hit and you wanted to stay at the park, but I am taking you home. You can cry and let it all out. I’m here if you want to talk or cuddle.”

Calm, cool, empathetic.  I guarantee, this strategy works better to simmer kids down than a mommy tantrum or that cold passive-aggressive thing I do. Promise.

Why I Dislike Talking on the Phone

i hate the phone

That invasive ring-a-ling that comes out of the blue and fills you with a slight dread.  Uhhg.  I was so relieved to find out that hating the phone is pretty normal for HSPs.  I guess I’m not the only one who avoids the phone whenever possible.  This post made me laugh!

This phone aversion goes way back for me.  I used to beg my mom to make my phone calls for me, even as late as college.  I know, this is so ridiculous!  Now that I can’t rely on mommy, I try to set up appointments, RSVP for events, and order things online or via text instead of the phone, even if it usually takes longer that way.  I also prefer to text friends to set up face-to-face get-togethers, rather than have lengthy phone conversations.  For my bffs who live far away, I do make exceptions because I love talking to them and want to be a part of their lives.

So why do HSPs hate the phone so much?  What’s the big deal?

Here’s my take on it.

  1. The surprise of a phone call.  It kind of activates a fight or flight response in me.  Sometimes I’m really in the zone- cooking, or cleaning, or just reading in bed, and then that ring just startles me.
  2. Awkward. There is some inevitable awkwardness that goes along with phone conversations.  The small talk, the dead silences, the interruptions, the lengthy goodbyes.
  3. You can’t rely on facial cues.  HSPs are really tuned into facial cues.  It’s hard for me to get the full story if I can’t see the person’s face or gesticulations.
  4. I can’t follow.  People talk too fast or don’t enunciate, which makes me flustered, and then I really miss what they’re saying.
  5. Traumatic past events.  I’ve gotten some pretty tragic phone calls (ex-boyfriend dumping me, notice of my dad’s death, etc.) so it makes me nervous when the phone rings, like “Great, now what??”
  6. Multitasking is not my strength.  It’s so hard for me to parent my kids while also talking on the phone.  Because everyone knows as soon as you pick up the phone, the kids need you desperately.

Who else is with me?  Thank goodness for texting and email.  And to my friends who love the phone, you are well worth the sacrifice 🙂

Disciplining a Highly Sensitive Child

disciplining a sensitive childHighly sensitive children are often extremely sensitive to tone of voice and facial expressions. A stern look or shush from an authority figure can immediately crumple their faces to tears. I knew very early on when my eldest was a baby that typical discipline measures (time outs, lectures, spanking) were not going to work for us.

Highly sensitive people usually want to do the right thing. We are rule-followers. We try hard. When we fail, we are crushed. We don’t need as much correction because we are already beating ourselves up for our mistakes. Even in high school, a stern correction from a teacher could make me sob in front of the whole class. I can remember several clear instances of this. I didn’t get in trouble often, but when I did, I was a total wreck for the rest of the day.  It was awful.

Why did I care so much? My brother was always in detention, even suspended once or twice, and didn’t seem all that phased. I understand now that my sensitivity to correction stems from my experiencing it- the disappointed look of a teacher, the harsh words of a parent, the sting of being caught, and the public embarrassment- much more intensely than the typical kid. Because of this, I tried so hard to be perfect.  But I’m a human and a sinner and perfection is not possible. My perfectionism probably made me an easier child to raise than my less sensitive brother, but it filled me with inner turmoil. I am trying hard to steer my children away from that same turmoil.

So, if I don’t lecture, spank, yell, or do time-outs, what’s left? How can we discipline children sensitively? I’m not lax in my parenting.  I run a pretty tight ship.  I have routines, rules, standards, but also allow a ton of freedom.thanks for your support!

I call it front-end discipline.  Taking a preventative approach.  Setting up the situation carefully to decrease the odds of misbehavior.

1. I set my expectations up front, clearly. Time-limits, expected behavior, spatial/behavioral boundaries. This is like 90% of discipline in our household. It takes a lot of time and effort to give a detailed rundown beforehand, but it is key to keeping the peace.

2. I pick my battles so I’m not always nagging. I offer lots of freedom within boundaries. For example, at restaurants, I often let my child choose her meal between a few healthy options I give her. I let her eat with her fingers if it’s easier for her to do so. I don’t force her to eat everything on her plate. I even let her play with her food a little (put the olives on her fingers, disassemble the casserole, stuff like that.) I know, horrible manners, we probably get judged. But I’m just not going there right now. If she sits and eats peacefully, I’m happy. As long as it’s not disruptive to those around her.

3.  There are certain realms that I just don’t enter.  It’s just not my business.  Giving kids control in these realms allows them to submit in other situations.

  • PLAY: She can play however she wants as long as no one is getting seriously hurt, she cleans up after, and abides by whatever boundaries I’ve set. I’m always baffled when I see parents butting into their kids’ play- “Honey, go on the swings now! Share your ball with Susie! Build a tower like this!” That seems like such a royal waste of energy. She knows much better than I do what is fun for her.
  • EMOTIONS: Her emotions belong to her, so I don’t discipline her for negative emotions (anger, grumpiness, jealousy.)  I discipline actions that stem from these feelings, like hitting, but not the emotions themselves.

3. If she has outright crossed my boundaries, I am calm but firm.  I calmly say, “I will not let you hit.” I don’t leave any room for argument, I simply tell her I won’t let this behavior continue. If necessary, I physically stop her (hold down her hands) or remove her from the situation if need be.  But always calmly (or at least, that’s what I aim for.)

4. Empathy, not shame. “I understand you are frustrated, and that makes you want to hit, but I will not let you.” Sometimes this sparks a tantrum, but usually it fizzles out quite quickly because a) I’ve left no room for negotiation, b) I didn’t make it personal by slathering on the guilt, c) I honestly allow so much freedom that she doesn’t feel the need to push back for very long. She accepts there are just a few big-time no nos, and that she must abide by them.

Sometimes even the gentlest correction brings forth a tantrum or tears, which makes me feel so crappy. But I don’t need to feel guilty about correcting my child so long as I did so respectfully. Correction is a part of life. I then give her a little space and say she can come to me if she needs a talk or cuddle.

5. Give them time. I find that if I give her time to choose the right, she often chooses it. If the night time routine is dragging, I will say, “Please brush your teeth and use the restroom.  If you dawdle, we may not have time to read books.” I’m simply stating the natural consequences of her actions.  99% of the time, she’ll pause, think, and then rush to the bathroom, no punishments needed.  I learned to pause and calmly wait for her to choose the right path from the amazing book Bringing Up Bebe.

Recommended Reading: I highly recommend checking out Janet Lansbury’s blog Elevating Childcare or reading her book No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame.  Although she’s not directed at highly sensitive children per se, her ideas about respectful, empathetic parenting are especially well-suited for HSCs.

Question: Were you super sensitive to discipline as a child?  How did your parents handle it when you misbehaved, and how do you wish they’d handled it?

gentle parenting methods


HSPs and Labor: Why Home Birth Suited Me Best

birth should take place where you are comfortableLabor should be as comfortable as possible.  I don’t mean painless, although I do have a friend who claims she didn’t experience pain during her quick 4 hour labor.  I mean as stress-free, emotionally calm,  and positive as possible.

Home is where I’m most comfortable.  At home, I can control the level of stimulation, the music, lighting, temperature, who is present, what I wear, when to push, what position to labor in.  HSPs like control because we are so easily overstimulated and have to protect ourselves.  Home birth gave me a chance to control the aspects of labor that are controllable, which gave me more confidence to face all the scary unknowns.

I personally don’t like the hospital vibe.  I don’t like bright lights, beeping machines, sudden announcements, bleachy smells, and squeaking sneakers.  I know, I sound like such a princess right now.  I really try not to be high maintenance or make a fuss, but if I can avoid things that rub me the wrong way, I do.

I am also super intimidated by doctors (“white coat syndrome”) and tend to do whatever doctors say (or at least pretend to obey) whether they make sense or not. I feared not having the guts to stand firm if doctors recommended an intervention I wasn’t comfortable with.

For all these reasons, I decided to pursue a home birth.  Working with a midwife was so intimate and comforting. I never felt rushed or pressured or wrong.  They are trained to watch and wait, to let labor follow it’s natural course and pace.  They tend to not see every tiny hiccup as an emergency.  HSPs do not like to be rushed or pressured to “perform”, and I loved that I could just relax and let my labor instincts kind of take over.

Now, there’s the issue of emergencies.  HSPs tend to think and plan and worry about the future.  I did my research, and knew my midwives’ stats were far better than the surrounding hospitals.  Much lower C-Section rates, lower episiotomy rates, etc.  My chances of successfully birthing at home with no interventions was 90%, much better odds than in any of the local hospitals (the nearest hospital has a 60% c-section rate!)

HSPs supposedly feel pain more intensely, so why would I put myself through an unmedicated birth?  Because the thought of laboring in a hospital, hearing the screams of laboring women, dealing with the possibility of bratty nurses or curt doctors scared me more than the pain.

I can imagine some HSPs would prefer to labor in a hospital because they feel safer there and there is more backup in case of emergencies.  Maybe the hospital procedures are a comfort.  More power to you!  Like I said, birth should take place where you’re comfortable- at home, at the hospital, at a birth center, in a taxi (jk.)  Do your research, do some soul-searching, and honor your own decision.

Did your HSP qualities affect your birth plan or labor?  How so?  Please share by leaving a comment!

matteos home birth

Kids Clutter Drives me Nuts

tackle kids clutter editedThe older I get, the more averse I am to clutter. Clutter can be extremely distracting and stress-inducing for lots of people, but I believe HSPs are less able to just ignore it.  We are constantly scanning our environment to determine what is relevant or not.  When I see a counter top with tons of papers, pens, knicknacks, and mail, I have fantasies of sweeping it ALL into a hefty bag with my arm.  That would be so satisfying.

I tackled my clutter problem two years ago after reading The Joy of Less.   (I know everyone is obsessed with the Konmari method, but The Joy of Less literally changed my  life.)  I basically went room by room, one room per day.  I purged about 50% of my posessions, and continue to have a charity pick up a few boxes every month.  It feels wonderful to have empty surfaces, tidy rooms, and to know exactly what I own and where it is.  It’s truly helped my home feel more like a sanctuary from the crazy world, instead of crazy town.  Since decluttering, I’m also more likely to invite people over for meals or to just hang out since I know I won’t have to do a crazy cleaning spree beforehand.

Many assume kids’ clutter- toys, baby supplies and gear-  is inevitable.  But if you walked into my home, besides the booster seat at the table, some baby pictures on the wall, and two small baskets of toys in the corner of the living room, you might not even guess we have two kids.  I was inspired by the book Bringing Up Bebe which said French homes are not overwhelmed with kids’ clutter.  Rather, the children keep it all in their rooms.  That’s their little world.  Then when they get tucked into bed at the end of the day, the evening and the home belongs to the parents.  It’s time to sip wine, talk and romance.  Don’t you just love that picture?

Parenting can be so messy, unpredictable, and chaotic, but my house doesn’t need to be.  That’s not an option for me and my well-being.  Clutter is just too burdensome for me and my HSC (Highly Sensitive Child). We need blank space and room to breathe and to think.affiliate badge

Here’s how I keep kids’ clutter under control.

(I highly recommend reading The Joy of Less if you need a swift kick in the booty to get all your clutter under control. You will be changed forever… )

  • Purge 1/2 of their toys.  Then purge some more.  Your kids should probably not be a part of this process. They aren’t good judges of what they really need and use.  You are.  Toss anything broken, neglected, super annoying to clean up.  I know, this seems tough.  But I guarantee your kids will play longer and more creatively with less. It’s ironic.
  • Choose a few baskets or toy boxes to keep toys contained.  The picture above shows Sisi’s toy boxes and bookshelves. We also have a cute little art cart (Ikea’s raskog cart) for art supplies.  When toys start to spill over, we know to purge some more.
  • Same with books.  Purge down to the nitty gritty favorites.  Below you’ll see a picture of our wall bookshelves (which are actually spice racks painted white.)  They fit just a handful of books each, which forces us to keep our collection succinct. We assume we need a huge library for our kids, but we don’t.  Don’t your kids like to read the same books over and over anyway?  We hit up the public library every few weeks if we’re craving novelty. Or we tell stories verbally, the good old fashioned way. (I’m a sucky storyteller but Sisi eats it up!)
  • Baby Stuff:  Only save what is in great condition and actually useful for future children. Ditch anything soiled, worn, not really useful. If by chance you give away something that you end up needing later, it’s really not that hard to find it again for cheap/free. Matteo is 8 months now, and I’ve already given away, sold or donated much of his baby stuff.  I am pretty vigilant about only keeping what is useful right now.  We don’t plan to have any more kids, so I’m happy to say goodbye to this stuff.
  • You probably don’t need that much “baby gear” either. We follow R.I.E. parenting principes, so we try not to rely on swings, jumpers, and fancy electronic toys to keep our kids entertained.  Instead, we put our babies on the floor or the crib to explore with a few simple toys.  We do have one simple and attractive bouncer, the baby bjorn babysitter, which is more like a baby lounge chair for moments when I need to keep baby contained.  Basically, keep the gear you actually use regularly, but know that most of it isn’t essential (even if the catalogs tell you they are!)
  • Kids’ Creations:  We keep 1 or 2 pieces of artwork on the fridge to admire at a time before we recycle them, but we don’t usually keep it forever.  Maybe I will regret this someday, but in my mind, it’s more about the process of creating (I often snap pics of her as she’s working) than the tangible product.  If you’re more sentimental than I, you can always photograph of the creations and condense them into a photo album to treasure always.  Keeping stacks and stacks of artwork is just not conducive to a tidy home.

Does kid clutter drive you nuts, too?  Please share your kid clutter solutions!

tidy kids book shelves

Welcome to Highly Sensitive Mom

highly sensitive mom tahoe I’m Kristin, and I am a Highly Sensitive Mom.  My sensitivity affects every area of my life, and always has.  I was supposedly a very stressed out, tearful baby, as evidenced by stacks of baby pictures with my nose red and eyes swollen.  I was a cautious, quiet but extremely creative child.  I was a bit of a loner.  I had friends, but just one or two soul mates at a time.

In High School and college, I felt fake and phony and didn’t understand why.  I strived to be perky and outgoing on the outside (cheerleader, drama, student government), but was nervous and scared on the inside.  I did well in school because I’m conscientious and enjoyed the peaceful ritual of studying. But my good grades didn’t come easily.  I felt like I was working twice as hard as everyone and struggling to stay ahead. I was trying to keep up with the pace of my peers and feeling burnt out.  And I wasn’t even in the “real” world yet!

I’m now in my 30’s, and I’m definitely in the real world now.  It’s intense.  I’ve owned several small businesses, some have failed and some haven’t.  I got married. I suffered the loss of my father to suicide 5 years ago. But becoming a parent rocked my world more than any other event by far.  It brought my HSP qualities to the forefront.  There were so many times when I thought I was just not cut out for motherhood; I’d never get the hang of it.  I wanted my old life back.

Reading The Highly Sensitive Person changed my life.  Not only did it explain why I feel so frazzled, overwhelmed, and emotional much of the time, but it showed me that I’m not alone.  I’m not broken.  I’m not crazy.  I’m just a highly sensitive mom living in a highly-stimulating world.  I realized I CAN do this parenting thing!  I just might need to do it differently.thanks for your support!

There are so many ways that being HSP has made parenting hard.  So very hard. The mommy guilt, the sleepless nights, the screams of a newborn are intense enough, but what if you experience the world in high definition? There are also myriad ways in which it’s made me a more thoughtful, empathetic, responsible parent. I can say now that I’m blessed to be highly sensitive, and that my kids are blessed to have me.

That’s what this blog is about.  It’s my attempt to wrap my mind around what it means to be an HSP parent.  To find the joy in my sensitivity and to accept the burden it brings, too.  Most of all, I want HSM to be a safe place for other HSP parents to come and learn, reflect and say “Yes, that’s sooo me!”  Because doesn’t it feel good to know you’re not alone?