How much should your push your sensitive homeschooler ~
Written by Kara Anderson
I used to do this thing when my kids were small.
When we would enter a busy place, I would sort of situate them in front of me, and waddle behind them, steering their shoulders as we navigated the room or store or farmer’s market.
I thought this made sense because if they were in front of me, I could see them. There was less chance of losing them in the crowd.
The problem, of course, was that I was sending a toddler or pre-schooler into the fray ahead of me, with no idea what sorts of sights, sounds and smells they would encounter.
More than once a little one turned around, threw their arms around my kneecaps and started wailing.
How did it possibly take me so long to figure out my mistake – that I was literally pushing my kids into all sorts of unknown situations?
This sort of push-waddle-steer might not be a big issue for a lot of kids.
Kids who would view Disney World as a dream come true instead of a scary, loud, sensory disaster, for instance.
Somebody else’s kids.
But for my kids, doing this was overwhelming and scary.
When I finally realized my mistake I did things differently, and the results were very different. They could enter situations feeling safe and confident.
They knew I was there. That’s a big deal.
I should explain that I consider my kids sensitive.
I consider one of my kids highly sensitive – something I can relate to because I think of myself as highly sensitive too.
I first suspected that there was something “wrong” with me in first grade. My teacher was mean. She yelled. And often pinched us if we made her angry.
She would hit my knuckles when I would pick up my pencil with my left hand.
I was terrified of her, and so my mom tried all kinds of things to help me cope.
I brought stuffed animal friends in my backpack. She talked to the principal.
But eventually, something became clear – everyone else was able to deal with first grade.
So the diagnosis was that I was “too sensitive.”
Being told at the ripe ol’ age of six that you are too sensitive is a lot like being told that you write with the wrong hand.
You might think to yourself: “But I can’t help it. That’s just how I am.”
And so I did what any six-year-old-church-going-grown-up-pleasing child might do when continually pushed into a nasty situation day after day:
I shut down completely.
I grew quiet and withdrawn.
And in the 1980s in the Midwest, I have to tell you, this went over really well.
Quiet girls were “well-behaved” girls.
Clearly I had finally put all my silly worries aside.
And so maybe you can see why I have a particular concern with my own kids about pushing them.
(Especially since literally pushing them didn’t work out so well, right?!)
I worry about the fine line between encouragement and throwing my kids to the wolves; the razor’s edge between a gentle nudge and knocking them off the cliff completely.
Sometimes, my kids will want to try something new – a class, or a sport, and I feel like I have to consider things really carefully.
We started a new co-op this year, for instance. It’s more academic than our previous co-op, and there’s homework.
Every week, I wonder if I should push my children to complete the requirements or back off and see what happens. (“Natural consequences” and all that.)
Because I want my kids to learn responsibility, but I also know that my sensitive child, especially, is destroyed by public embarrassment.
Take last week, when my usually happy kiddo left the classroom crying, feeling terribly misunderstood.
The hurt took a week to resolve. Long conversations. Too much brooding for a child.
And so, when I think about signing up for the next session, I wonder – Is it a good idea? Or is it time for a break? Is this really the place for us?
We’ve confronted this with music lessons too. And I’ve grappled with protecting my child’s musical soul from teachers who want to push and can’t understand why I don’t.
It’s a situation that makes me reminisce about how we got started on this homeschool path in the first place. Schools like to push highly gifted kids. The school we started with wanted us to push handwriting and spend a summer getting ready to skip a grade.
We decided, instead, to skip all the grades…and homeschool.
It’s worked well so far. But still — it feels like a big job sometimes, guarding this tender soul.
Remember how I said I used to push my kids into a room or building? I didn’t mean to overwhelm them. I thought I was doing the right thing at the time.
But once I realized my mistake, I changed my approach.
I would instead take my child’s hand, and give it a squeeze.
I would look into their eyes.
“Ready?” I would ask.
And we would forge ahead side-by-side, as a team.
And so, we still do.
Because I don’t know how much to push. I don’t know what’s ahead.
I just know that the most important thing is to be here. And for us to figure out the next steps together.
Do you have a sensitive child? How do you decide when to push and when to back off?
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What a beautiful stance on sensitive children and doing life with them. Isn’t that what every human soul longs for – sensitive or not – the commitment of another soul to be with them and to learn them, to provide for them in physical and emotional ways.
I was a sensitive child – am a sensitive adult – and I reacted in completely opposite ways to what you described as your reaction. I overreacted to almost every school situation that pushed and rattled me. It’s interesting that I’m armed with compassion for “those kids” that act out in order to gain the attention of the people who love them. I look back at some of my tantrums and interpret what happened as my way of asking “Does anyone care that I’m being hurt by all of this?”
Oh, and “We decided, instead, to skip all the grades…and homeschool.” Nailed it. I love the homeschool community for “getting” this.
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That’s such a wonderful point, Cara. We all crave that connection and understanding.
And so you decided to skip ALL the grades. I love that!
Thank you Kara for this wonderful post. I’m a sensitive person and so is my child, which is one of the many reasons we decided to leave the school system and homeschool. I enjoyed reading about the love and support you have for your children and helping them develop under your protective wing. The book, “The Highly Sensitive Child” by Elaine Arnon was a life changer for me and my family.
Yes! An amazing resource!! I agree.
I have a sensitive child as well and homeschooling her was the best decision ever. I’ve seen her grow confident and bold (in her own time) – something that would not have happened otherwise.
My biggest advice is just giving them time – time to adjust and time to prepare themselves. Whenever we have a new situation that I know might cause anxiety, we discuss it, ways to deal with it, and she’s learning to cope with events on her own terms.
I grew up a sensitive kid. I never knew I was hyperlexic till I heard that term describing my oldest daughter. The year she was diagnosed with autism. Between my husband and I, we have 3 sensitive kids and I’m determined to homeschool next year. And the most second guessing I’ve been doing is about what to push, and what to let go of. Thank you for expressing this.
I am in tears. Such a beautiful example of walking with our children instead of pushing them forward. Thank you for the reminder and encouragement.
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Although I am sure all kids are sensitive depending on the situation, one of by sons is by far more sensitive than the rest of his siblings. We are homeschooling, which I am thankful for especially with this child. I definitely still struggle with finding a balance between when to push and when not to push. I am sure it is different for every child, and I am glad my kids and I get to figure it out together.
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Thank you for this! I’m going through a similar situation with one of my children and I found this to be very encouraging!
Oh good Lanna. Hope it helps a bit.
I have one of those sensitive children. Or maybe two. But the first one for sure I knew was and is sensitive. Any little word of discouragement cuts so deep. And she thrives on doing well. The odd thing is she’s coming into her own lately, blossoming into this lovely little girl who is quite self-assured. I don’t know when that happened – somewhere between the ages of 6 and 7, I suppose. I found anything younger to be extremely hard with sensitive children. I just assumed all kids were like that until I had my third who is absolutely NOT sensitive in the way the other two are. Their personalities – the people they are – are just fascinating, though!
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This is such a great article. Thank you for sharing. We also deal with sensory issues over here and it is refreshing to hear how others are navigating through the daily stuff. The side by side as a team is so simple yet so profound. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and experiences.
Ive so enjoyed reading this. I have read Simplicity Parenting and i need to reread it. The idea of a rhythm struck me as well but i think in trying to cone up with ours i did more of a schedule/routibe? Which makes me more stressed cuz i feel like im always behind or late;)
I myself am a sensitive soul, I tend to snap easily, a big trigger of mine is noise and chaos , which is a daily thing with 4 children, 3 of them 100% boy.
My oldest boy is a highly sensitive child i think, and has even gone so far as to put a wrap on his ankle, tell his teacher he sprained it, to get out of playing kickball at school yesterday, cuz he says the big kids are too mean and he gets out too much. He usually quits or gets angry if something is at all challenging or he “gets out” in sports especially.
He wants to try baseball and i hesitated to let him but my husband was encouraging him too, saying he needs to not be a sore loser and a quitter. He often tells him things like why are you so upset? You are acting ridiculous. He was raised in a very conservative, spare the rod spoil the child home, and his dad was not involved much. So he thinks he is being a good dad by trying to “help him be a man” and being firm.
We are discussing homeschooling my oldest two (10 y/o girl and 8 y/o boy, hes my sensitive guy), but my husband feels that is sort of a copout, that he will “play games” with me and he will withdraw or become more sensitive. I feel quite the opposite, but my doubts are more about myself.
I need my quiet, alone time daily, and right now ive got a baby napping and prek boy either at prek from 9-12 or at least having quiet time, for an hour or so each day. I fear that having all the kids in the house at once, and having the little ones underfoot while trying to school the older will be too much for me and i will be more stressed, anxious, cranky?
I feel strongly Im supposed to homeschool them and i plan to at least try it over the summer.
Ive read to try morning quiet time, etc with my toddler/preschooler, it works to a certain extent but they both get antsy and need to move around, run around, talk to someone after about 15 min or so.