I have so many happy wonderful memories of the Holidays with my Parents and two younger sisters. We have lovely traditions to look back on and perfect memories of time spent with the family. But one year we did things a bit differently – we always opened one gift on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas morning – that year we didn’t. My parents decided we would open them all on Christmas Eve. I don’t remember the exact reason why – I think we may have been off to visit family the following day. My sisters were delighted, but I was not. I was devastated.
I know, it sounds completely ridiculous. As an adult I can look back on this and realize that it was not the end of the world but in that moment, as a highly sensitive child, it was. A simple change in our routine, a difference in what I was expecting, ruined the evening.
Those words – highly emotional child. I was a child that felt every emotion just a little bit more than all the others. When I was excited, I was VERY excited. If I was upset I would sob for what seemed like an eternity.
In fact, when I was just five years old my mom took me to see Bambi in theaters. Instead of enjoying the outing I was silently crying in my seat because Bambi’s mom died. Not many 5 year olds would even realize that the mother deer had died, let alone be so bothered by it that they would sob in their seat during the movie. Highly Emotional children do.
Now I find myself in another role – parenting a Highly Emotional child. Parenting a highly emotional child or a Highly Sensitive Child can be utterly exhausting. You never quite know what will set them off, but there are a few things that you can do to prepare your highly emotional child for certain situations and how you can handle their emotions when they arise.
The Holidays can be quite overwhelming for some children. Extra activities and excitement, long travel outside of their norm, and new people to see and interact with. While some children have no problem with these transitions, the highly emotional child can find himself spinning out of control in a matter of minutes. So how do we avoid this?
While you certainly can’t change your Intense child’s personality you can set them up for success during special times of the year. I’m sure you and your child both want to enjoy all that the season has to offer and it can happen – you can take a few steps now to ensure that everyone has a Happy Holiday, even the highly emotional child.
How to Ensure Happy Holidays while parenting a Highly Emotional Child
Set the Expectations
You can’t control every little detail for your children, and quite honestly, I don’t think that you should. They do need to learn how to deal with certain changes and disappointments in life. With that said, you can set the expectations for them for any events and activities that you have planned. If you are attending an event, talk to them about behavior and what they should expect to encounter at the event. If you know it is going to be loud, tell them. Put into place an action plan should they become frustrated or over stimulated and discuss this with them.
Did you plan a fun Christmas art activity but you know your highly emotional child is a perfectionist? If the activity doesn’t go exactly as planned for your child you might encounter a meltdown. Talking to them beforehand about possible variations for the activity can help them work through a problem during the activity.
Setting expectations is all about talking to your child BEFORE the event to help them prepare for differences that might come up DURING the event. I have found when doing this I am often able to calm my child down by asking them to remember our conversation about expectations.
Prepare Them for New Environments
If you know your child has difficulties with environments outside of their norms make sure they are well prepared. Talk to them about it well in advance. Condition them to the event and plan ahead for things that might come up. If you are attending an event with music and a lot of people – make sure you are prepared to find a quiet space should it become too much. Even adults need this. My husband is one that dislikes crowded spaces, when it becomes too much you will find him off in a corner or on a bench out of the way. The same tactic can be used for children. Keep their stroller available, find a bench to take a break, or locate a room that is quiet.
Similarly if you are attending a meal in a relatives house, prepare for differences. Does this child have a favorite dish that you traditionally make at home for the Holidays? Plan to bring that dish with you. If there is something that they are used to having or an expectation of what will be there, a deviation from the plan could lead to a meltdown that can be completely avoidable by preparing them and yourself.
Don’t Change the Plan
I learned years ago not to give my children details of events. If we had a special day planned I would not tell them until that day. There are just too many factors in play that could ruin the event. What happens if you had planned to take your children to an outdoor Christmas festival and a storm moves in? If you have already told your highly emotional children this was the plan and now they cannot go, it will be utterly devastating to them. If this was an event that they were really looking forward to, and now they cannot go, it will be heartbreaking. And while an older child might understand that they can’t be out in the rain, or that the festival has been cancelled, a younger child will not. Even further, a highly sensitive child will have a meltdown because it’s just too much for them to process. You can avoid these problems by not changing the plan.
Validate their Emotions
Telling your highly emotional child that you understand their emotions is quite possibly the number one action that you need to take. Let your child know that their emotions are valid and that you want to help them work through them. This can mean the world to your Highly Emotional child, and more often then not be exactly what they need to hear to help calm down.
Christmas is a wonderful time to spend with the family, with these tips, you can absolutely ensure Happy Holidays while parenting the Highly Emotional child. Enjoy the season!