What Sensitive Children Can Teach Us

There is a philosophy about sensitive children that truly resonates with me.  This is how it goes: Sensitive children are the indicators of our species, like the amphibian, or the canary in the coal mine, letting us know about the health of our environment. Their discontent is letting us know what all of society would benefit from changing.

What do we need to change for the good of all? Look at the sensitives. What are they rejecting or rebelling against? What is making them sick? Sad? Overwhelmed? 

Sure, the more resilient seeming children of our species appear to be doing okay with the status quo. But doing okay does not mean things are optimal for the totality. So if the adults are brave or open minded enough to consider letting go of some of our rigid demands for conformity, we all stand to benefit.

Rather than figure out how to get these children into the mold of mainstream society in all areas, what if we changed the mold? What if the increase in numbers of children with attention deficit disorder or autism or simply high sensitivity served a purpose for all of society?

Perhaps they are here to teach us.  Perhaps each generation is raising the collective consciousness of all.  This would be great news! But to consider this, we have to be willing to change and to let go of our own rigid beliefs about how things are done. We have to allow the gifts and messages that these children bring, rather than treat them like a problem to be solved.

Let me give you an example that is etched in my mind. While in Kindergarten, my youngest daughter abhorred the cafeteria. So during her one full day of school per week, she dreaded going, knowing she would be there for lunch.

I reached out to her teacher, a woman who was firmly in the camp of “if a child is not conforming to what is expected, there is a problem with the child”.  Having no suggestions herself, this teacher referred me to the guidance counselor.  The counselor asked me to attend the next lunch day but to sit away from my child, and with the counselor.  Her thought was that my child would see me there, assume this was a “safe” environment, but not be allowed to sit with me.

“Better to have tears now in Kindergarten than later on in middle school”, this woman asserted as my daughter cried more, confused as to why I was there but not going to her to comfort her or sit with her. Children all around her gobbled down their food, shouted, jumped up and down, forgot about their food, or sat tolerant, sometimes attempting to speak above the noise, to a child nearby.

This was one of my regrettable moments of overriding my own instincts and sensibilities as someone else instructed me in how we would get my child to conform, or “adapt”.

When I look back on it now, I still cringe and take full responsibility for not overriding the – sorry, but – half-baked, cruel and counter productive instructions of this professional. Needless to say, it did not solve the lunchroom issue.

Anyhow, back to the amphibian philosophy.

What if cramming children into long tables with no elbow room, lots of noise, and a very short amount of time to eat lunch is not good for anyone?

What if there were smaller tables, perhaps some calming music, enough recess time before lunch so that all the energy would not have to be expelled during mealtime? What if there was at least the option to eat in a quieter, calmer environment for those who would choose to?

And what if my daughter, by being non adaptable to the current arrangement, was giving the adults an opportunity to consider something better for all. 

Can’t we imagine that?

Pay attention to the sensitive kids.

They just may be on to something better.