By Sindy Wilkinson and Dror Schneider
Jake is having a birthday party at the indoor climbing structure, and your child is invited. Now won’t that be fun! There will be a lot of kids climbing, sliding, or diving into colorful tubs full of plastic balls and tons of joy-filled screaming. Who could ask for more?
We tend to see the world from our own perspective and assume that everyone around us sees it or experiences it similarly - or should experience it like we do. Often it doesn’t even occur to us that there is any other way to experience or interpret a situation. Never mind strangers, but our kids are much like us, aren’t they? When we indeed share a similar experience with another person, we may feel a sense of strengthened bond with that person. However, when our experience is altogether different than that of another, we can get into trouble. We may be on a different page or even reading a whole different book. When we, as parents, innocently forget to consider that there are lots of ways to experience a set of circumstances, this may lead to arguments, frustration and confusion.
So how can we avoid such results or at least stop them before they get out of hand? Here are four ways to do just that.
1. Before urging your child to do a “fun” activity, to taste a “delicious” food, remember that they may experience the same thing differently. Perhaps, beyond the trepidation of doing something new, their experience may not be “fun” or “delicious” at all. By all means, encourage your child to try new things, but try not to use words that attempt to describe what they should be feeling. Let them find out for themselves if an activity is pleasant, exciting, boring, ho-hum or downright awful. They need to be able to get in touch with their own bodies and to have an experience that’s authentic to them. Let’s go back to that birthday party. Perhaps it is awesome - for some. It can also be too loud, too many people brushing against you, too dark, too confusing, too tiring, and the food may not agree with your stomach. The same is true for amusement parks, restaurants, the movie theater, the beach, a play-date, a visit to the supermarket. The lights, the smells, the sounds, the textures, the movement, can all be assaults on the senses of some people, especially sensitive children. If you describe it as “terrific” or “lovely”, not only will they not trust their own judgment, but they may feel they are letting you down or disappointing you by not meeting your expectations.
2. Before reprimanding a child for doing something you regard as inappropriate, try to find out - or to guess - how they experienced the situation. When Auntie Monica insisted on giving your child a kiss, was she wearing a perfume that may have been offensive to his or her senses? Perhaps Auntie got kicked in the shin for a reason.
3. When your child is unwilling to cooperate for no apparent reason, or being cranky at a situation that you perceive as “fun”, trust that there may be a good reason for their behavior or their crankiness. Play the detective – observe the sensory assaults that might be present, and offer your child alternate solutions.
4. Try to find pleasure in widening your perspectives. We really have no idea how our kids are experiencing the world, especially if they don’t tell us. We figure it out from their behavior and responses, if we are paying attention. You may even find more in common between yourself and your child: Jimmy can’t wear socks with seams -- and I don’t like woolen sweaters; Julianna can’t stand Brussels sprouts -- and I won’t touch oatmeal; Jeremy doesn’t like the smell of spices -- and I can’t stand the smell of sardines. At the same time, perhaps your child can show you how to delight in things that he or she is fascinated with, and that you didn’t think were fun at all? Kids with sensory irregularities or sensitivities are even more of an unknown to those of us whose senses are within normal range. Walk a mile - or a block - in your child’s shoes, and that will broaden your mind. It may also improve your child's ability to happily experience the world.
Sindy Wilkinson, M.Ed, LMFT, CHP and Dror Schneider, CHP are Certified HANDLE® Practitioners and Instructors practicing in the Bay Area.
For more information and to contact Sindy or Dror, see: www.enhancedlearningandgrowth.com, www.handlebythebay.com