Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Highly Sensitive Child (my thoughts on the book by Elaine Aron)

Did the title catch your attention?  If so, I'm guessing it is because you or someone else has called your child sensitive, or even "overly sensitive."  It's the title of Elaine Aron's book.  This is not just any parenting book (I don't read those-- too stressful to find out all the things I'm surely doing wrong!).

My son recently turned 4.  He has never been an "easy, laid-back kid."  He is many things, but he is anything but relaxed.  Once, when someone asked me to describe him at a party, I was at a complete loss.  I eventually settled on "he's a complicated soul," which got some laughs (after all, he was only 2.5 at the time), but it is true:  he simply cannot be summed up in a few basic character traits.

My son has many wonderful characteristics.  As I have written before, I adore his sense of humor.  My husband and I cannot get enough of his jokes.  He also has an ear for music, letters, and numbers.  His memory is so good that at times, it startles me.  He observes and takes in more than I think a typical little kid does.  But the best part of him is that he is very affectionate with us, which I cherish every single day.


He also has traits that make him 'different' from a lot of children.  He does NOT enjoy or want praise.  He will cry if someone yells "good job" at his soccer goal.  Similarly, he does not like a rousing round of Happy Birthday sung to him (exuberantly) by 15 people staring at him (Trust me on this.  This year we had everyone sing it quietly.  He still hid his face in his hands to hide from all of the attention, but this was progress).  New situations, places, and people throw him for a loop (Don't even get me started on people who try to make him hug them or give them a high five right off the bat).  He is also physically sensitive-- tags on his clothes, seams in his socks, strong smells, new tastes, and water splashing on him bother him like crazy.

Soooo... yeah, some of these situations are inexplicable and unavoidable in daily life.  My husband and I are both nice, caring people, but even we were at a loss about what to do.  We knew we couldn't and shouldn't ask everyone in our son's lives to avoid saying good job, and we know there are situations where he will be the center of attention.  And of course water is going to get on his clothes, and he will eventually have to eat more than his selection of about 5 foods.

Then I found this book, The Highly Sensitive Child, by Elaine N. Aron, as if a gift from God, or whatever supernatural or spiritual being you believe in.  The author is a psychologist who has done hundreds of interviews with families with children surprisingly similar to my little guy.  I could not believe there were other children like my sweet, sensitive, yet uniquely challenging son.

Aron calls these children "highly sensitive."*  She isn't diagnosing or labeling them with any kind of disability, and she does not pathologize sensitivity, but she does recognize that indeed, there truly is a 15-20% group of people in the world who can be categorized as being highly sensitive.  With this trait, you will find conscientious, perceptive people; I would say that they often possess that "old soul" quality from a young age.  You will also find strong reactions to situations that would barely register in less sensitive people.

Often, HSC (highly sensitive children) are introverted,** and they often aren't big risk takers, but not always.  Though they all have high sensitivity in common, they are not all mirror images of each other, because of course they have other traits too and live in various environments.

Aron sees high sensitivity as an inherited temperament, and when we recognize its validity and respect these children's wishes, they really do blossom-- and their parents (and teachers and caregivers) can better appreciate and understand them.

I think FranticMamaHubby and I are Highly Sensitive People (she first wrote a bestselling book on grown-up sensitive-types if you are interested), so it shouldn't surprise me that my son is on the extreme side of this trait.  Aron includes simple, reliable true/false quizzes in the book to help you and your partner determine if you are or are not highly sensitive.  And it matters:  Your temperament as a parent directly affects your child.

The best part of the book is that the author offers very practical advice for all types of parents, those who are the opposite of their kids and those who aren't.  These tips have already helped us better understand our son and have helped my patience enormously.  I love her mantra:  To have an exceptional child, you must be willing to have an exceptional child.

If any of this sounds like your child, or a child close to you, I urge you check out the book.
Or, have you already read it?  What are your thoughts?  I would love to hear them.

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

*Sensitivity is neither glorified or pathologized in this book.  Like most traits, high sensitivity leads to both positive and challenging behaviors.  She also does not simply define sensitivity as "having your feelings hurt easily."  It is much more multi-dimensional than that.

** Let's get something straight.  Introversion does not = shy.  They are not the same.  I think the best way to look at introversion/extroversion is this:  Introverts recharge their batteries by having alone time.  Extroverts get energy from being around people.  Neither is better or worse, though I would argue in our culture extroverts are seen as preferable.  On the [separate] subject of shyness, I would argue that not all shyness is something to "cure."  But that's for another post.

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Friday, May 23, 2014

What to do with Young Kids this Summer

Preschool is out for the summer, you have babies/toddlers/little kids and a menacing, empty calendar  stretched out before you.  What on earth will you do with the little ones all summer?  I've been there.  Actually, I'm still there.  But I know that everyone is happier in my family when we have some activities, adventures, or get-togethers planned.

*I promise that nothing totally exhausting, expensive, or overly complicated will ever be featured on a Frantic Mama list.  (For example, yes, children's museums are grand; they are also expensive, often far away, and exhausting for the parent.  Ditto for the zoo.  And yes, parks are wonderful, but they are often a whole lot of work for a tired mother).

I have compiled a list of ideas for stay-at-home parents to try this summer [to prevent us from going completely insane].  This list is geared towards the under 5 set.  None are particularly ground-breaking, but they are ideas that I actually do and that you can too!  Please Comment with your own ideas too.

1.  Check out the summer programs at your local community center.  In Minnesota, there are lots of community centers in various neighborhoods, and many offer low-priced camps, activities, classes.  They are usually for ages 3 and up, but sometimes you can find ones of the younger kids that require parent-participation (though such classes are much realistic if you only have one child).

2.  The YMCA offers some sports, like soccer and t-ball, for ages 3-5.  They aren't very expensive, and if you are lucky, there's one close to your house.  You do not have to be members to sign up for a sport or class.  My son has had a terrific time with the soccer program there, with just a few other kids in the class.  it isn't competitive, overwhelming, or exhausting.  (Well, I have to spend the entire time chasing my 1 year old around the YMCA while my son plays soccer, but both kids enjoy going there once a week, so I suck it up and off we go!).

3.  Music Classes.  Yes, this one can get a little pricier, depending on the class you sign up for.  Music Together is a national program, but there might be smaller ones in your area, like there are in mine (McPhail in Minneapolis, for example).  Sometimes you can find one at a local church.  My friends and I found a music therapist last summer who does 30 minute classes; she came to our homes every other Friday for a short little music class.  It wasn't super cheap, but it was a really fun way to spend a Friday morning with friends without having to chase the kids around the park in a sweat all morning.

4.  Library.  I am a fan of taking the kids to a local (free!) library and letting them loose in the children's area.  Needless to say, it is much easier to keep track of your kids if you only have one, but still worth the effort if you have a growing brood.

Them:  "MAMAAAAA!"
You:  "What?!"
Them: "Entertain us."

Now for a few simple ideas you can do in the ease of your own home and yard:

4.  Sidewalk Chalk.  If you haven't stocked up on chalk yet, then you must.

5.  Sprinkler fun.  My kids like to run around in the sprinklers in our yard, old-school style.

6.  Walks.  I invested in a double stroller when I had my daughter, and it gets used a lot in the summer.  I find it is a way for me to get exercise, keep the kids confined for 15-20 minutes, and get some fresh air.

7.  Break out the Baby pool.  These are cheap at Target and both of my kids like them.  My son (almost 4) puts cars in it, and my 1.5 year old likes to splash around in it.  This is messier, but maybe worth it at the end of the day when you feel guilty about all the Dora your kids watched that day.

8.  Sandbox.  Again, a messier activity, but something where the kids might stay in one spot while you get to pull up a chair for 5-10 minutes and watch them dump sand on each other's heads.

That's about it for now.  Anyone have any other ideas that fall into the not-very-expensive or overly-tiring category of children's activities?

~Frantic Mama

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Elastic Waistband or Jeans?

Here's something that's been on my mind recently:  how I feel about my appearance on a day-to-day basis.

I have come to the conclusion that it is just plain hard to feel attractive when taking care of little ones all day.

[Side Note:  Looks don't contribute to happiness.  I actually think there have been studies on that (can you imagine?), and we all hopefully acknowledge that looks aren't the most important thing about a person.]

All that said, it does feel nice to feel good about you appearance, doesn't it?  Achieving that feeling is easier said than done when you are waking up early, changing diapers, running around a muddy yard, etc. all day.

As an active mom of a 3.5 year old and a 1.5 year old, I tend to gravitate towards the same few casual shirts paired with the same black yoga pants or leggings every day.  Seriously.  Every day.

I see other women wearing jeans while caring for their young kids, and I think 'why?'  I can think of almost nothing more uncomfortable than sitting cross-legged on the floor, playing with Matchbox cars or My Little Ponies, while in a pair of skinny jeans.

Yoga Pants (no, I don't do yoga):  But why wear anything else?

I do dress up for an occasional evening out with my husband, and yes, I even wear jeans for such nights.  Better yet, I like to spring for a dress when we are going out.  It may surprise you that I love clothes.  I even like shopping.

On a daily basis, however, I try to find the balance between comfort and practicality, while maintaining some semblance of being well-groomed.  I like to shower [early]  in the morning before the kids are up, and I usually put on a bit of make-up.  More than clothes for me, shower + make-up = feeling decent about my appearance.  Right or wrong, when I take the few extra minutes to add a pair of earrings or some lipstick to my equation, I feel better throughout the day.

I'm curious, what do my other stay-at-home moms wear on a typical day?  Do you feel better when you pull on some jeans?  Or is your go-to outfit similar to mine?  Do you wear make-up?  Why or why not?

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Frantic Mama's Fun Photos

I have really started to get into Instagram (the app where you can filter and share photos), and I thought a few of you might think it was fun to see some of the photos I've recently taken.  Don't worry, they're not all of my kids eating, playing, sleeping, etc. [in the words of Jerry Seinfield, not that there's anything wrong with's just not what I share on the site].

*And if you haven't already, please share your Instagram name so we can connect!

Here are a few of my favorites:

The pretty yellow bike my husband gave me for Christmas.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Letter to My Son on his 4th Birthday

My son (the older of my two children) turns four soon.  Four sounds like a Real Kid to me.  Four is no longer a toddler, and it is certainly not a baby.  Four means one last year of preschool, the last year where he will be with me most of the day (for better or worse).  Four means-- obviously-- that it has been FOUR years since I gave birth to him.

Similar to my letter to him on his 3rd birthday, I can't say the last 4 years have flown by.  I am not going to lie:  Some days in the past year were endless-- days when the hours were consumed with stomach bugs, playing with cars, being snowed in, numerous time-outs, and the bizarre world of potty training.  Others (though fewer) were full of fun and happiness.

It is those days (or even just those hours or minutes) that I am able to actively remember how lucky I am to be his mom, and that I get to spend so much time with him.

My son (age 2.5) and his Best Buddy/Dad 

Here is my letter I hope to share with my son when he is older.

Dear Sweetiepie--

You are now four!  I love you beyond words, especially when you are happy and smiling, or running up to give me a tight hug first thing in the morning at the crack of freakin' dawn.  Because I've always called you "sweetie," recently you have started to say "hi sweetie" or "I love you, sweetie" when you hug me.  It is one of my favorite things of all time [and I'm old].

Just so we won't forget, here are some of your current favorite interests:

Favorite color:  Turquoise

Favorite foods:  Goldfish, hamburgers, ice cream, fruit snacks  (Ahhhh!  Who invented fruit snacks and Goldfish?  They have defeated me.  I am doomed to be their minion forevermore.)

Favorite toys:  Cars, of course (especially rare Disney Pixar ones), and any car accessories that your dad and I can muster the strength to assemble.

Other faves:
country music, especially Florida Georgia Line (we listen and sing it so often that I hear it in my head constantly)
playing soccer
watching YouTube videos where people talk about cars
playing "try to get me" with us or your sister
cute girls (seriously!)
collared shirts
doing Airplanes in the yard with your dad

My little dude (age 3.5) and me

As I think about your favorite things, they haven't changed much since my birthday letter from last year, which is odd, because really so much else has changed.

Your ability to communicate more complex thoughts, feelings, and ideas with us brings so much joy.  Your sense of humor is one for the books.  Your sensitivity and love for your little sister is one of the best parts of my life.  That said, let's get it straight, little man, your emphatic resistance to us saying 'good job' and 'thank you' is getting old.  So is your determination to remove your socks and shoes every. single. time. we get in the car.  But you have also become more independent and confident, and that has been wonderful to see.

I look forward to knowing the boy and young man you are still to become.  As you grow, I'll probably slowly forget the hard parts of raising my first baby and toddler, which I suppose is for the best.  Then again, most wonderful accomplishments in life take a lot of work, so I am proud of the dedication and devotion I have put into raising you, despite-- or perhaps because of-- the effort it takes.  I just hope I especially remember the best parts of your babyhood, my sweet, sensitive, funny first-born.

I love you so so much.


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