In our clinic, we often work with families where there is a significant mismatch between one or both parents and their child. The parent is at one end of the sensory modulation spectrum. The child is at the opposite end. Often times, this sensory modulation mismatch creates much disharmony.
Understanding how their child experiences the world vs. how they experience the world is the first step towards creating a more harmonious home life for everyone.
The Sensitive or Defensive Parent
Do loud noises bother you?
Are you picky about the way clothes feel?
Do you startle if someone comes up behind you?
Do you avoid roller coasters?
Do you need time by yourself to recharge?
Enter the Sensory Seeking Child
What happens if you are blessed with a loud, sensory seeking child?
This is a significant challenge because highly sensitive or defensive people are continually being pushed into survival mode. When your child is loud or constantly on top of you, it is likely to elicit a defensive response. This defensive reaction is difficult to override cognitively. It is all too easy to respond with anger, withdrawal, or at the very least, irritation.
Sample of a Common Sensory Modulation Mismatch
One parent, new to our practice, was describing this very mismatch. Her 4-year-old is a sensory seeker. He is constantly on the move. He adores his mother and wants to connect with her constantly. This connecting means running into her, patting her, hitting her, etc. She describes herself as very sensitive. She finds she often just needs a break from him. Even as she loves him, she is worn out and stressed from parenting him.
Solutions for the Sensory Modulation Mismatch
If you are a sensitive parent, self-awareness helps. Realize that what seems to be extremely annoying behavior on the part of your child, may not be.
Optimizing your own self-regulation will allow you to react to behaviors on a rational, rather than emotional level. Figure out what you need to do to keep yourself well regulated so that you are not easily pushed into an overwhelmed or defensive state.
Create even brief times of peace, quiet, and/or alone time.
Is music helpful? What kind?
What about yoga, massage, or meditation?
Sometimes even a prolonged bathroom break can help.
Explore More >> Taking a Break, Giving a Break: Respite Care
Flip – Sensory Seeking Parent with Sensitive Child
Maybe you’re at the other end of the scale. You love being active and on the go. The more people around you the better. You like to turn the music up.
But, you have a very sensitive, quiet, and introverted child. You plan great outings for the family. When you do, your sensitive child falls apart, making the experience unpleasant for everyone.
Exuberant, joyous family holidays are a disaster. This is a source of significant frustration for you, any siblings, and your child. It can feel like it is hard to have family fun, especially outside the home, with the sensitive child.
If you are more on the sensory seeker end of the curve, it can be difficult to understand and empathize with this sensitive child of yours. It is tempting to expect your child to ‘get with the program’. Seek to understand.
Explore More >> Recognizing Sensory Overload
Sensory Overload Kicked In: A Personal Story
Solutions for this Sensory Modulation Mismatch
It is important to recognize that your child may experience the world in a very different way than you do. Plan ahead to ensure that outings do not overwhelm your sensitive child.
Provide opportunities for your child to experience outings, events, and vacations at a slower, quieter pace. Realize that sensory overload can push your child into survival mode, which can ruin the occasion for everyone.
Explore More >> Tips for Successful Travel with your Sensitive Child
With a little time, more experience and loads of patience, even parents and children with very diverse sensory modulation styles can find ways to experience family life and have fun that work for everyone.