Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Understanding High Sensitivity in Boys More Deeply

I stumbled upon the first article through finding the second article yesterday on the Psychology Today blogs. Taken together, the two pieces (written more than two years apart) offer a good overview of raising and nurturing a highly sensitive boy.

I suspect there is a false belief out there that girls are more likely than boys to become HSPs (The Highly Sensitive Person). However, at birth boys tend to be more clingy and emotionally needy than girls; by the end of the first year this difference has equalized; by the third year girls are more emotionally needy than boys.

This may in large part be due to how parents raise their children based on their own gender biases. This passage comes from Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference (2010):
Psychologists often find that parents treat baby girls and boys differently, despite an absence of any discernible differences in the babies’ behaviour or abilities. One study, for example, found that mothers conversed and interacted more with girl babies and young toddlers, even when they were as young as six months old.[7] This was despite the fact that boys were no less responsive to their mother’s speech and were no more likely to leave their mother’s side. As the authors suggest, this may help girls learn the higher level of social interaction expected of them, and boys the greater independence. Mothers are also more sensitive to changes in facial expressions of happiness when an unfamiliar six-month-old baby is labelled as a girl rather than a boy, suggesting that their gendered expectations affect their perception of babies’ emotions.[8]
Even more support for boys and girls being essentially equal in their socio-emotional needs as infants comes from Lise Eliot's Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps -- And What We Can Do About It (2009).

Boys are no less sensitive, by nature, than are girls. However, before they are even born, assuming the parents know the gender, the child is being socialized according to the gender norms of the parents.

The Highly Sensitive Boy

Does your son cry often?

Published on January 23, 2012 by Maureen D. Healy in Creative Development

Does your boy cry often? Has he ever been bullied? Does he enjoy his time alone and quiet space? Is he deeply affected by violence? Or keenly perceptive to how you are feeling or thinking? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be raising a highly sensitive boy. Highly sensitive boys come with deep talents but can be "trying" if you seek to raise them in the regular way.

Sensitive Boys: Who are they?

Last week, I had an eleven year-old client named Matt in my office. His folks brought him to me because Matt had been bullied and today — he seems to be suffering from low self-esteem and a mild depression. When I asked Matt about what happened at school, he said: "Two boys took my glasses, broke them and left me at lunch unable to see." He told me as a tear ran down his face.

What makes Matt different than the other kids? He is deeply sensitive, affected by how he is treated by other kids and is different. At age eleven, he has already made storyboards for films he "sees" in his mind and knows more about cinema than most adults. Matt's remarkably high creativity, giftedness in this area and heightened awareness of everything in his life indicates that he is likely a highly sensitive child.

Highly sensitive boys are deeply affected by what others say to them, the images in their mind and their surroundings (for example, sound, smell, taste, touch and so on). Matt was so hurt that these bullies picked on him that just remembering that moment brought him to tears. Aidan, age 8, is another highly sensitive client of mine who cannot watch violence in movies (unlike other kids) and he has to turn away at the slightest hint of it. Aidan is also a gifted musician and just hearing Beethoven's 5th symphony brings him to tears.

Simply said, the creativity and giftedness of highly sensitive boys is typically there but you can imagine the frustration as a parent (teacher or adult) when you are doing "everything" you did with his older brother Billy, and it all worked out just fine then but now it's not working with your other (and sensitive) son: Highly sensitive boys need a whole new way of nurturing to support their success (which is possible).

Supporting their Success

Sensitive boys benefit greatly from parenting (or educational) approaches that take into account their sensitivity and celebrate it. Yes, I realize this is a "challenge" at times when your highly sensitive son comes home crying and your "regular" daughter is doing just fine. I am keenly aware that this doesn't feel like the moment you want to sing and dance about the joys of raising a sensitive son. But I promise it is his sensitivity that will be his greatest strength and not the opposite.

Sensitive Boys that succeed learn:

- Sensitivity is a Strength - Our culture often teaches (knowingly or unknowingly) that boys are tough, strong on the outside and just "get over things" when that is not always the case. Embracing your child's inherent sensitivity as a strength versus a problem is "turning point" for parents. This means you no longer push your son to be "more like the other kids" but appreciate him for who he is — deep feelings, sensitive responses, gifts, unique perspective and all.

For example, I helped Aidan's parents see that his sons' giftedness and exceptional creativity comes along with his deep sensitivity. It is a package deal. So learning how to appreciate his discomfort with crowds, dislike of "regular" movies and parent him in a way that honors his sensitivity as valuable (versus a nuance) has the power to change everything for the better --- and it has!

- Different is Good - Children naturally want to fit in with the other kids. The highly sensitive boy often doesn't though like Matt discovered when his classmates took his funky classes, stepped on them and went off laughing! Matt took this personally, cried, and had to have his parents pick him up from school.

Such an experience had the potential to devastate his self-esteem or become a "turning point" in Matt's life where he began not caring about what others think of him as well as starting to see his uniqueness as a "good thing." I can report that Matt is making real progress as seeing his differences as a good. (After all the great inventors on this planet were so notably different like Einstein and Edison! They were likely highly sensitive too.)

In my upcoming book, Growing Happy Kids: How to Foster Inner Confidence, Success and Happiness, I discuss how to help kids use challenges as stepping-stones to their success because all need to learn this — but especially the highly sensitive ones.

-Self-Care is Crucial - Boys tend to want to "shake things off" like when they fall off their bicycle and bruise their knee. They don't want to appear hurt or seem weak. But the highly sensitive boy needs to learn radical self-care first — he needs to learn when it's time to walk away, when to take better care of himself and then re-enter situations when he is stronger.

Sometimes boys that are sensitive just push their sensitivity down but the problem with that is — it hides who they are and also their gifts. Learning how to be a highly sensitive boy and navigate this not-so-sensitive world is important stuff. It's where they can learn how to lead their best (and happiest) lives.

Success is Possible

Being an active parenting coach, I work with adults all around the globe to help them raise their sensitive sons (and daughters) to be who they came here to be. These children no longer fit the old model of what works and they need a whole new approach that honors their sensitivity — as well as sees it as the basis of their greatest gifts they have to give.

* * * * *

Highly Sensitive Boys

Understanding high sensitivity in boys more deeply

Published on June 27, 2014 by Maureen D. Healy in Creative Development
I am one of the most sensitive beings on Earth – and I know it.
- Jean-Claude Van Damme
One mom recently said to me, “I don’t want my son’s sensitivity to be stuck in his personality” and I get it. Sensitivity isn’t always easy. Of course, it’s also not like sprinkles on ice cream that you can either have or not have --- it is inherent to your child’s nature. The bigger (and better) questions to ask are: How can I help my highly sensitive son succeed? What does he need to learn? Can I do something today? Before I begin I want to elaborate on the complexity of highly sensitive boys, too.

Boys are Different

Highly sensitive boys may not want to talk about their sensitivity, or go around saying they are highly sensitive. They want to be strong on the outside yet inside they feel things so deeply --- words hurt them, violent images upset them, and they know that they aren’t like the other kids. Perhaps they’d rather play with teddy bears at age twelve versus football in the field.

So my recommendation isn't going directly at highly sensitive boys, and saying, “You are sensitive. I need to help you." What they do need is to make other like-minded friends (other sensitive boys), and learn how to manage their emotions while developing their unique skillset (i.e. acting like Neil Patrick Harris, or martial arts like Jean-Claude Van Damme) so they can find their place in the world.

Getting Started

Going back to my earlier questions, I’ll get you started in the “right” direction at starting to answer those questions about your highly sensitive son. Please note that this is a short article and of course, I can go into more depth in a talk or personal consultation. But here we go:
  1. How can I help my son succeed? Of course, this is a complex question but for brevity’s sake let me share two suggestions: You need to make sure he’s got a like-minded friend (another sensitive boy), and also a mentor (someone besides his parents). The truth is that high sensitivity can be a liability unless you learn how to be the alchemist of your own life. With that said, I have started a mentoring program for HSC but it can be my program or something else – the point is to connect your child to someone who has learned how to be successful with their highly sensitive nature in a sometimes not-so sensitive world.
  2. What does he need to learn? This is a big one. And frankly, every child is different but highly sensitive boys in general need to learn: How to manage their emotions, handle their intensity and ultimately make better choices. Oftentimes highly sensitive children are very impulsive because they are letting their “right brains” lead without assistance from their “left brains” (logic, reason) and before they know it they hit a sibling or sassed you back.
  3. Can I do something today? Yes. Set the intention to embrace your son’s sensitivity as a good thing and connect him to people who can help him (or learn yourself, and commit to growing together). What I know for sure is that sensitivity was intended as a gift to your child and with guidance he can learn how to make it so.
© Maureen Dawn Healy

Maureen Healy is an award-winning author, popular speaker and professional working with parents and their highly sensitive children. Her books include: Growing Happy Kids (2012) and The Energetic Keys to Indigo Kids (2013). In November, she’s also releasing a new e-book titled “Playbook for Parents” about how to help highly sensitive children thrive.

Learn more, sign up for her newsletter or stay connected via twitter: www.growinghappykids.com or www.twitter.com/mdhealy

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