Searching for Strategies for Sensitive Seven

I’m sitting on the chaise beside my Sensitive Seven. She’s watching Minecraft videos because she needs to chill; I’m trying to crack Twitter.The brothers are still sleeping, and we are alone. Enjoying this rare moment, because even though each of us is, on the surface engaged in something else, we are also together.

I reach out and squeeze a little hand; she leans over and gives me a little kiss. She is at peace and happy, and that makes me ecstatic, because that hasn’t been happening very often lately.

Seven has been a huge milestone age for both of my children who’ve crossed it; if you’ve got a seven year-old, or a child teetering on the edge of that seventh birthday, you’ll have seen it too—I am yet to meet a parent who hasn’t been amazed by the change of seven. But if the seven change with my eldest suddenly gave him a transfusion of self-awareness, world-awareness, an incredible increase in impulse control, and a blooming in social skills and brought with it almost no negatives, the seven change with this already sensitive girl has me, more often than I’d like to admit, longing for the selfishness of Ferocious Five.

Flora is my EQ-intense child, the relationship and network builder. The one who after 15 minutes in a room with people, at age three, knew everyone’s name—and one fact about them that “made them just like me,” no matter how different or strange they might appear. This is a gift, an incredible gift: but, oh, it’s a hard one. That ability to make such immediate and strong connections comes at a price. This beautiful child of mine is so vulnerable to, well, everything. Bad moods of others. Unintentionally hurtful words. Her own thoughts.

With my physical, intense Cinder, I’ve had to work to give him words and awareness of his feelings and emotions, to help him find expression. With my sensitive, effusive Flora, I find myself having to do the opposite: to help her build boundaries, limits, separations. With Cinder, I still have to remind him, often, that other people’s feelings and thoughts matter, that he has to pay attention to them—and he has to make a concentrated effort to do so. Flora enters into all of these intuitively and immediately. Too much so. And I find myself saying to get, too often, “It doesn’t matter what X thinks.” Or, “Jeezus, Flora, why are you crying over that? It doesn’t matter: it’s not important.”

But of course it does. It matters to my Sensitive Seven very, very much, and when I say “It doesn’t matter,” she hears, “I don’t matter to you” or “It doesn’t matter what I think,” or, at best, “You don’t understand me.”

So I sit beside her on the chaise, and squeeze her little hand. Send her a series of quiet messages. “I love you.” “You matter to me more than anything.” And look for ways to hold her close and offer her comfort and safety when she needs it as she struggles through this phase. Practices to help her find self-discipline over her intense emotions without denying them. Coping strategies that recognize the value and the gift of her intense golden heart… but also help that golden heart navigate tough emotional situations without falling apart.

This is not a “Seven Strategies for Sensitive Seven” Post. We’re still exploring, searching. But if it were, it would go like this:

1. Take every opportunity to say (and imply) “I love you.” “You matter to me.” “Your feelings matter to me.”

I think I do this a lot–but for Sensitive Seven, I don’t do this enough. I must do this more often.

2. When you see your Sensitive Seven heading down the breakdown path, attempt to insert a pause. I find distraction does not work so well with the Flora, but then it never did. Still, a combination of mental and physical removal, even temporary, is possible and provides the space for some reflection and regrouping. “Hey, babe, come here, I need to talk to you.” “About what?” No, not the impending crisis. “Our trip to Banff next week—have you thought about what you’re going to pack?” “Oh… no… is my striped dress clean?” “Crap, no. I’ll have to pop in a load of laundry tomorrow. What are you and M up to over there?” “Oh, we’re playing Secret Super Agents, and she’s being really bossy—she just said…” “Yeah? You feeling angry?” “Yes!” “Come inside with me and help me get a snack together?”

And maybe she says OK and comes inside, and gets grounded, and returns to the play. Or maybe she gets grounded and makes the rational decision to stop the play before she disintegrates. Or, she goes back out to play and disintegrates.

I don’t have a fool-proof system or strategy, did I mention that?

3. When the crisis and emotional maelstorm hits, just hold her and ride it out. If I didn’t head it off, I’ve got to let it happen. Distraction won’t work, yelling won’t work, bribery won’t work. The tears must come, and she must find her own peace. I can hold her if she lets me, or let her be alone if she rejects my presence.

And I can’t take it personally.

4. Talk about what happened, and explore strategies for how it could have unfolded differently—after. Long after. Like, not five minutes after she calms down. But next day—or five days later. When there’s distance, and the capacity for distances reflection—by both of you.

This is the time to explore strategies and techniques for creating pause and regrouping when Sensitive Seven is heading for a breakdown. Not when she’s already in the middle of one.

5. Take her out for ice cream. A Value Village browsing trip. Hang. Let her talk without judgement, interruption, redirection. Listen. Learn. Be interested. Be together.

I don’t understand my Flora. There. I’ve said it. She is so different from me. How she thinks, how she feels: she is not me at seven. Nor her brother at seven. She is herself, and right now she is her own, full Sensitive Seven. My assumptions about how she feels, thinks and should react are often totally off-base. I need to pause, and just be with her. In a non-crisis, loving situation.

NB I have a great post from Life’s Archives about “Ice Cream Discipline.” I’ll have to dig it up for you soon.

6. Give her plenty of “alone” time for recharging and regrouping. Flora comes across as an intensely outgoing, social child who thrives on play with her friends. And this is indeed a true aspect of her character. But it has a price—or a complement. Because she is so empathetic and so emotionally involved and out-there with her friends, social play burns her out. Intense social play needs to be balanced with solitary time. Much of the time, Sensitive Seven will do that herself. Sometimes, she forgets. And then, I need to create that time and gently enforce it.

7. Forgive myself and move on when I do it all wrong. If I were keeping score, I “get” Sensitive Seven one in three times on a good day, and one in a dozen on an average day. So be it. Perfection is not the goal: being the mother I am—who mucks up, but reflects, and tries again—is good enough.

Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

27 thoughts on “Searching for Strategies for Sensitive Seven

  1. I LOVE your posts. I don’t think I tell you that enough, or ever, but I do. Most of the time they are laugh out loud funny or bring a smile to my face. This one hits a special chord, as I have two extremely sensitive kids, with a very sensitive mama that I am still learning to raise as well. The intensity around here sometimes is rediculous, but I’m learning to take each day as it comes and be more gentle with all of us. Your strategies this morning were most welcome.

    • I can never quite decide if being not particularly sensitive is an asset or a liability in dealing with my sensitive Flora. It allows me to keep distance and perspective–at least some of the time–but at the same time, it prevents me from fully empathizing, from ever being able to understand what goes in her little soul.

      For a super-sensitive mama like you, I expect it’s the same mixed blessing in reverse: you can enter fully into their feelings, you can empathize, you *do* understand… but keeping that distance and detachment that you (I) need to get through those volatile moments–so much harder.

      • Awww. See? You DO understand. How I wish I had just a bit more of your distance and perspective, as it’s so clear you can have that and still have the compassion and awareness. Your children are so blessed.

  2. Wow. As a 7th birthday approaches here for our sensitive and introverted S, this was soooo appreciated in my life today. I’ll say it again- I think you are changing the world for the better, and I am so deeply grateful.

  3. I have a very intense 7 year old boy. He is sensitive and moody, like a teenager sometimes! But one of the most unique things about him is his interest in telling the world how he feels. He even went up to an adult the other day, who’d we’d recently met, in front of a bunch of people and told her how he felt she had disrespected him when we had met and how we weren’t planning to go back to her house again. Sooo embarrassing but I couldn’t help admiring him! He’s worked out something that is a very useful life skill and your daughter will hopefully do the same soon – to care very much about your own feelings and then a bit less the feelings of people who love you and then not very much about other people! But this doesn’t mean you have to be tactless or unkind or, indeed, tell everyone what you think of them! I think he’s always been like this but yes, at 7, I think he’s got the confidence to be himself more, maverick that he is. Homeschooling is really helping him be happy to be himself and allows me time to help him manage himself in the wider world! Good, good luck with your lovely daughter!

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