For Highly Sensitive People–particularly introverts–the concept of parenting may elicit feelings of anxiety and overwhelm in addition to the standard emotion of joy. There is an extra layer of challenge due to the ease with which HSPs become overstimulated and overwhelmed—a situation that occurs naturally because kids have energy and curiosity.
For introverted HSP parents, having peaceful moments in which to reenergize is as crucial as water and air. I know the ridiculously large amounts of quiet alone time I require, and I wonder how introverted, easily-overstimulated parents can handle it.
If they ignore their need for solitude and inner reflection, their mental well-being can suffer. They may even lash out in frustration due to sensory overwhelm, creating an emotionally charged household. Children will absorb that stress and tension that surrounds them. That’s not good.
And of course, there’s the guilt. The solitude parents require for their own needs? That could be quality time spent with the little ones.
But introverted, HSP moms and dads can thrive at the parenting game—IF they have a game plan. How? By planning ahead to ensure they have the time they require to recharge. By practicing self-care, these parents can be more present and energized during family time.
A reader named Mike R., who has 5 young children, volunteered the tactics he and his family use to help him when he’s feeling overstimulated and needing peace. He realized that past outbursts of anger were due to neglecting his introverted, highly sensitive needs. Now, his wife and kids know they need to help Dad stay level.
Here are some tips (mostly Mike’s) on staying calm as an introverted HSP when you’ve got kids:
- Take a mini-retreat. Just you. Whether it’s once a week, once a month, or once a year, take a half-day (or longer, if you can) to do anything you want, alone. Read for hours at a bookstore or coffee shop. Get a massage. Take a long walk. Work on your novel. Whatever you want. Mike says: “Every 3 months, I go on a half-day retreat, just me by myself doing quiet things. Last time, I spent an hour at church then the rest of the afternoon at the library with my headphones (SimplyNoise.com pink noise!) and my laptop and the novel I’m working on.”
- Give yourself permission to have alone time. Your kids rely on you for stability and balance, and you can’t provide that if you’re overwhelmed or irritable. Don’t feel guilty for making sure you’re the best you for your kids.
- Schedule recharge time every day. Don’t neglect it. How about this: after everyone is asleep, engage in a quiet project or activity (not social media!) for thirty minutes to an hour—like writing, reading a book, drawing, or listening to music.
- Or try a “room hour”. At a certain time of the day—say, after lunch—the kids go to their room(s) for one hour. Tell the kids that this is a special time where everyone gets to recharge alone and do whatever they want. As the parent, this hour can restore calm and patience that may have worn thin earlier in the day.
- Use headphones to listen to pink noise or peaceful sounds if the ambient noise in your house is getting to you. (But, obviously, don’t ignore your kids). Mike says: “If it’s a Saturday and we’re all doing chores and it is especially loud, I’ll put on my headphones and listen to a mountain stream or pink noise while I do mine.”
- When planning outings and family vacations or trips, ensure that you haven’t scheduled too many “social” days in the week before and after the trip.
- Marriage and partnership is about compromise, of course. If your partner is an extrovert, you will have to engage in draining social activities, because that is what energizes your partner. Compensate by alternating who gets to choose activities. If there is a day full of socializing, compensate with a day of doing nothing. Mike says: “Since my wife is an ambivert and can’t stand sitting around all day doing nothing–which is my ideal weekend every weekend–we use ‘free trait’ theory as outlined in Susan Cain’s book Quiet. If we have a day of chores, or a day of a lot of socializing, we compensate with a day of nothing. It’s a compromise: if we always just sat around doing nothing, I’d be in Nirvana, and she’d be miserable.”
- Enforce a rule that only one person can speak at a time at the dinner table. Pitched as a family game, it can keep the kids happy while calming chaotic mealtimes. Mike says: “I cannot follow multiple conversations at once, though my HSP brain makes me want to. So if multiple people are talking, I just eat, or stare lazily out the window, until it stops. Then I’ll ask each person who was speaking to repeat themselves, in turn. If I want to say something, I raise my hand. The kids actually call on me: ‘Yes, Daddy, what would you like to say?’ And they do the same thing.”
- Don’t ignore the voice in your head that says you need a break. Leave the room if you need to. Even if it’s just for five minutes.
- Take your temperament temperature. Mike says, “As outlined in Dr. Marti Olsen Laney’s book, The Introvert Advantage, I take my ‘temperament temperature’ daily, sometimes multiple times per day. I have it as a daily recurring task on my task list. If I see the signs that I’ve been an ‘outie’ too long, I make immediate adjustments. I might say to my wife, ‘I’m going to be up several hours late reading tonight, I really need the quiet time.’”
- Share your interests with your kids so you can spend time together in ways you enjoy. Try reading books, gardening, or watching movies together. Similarly, pay attention to and accept introverted traits in your children. Do you like to take short breaks from parties? Or get grumpy when there’s too much going on around you? Your child may feel the same way! Your understanding can make a world of difference to helping your little human thrive and accept who they are in a world that values an extroverted nature.
Mike says: “Perhaps the best part of realizing all of this about myself is that it has helped me to see it in my children. Two of my children are introverts/HSP. As I’ve learned how to thrive, I’m helping them to thrive.
“The introverted son would often have huge anger blow-ups, we thought, for no reason. Now, when we see them coming, I can ask him, ‘Do you want to go to your room and take a break?’ He’ll say yes, disappear for 15-30 minutes, and come back a new kid.
“We recently had a party at my house and all of the people in our private space was hard on my introvert/HSP daughter. So she and I went upstairs, leaving all the company downstairs, and we ate in my office and we talked and watched cartoons together. It gave us both a break from the crowds and we were both better off for it.”
What tactics do you use to deal with overwhelm? Please share in the comments below.
Thanks to Mike R. for these awesome tips!
Further reading: Recharge, reset: How introverted moms cope with family chaos