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Helping your Sensitive Child Navigate Two Homes

Navigating two homes can be difficult for a highly sensitive child after parents divorce or separate. These tips can help your child emotionally.

Melissa Schwartz Author, Speaker, and Coach Highly Sensitive Families

Navigating between two homes can be a challenging experience for any child, but for a highly sensitive child (HSC), this transition can be even more overwhelming. Raising a HSC, particularly in the context of divorce and multiple homes, can feel daunting but there is some very good news: as a parent you have an incredible opportunity to influence your child’s well-being and help them navigate this journey with ease.

Psychologist and author, Elaine Aron, has conducted extensive research on high sensitivity which is also known as Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS). Aron’s findings indicate that in addition to approximately 1 in 5 humans being highly sensitive and showing up at the same rate in both males and females, over 100 species of animals have been found to possess SPS in the same ratio of 15-20% of the population. Lastly, because SPS is a genetic trait, often, at least one biological parent is a highly sensitive person (HSP) too!

Sad child hugging father

The trait can best be described using Aron’s acronym of D.O.E.S. which stands for:  

  • Depth of Processing — HSCs and HSPs tend to process information deeply and thoroughly. This deep processing allows them to make wholehearted connections and insightful decisions. It also leads to them needing downtime to unpack experiences and unravel conversations and stories.
  • Overstimulation — Because of their heightened sensitivity to external stimuli, HSCs and HSPs can become easily overwhelmed in environments that have excessive and/or loud noise, bright lights or strong smells. Overstimulation can also occur when emotions aren’t modulated and sometimes HSCs reach a tipping point after an interaction that seems, from the outside, insignificant.
  • Emotional Intensity/Empathy — In addition to HSCs and HSPs experiencing more saturated emotions, they also have access to a broader range of emotions. I always like to describe this aspect of the trait using the metaphor of a box of crayons. While most people experience emotions like a ‘basic’ box of crayons, and have access to ‘primary’ emotions like happy and sad, HSCs and HSPs experience emotions like the ‘expanded’ box of crayons— not only are there more ‘colors’ to choose from, there are also more variations of each emotion, like happy, elated, exuberant and sad, miserable and hopeless. Emotions feel more intense and they’re more nuanced. Additionally, HSCs and HSPs have a heightened capacity for empathy because of their ability to attune to the emotions of those around them. 
  • Sensing Subtleties — HSCs and HSPs are adept at tuning into subtle cues and changes in their environment. They are more likely to notice and be affected by minor details that others may overlook. This heightened sensitivity can occasionally be mischaracterized as ADD because of the proclivity to being preoccupied by seemingly insignificant distractions.

High sensitivity brings with it a set of challenges, both for the child and the parents. For highly sensitive parents, the constant bombardment of stimuli can lead to overstimulation, exhaustion, and a lack of personal time for self-care. Modeling appropriate language to express emotions becomes crucial in helping children navigate intense feelings and develop emotional intelligence.

Parents of HSCs may encounter additional hurdles such as difficulties with transitions, heightened emotional responses, tantrums, and outbursts. These challenges can be exacerbated in the context of divorce, where the child is faced with the task of regularly readjusting to multiple living situations and parental dynamics.

Father teaching daughter to wash dishes

Here are ten tips to assist your HSC navigate the transitions between two homes and cope with the complexities of divorce:

  1. Open Communication: Encourage open and honest communication with your child. Let them express their feelings, concerns, and any fears they may have about moving between homes. Validate their emotions and assure them that their feelings are important and normal.
  2. Establish Consistent Routines: Consistency can provide a sense of stability for HSCs. Work with the other parent to establish regular routines such as bedtime rituals, meal times, and rules between both homes. This can significantly help your child feel more secure and less anxious about the transition.
  3. Create a Safe Space: Ensure that your child has a comfortable, private space in each home where they can retreat to when feeling overwhelmed. This can be a cozy corner with their favorite books, toys, or blankets where they can relax and unwind.
  4. Talk about Emotions: Because HSCs and HSPs have more saturated emotions it is imperative to talk often and openly about how you feel. You can model proper expression of your own emotions in age appropriate ways but talking about how you feel, for example “I feel overwhelmed having to put away laundry, make dinner and help you take a bath tonight. I hope you can be patient with me if I act a little grumpy.”  
  5. Stay Connected: Make use of technology to help your child stay connected with the parent they are not currently living with. Encourage regular video calls, messages, and sharing of photos to maintain a sense of connection and closeness between both homes. A co-parenting app, like TalkingParents, can be a huge help with this.
  6. Encourage Independence: Help your child develop autonomy by involving them in the decision-making process. Allow them to pack their bags for the transition, choose their clothes, or decide what items they want to bring from one home to the other.
  7. Refrain From Criticism: Try not to talk about your child’s other parent or other home from a place of anger or judgement. Remember that HSCs are more in tune with the emotions of others and they’ll more easily pick up on your upset.  
  8. Be Kind and Courteous: Even if you have a complicated relationship with your child’s parent, it’s important to make pleasantries in front of your child. Try to keep your interactions at exchanges brief but courteous. Encourage your child to make a card or pick out a small gift for their other parent at holidays and birthdays. Fostering goodwill and modeling consideration will help your child have healthy relationships as they grow. If you are in a high conflict co-parenting situation, particularly one where post-separation harassment or abuse may be present, there are strategies and techniques for navigating difficulties in a way that will minimize impacts on your child.
  9. Simplify the Transition: When your child has an uneventful, calm transition between homes, it’ll be easier for them to know what to expect. Keep hellos and goodbyes brief and unemotional. If possible, have a default activity each time the child comes back into your custody (like a short dance party or taking the dog for a walk.)
  10. Seek Professional Help if Needed: If your HSC is struggling to cope with any aspect of the divorce, including transitioning between homes, consider seeking professional help from a therapist or parent coach. They can provide personal support and specific strategies to help you and your child navigate this challenging period.
Mother talking to sad daughter

Remember, each child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another

Be patient, understanding, and empathetic towards your HSC as they navigate between two homes. It’s not easy for anyone to have a divorced family! It’s hard for parents and children. Reminding your child that it is difficult and validating their experience will help them feel understood and accepted. With your love and support, they can successfully adjust to this new way of life and thrive in both environments.

Despite the challenges, high sensitivity comes with a huge set of benefits! HSCs tend to be more empathetic, creative, and insightful problem-solvers. They have a tendency to be highly intelligent and have natural leadership qualities. By embracing and nurturing these positive aspects of sensitivity, parents can help their children thrive and grow into resilient individuals capable of navigating life’s complexities with grace.

Supporting a HSC through the ups and downs of divorce and multiple homes requires patience, understanding, and a proactive approach to addressing their unique needs. By creating a supportive environment that honors their sensitivity and provides tools for emotional regulation, parents can help children embrace their innate gifts and navigate the world with confidence and compassion.

TalkingParents blogs are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Always consult with a qualified attorney regarding legal matters.

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