You’ve chased your child to the toy aisle, and he reaches desperately for the shiny new toy on the shelf and you say, “No, babe, I’m so sorry…not today.”
Because life, and money, and for all the reasons you have to say no…you do.
And there it is, it happens. In the middle of aisle 4…the meltdown ensues, all because you’ve said no.
Your face flashes hot, you’re feeling embarrassed and guilty and all the things you feel as moms do when you have to deny your child something they want.
Your kid is losing his everloving mind in front of the LEGOs and you can’t even begin to figure out how to redirect him because all that exists is the rabbit hole of despair you’ve both fallen into. The onlookers whisper, you abandon your cart, and you both walk away feeling like you’ve left a part of yourself in the toy section of Target.
Let’s take a journey into the mind of the neurodiverse (or highly sensitive) child and understand a bit more about what happened before that ‘no’ was said.
From his perspective, when he wanders down the toy aisle and finds his soul mate toy, in that blissful fleeting moment, he has already envisioned himself playing with this toy. He sees himself creating worlds, reconnecting parts of himself, or remembering a happy memory from another time and place. He’s crafting a story that can only be told through this very item. He has seen it, he’s seen himself with it, and he’s lived out this ideal fantasy world before he’s even placed his hands on the box.
As moms, it’s completely logical and just for us to say no. But, when we deny access to live out the world he believes he was destined to create, he faces the collapse of his own inner civilization.
Furthermore, the meltdown ensues because he cannot “see” any alternative to the life he was meant to live with this toy in his possession.
This is the truth of parenting the highly sensitive child. You live in wait of the moments where his anger and anxiety collide into hours upon hours of soul-crushing meltdowns.
In order to navigate the seemingly endless pitfalls of despair, you must work within the child’s perception of expectation in order to help facilitate his growth and healing. But fear of meltdowns is not a reason to say yes to the child when you (the parent) do not want to, or simply cannot say yes! On the contrary, all children must develop the skillset of establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries.
We, as a society, often have a difficult time accepting limits. Therefore, we must be aware of this in our parenting approaches. You must be able to incorporate boundary education for your little ones.
One of the most important skills a highly sensitive will learn is how to send and receive no. This skillset takes time. In fact, it takes years to master, and it begins in childhood.
Receiving no is a highly developed skillset.
This is about creating steps and alleviating the anxiety that coincides with hearing no.
This is about allowing your child a safe space to process no.
Before you go into Target you might begin by telling them what the goals of the shopping trip are, and follow this with softening the expectation: “Today we’re looking for bread, a new pot, and diapers,” or “I’m so sorry, we cannot buy toys today.”
Repetition creates resonance, so remind your child of your goals. Continue with compassion: “I understand how difficult this is for you. If you find something you like, you can always write it down for your birthday or Christmas list.”
Your child’s trigger word is no, but I promise this doesn’t make him a spoiled brat.
There is nothing wrong with your child, he must learn what it means to accept a no, as (s)he grows into a respectful adult.
Remember, for the highly sensitive child, the meltdown is a natural part of processing a no. Their nervous system shuts down, and they can’t hear you, no matter how hard you try.
There is nothing wrong with you as the parent. You are allowed to say no to your child!
And for what it’s worth, fellow moms and dads, you can tell those whispering onlookers to move along! You are not a bad parent, and your child is not a bad child! Everyone is entitled to a meltdown!
You and your child are entitled to a response to that no. You are both free to take as long as you need to process the episode. Even if it means carrying him out of the store and screaming in the car together!
Building a tolerance to no and exercising boundaries takes time. Teaching your child how to hear no without a meltdown, takes time. And there is no right or wrong way to do that.
Boundary recognition is actually about understanding how to be compassionate to your child’s needs, while exercising firmness in your delivery.
It’s about helping the child see it’s not a personal attack, but a decision made for everyone’s benefit.
You are not withholding from him, you are learning proper balance in your relationship, together. These are skills (s)he needs as for healthy relationships in adulthood.
Highly sensitives do take no personally. He believes he’s being rejected or denied this opportunity to create a world that could evoke healing for himself and others but, with a deep and compassionate understanding and a willingness to merge harmony into your boundaries, you can move through these episodes, shorten them, and actually alleviate them completely over time.
So please, mom, know you’re doing a wonderful job, and you’re an excellent parent. Your child’s meltdowns do not imply a lack as a mom — it simply means you are a parent who is willing to allow her child to express exactly as (s)he needs to feel safe.
You are the gift your child deserves. Meltdowns don’t define your child, your love defines your child, and through that love…your child defines himself.
For more self-study, The Urban Howl recommends The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When The World Overwhelms Them.
Sip a little more: