As an introverted or sensitive parent, supporting yourself is the first step toward supporting your family.
Parenting is hard. We know this from the tons of advice columns out there telling us so, and then giving us solutions. The majority of those solutions, however, do not work for those of us who are introverted and highly sensitive parents.
Even the articles that do cater to us typically focus on things like mindset shifts, which — while helpful — are often longer-term solutions. And, to be honest, spending even more time in my head overthinking is not what I need as an introverted, highly sensitive parent when I’m already overwhelmed.
I need practical solutions that are going to bring down my stimulation level so I can enjoy my kids like I want to in the moment. Here are the top five things I have found to be the most helpful during my 10 years of being a highly sensitive, and introverted, homeschooling parent.
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5 Ways for Introverted and Highly Sensitive Parents to Decompress
1. Get headphones for you and your kids.
Some of my most beautiful parenting moments have happened when I had a pair of headphones on. My kids will be playing, singing, and dancing, all to the soundtrack I have playing in my ears. It’s like a real-life movie montage! But, more importantly, it helps me enjoy moments that would otherwise be overstimulating for me.
Headphones don’t just work when you have them in, either. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries around the noise level in your home (I promise, you’re not ruining their childhood!). Homeschooling my three kids means the activity, and noise, in our home is tenfold and nonstop.
But one way I curb it is by not having competing volume levels. If my kids are using screens or listening to music in the communal areas of the house — and it’s getting to be too much and stressful for me — I tell them they can choose between putting headphones on or moving the activity to another room.
Normally, they do this without a fuss. But if not, I tell them it’s too much for my ears and/or my brain. Normalizing self-care in all its forms is a win-win: getting what I need and giving them the language they need when they feel the same.
The same goes for loud, noise-making toys. I actually banned these from our house when my kids were very little, the only exception being musical instruments. Again, it didn’t ruin their childhood, and it won’t ruin your child’s either.
2. Take your kids outside (where the noise isn’t as overwhelming).
Any highly sensitive introvert who has been inside with rambunctious kids knows that walls like to bounce sound around until it lands straight in the anxiety center of our brains. This is where the beauty of the outdoors comes into play — literally. No walls means no bouncing sound. Let the excited screams and squeals float off into the sky instead.
And if the first thought you have is of disturbing your neighbors, remind yourself that every person in the world was a loud kid at some point in their lives, even us introverts. So as long as they’re not making noise early in the morning or late at night, tell the guilt “No, thank you” and enjoy the sunshine. Or the rain!
One of my favorite quotes, borrowed from Norway, is “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” Boots and coats, hats and umbrellas (or for a stroller, a baby rain cover), and you’re good to go. Bonus: When it’s rainy, there will be fewer people outside, which makes it the perfect weather for us introverts – cloudy with a chance of alone time.
3. Share things you like with your kids to avoid the dreaded surface-level conversations and small talk.
Introverts do not like surface-level conversations or small talk. We don’t want to have the stereotypical this-is-some-weather-we’re-having-type conversations, but we can talk for hours about theories, hobbies, hopes and dreams, or especially about one of our pets.
What better way to use this quality to our advantage than sharing the things we love with our kids so they can nerd out with us about a few of our favorite things? All parents know kids can get obsessive. That’s why a five-year-old can know more about dinosaurs or space than all the adults in the room put together.
But when they’re showing you their 100th drawing of the day and expecting you to come up with something new to say about shapes that (to your adult brain) look exactly the same as the last 99… well, it’s okay to admit that’s draining. What makes it easier is when their current obsession is also one of yours.
When my now 10-year-old discovered the magic of Jane Austen a year ago, I was ecstatic. I could excitedly engage with her not just as a parent to my child, but also as a fellow human enjoying the same thing. That was the difference that made those conversations more energizing than draining.
For me, the same goes for our nightly storytime. Reading aloud to my kids is one of my favorite things because reading in general is already something I love to do.
So find that intersection of what speaks to you — and to your kid(s) — and you’ll have a much easier time meeting them there as your most authentic self, not just as their parent.
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4. Schedule in connection time so you can better anticipate your energy needs.
It is very inconvenient to need alone time to recharge when small children expect your undivided attention 24/7. At any moment, something could come up, whether you’re feeling refreshed or like you just got run over by a truck. And it’ll be your responsibility to not only respond, but to do so in a way that is in alignment with your parenting values. It is a very appropriate metaphor to say we pour into our children, but that means we’re also pouring out of us.
One of the best ways I’ve found to manage this energy output is to actually schedule connection time. In our family, twice a week, each kid gets to stay up 15-30 minutes past their bedtime to spend one-on-one time with a parent. Since I switch off with my husband, that’s once a week for me, so a small time commitment in the grand scheme of things.
But it means so much to them. They count on it. They make plans for what we’re going to do together. They really look forward to it. And so do I, because that means I have guaranteed, quality-connection-time with each of my kids, no matter what else crops up during the week. But it also means I can reserve the energy for it since I know it’s coming up.
Preparation and planning are key for introverts, and this is something you can do at any time of day. If having them underfoot in the kitchen is too stimulating, you can say, “Hey, I’d love to hang out with you, but my brain is busy focusing on this kitchen task right now. Give me 15 minutes to do this alone, then my brain will be ready to do something you’d like to do. How about your favorite game?” For younger kids, making a blocked-off safe zone is really helpful to facilitate this.
If all that sounds like a lot, it is. I know it is. But it’s much better than the alternative of not caring for yourself and burning out, which introverts are prone to.
5. Take a break from one sensory input at a time (noise, touch, etc.).
Sometimes in life, triage is necessary. That’s where this tip comes in. You’re already overwhelmed and overstimulated, touched out, and just can’t. All the other tips on this list still feel like too much.
First off, this is okay. It’s normal. Everyone feels this way sometimes, highly sensitive introvert or not. Second, there’s still a solution, even when you get to that point. Focus on one sensory input at a time. Pick the one that’s bothering you the most, or, if you need to, pick randomly.
If you choose noise, tell your kids you need complete quiet, but you’ll still give them a cuddle (headphones for them can be helpful here!). Or if it’s touch, sit across the table and play a game. If it’s not wanting to talk, say that! Reassure them you’re listening, but that you’re not going to respond for a bit, so you can listen more fully. Maybe combine this with closing your eyes to block out visual stimulation, too.
Add some deep breaths, and you’ll get to a place where your nervous system can calm down, the front of your brain can turn back on, and you’ll be able to make decisions that will continue to support your family and your well-being.
All these tips are things you can do today — in this very moment to decompress. If one suggestion doesn’t work for you, dear introvert, try another.
Your needs are important. Other people — especially extroverts — may not understand, but that doesn’t make your needs any less real. Supporting yourself is the first step toward supporting your family.
Parenting is hard, but it doesn’t have to be because you’re an introvert, highly sensitive person, or both.
What would you add to this list? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
You might like:
- What It’s Really Like Being a Highly Sensitive Introvert
- 7 Things to Do When You’re Overstimulated and Can’t Get Away
- These 21 Things Stress Out Highly Sensitive People the Most
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