Ever since he was a baby, Gavin has been a very sensitive boy. If ever I thought it was my fault, my nurturing that brought about his extreme sensitivity, having Gareth has taught me that perhaps more of this behaviour might be innate that I had previously believed.
For instance, when Gavin was a baby, going out was a nightmare because getting him into a carseat was tough. It took so much preparation and perfect coordination to make sure a trip out went smoothly that I rarely planned play dates for fear that something might go wrong. Going out with baby Gavin meant ensuring that he was in the car within the first two hours of waking up in the morning. If we missed that window, then going out was out of the question. I had to make sure the car was loaded with “things” to distract him and I always had to have one secret weapon up my sleeve for the ultra-mega emergency. Going out with Gavin also meant we could only go to one place and come straight home without any detours.
Taking Gavin out was like perpetually walking on eggshells. You could say I was over-anticipating but if I didn’t, and if he started to cry, it was game over. When Gavin cried, he would work himself up into a tantrum storm that would continue until he threw up over himself and then howl even more because he was upset by the vomitus. This was the scenario every single time I failed to keep him calm in the car seat – I kid you not.
Now that Gavin is older, it is a lot easier, but when Gareth was born, I had major flashbacks of Gavin in the carseat and I felt sick with dread about having to cope with it now that I had an older child to take care of as well. Thankfully, Gareth gave me no such grief – or at least, he was so much easier to handle in the car seat. Gareth didn’t mind if I placated him with a toy he had seen before. Even if Gareth cried about having to sit in the car seat, he usually calmed himself down quickly after that and he has only ever threw up on himself once from crying and that was because he was sick that day.
Gavin cries over the smallest paper cut and makes mountains out of molehills. Once he gets started, it can go on and on until you feel like rolling your eyes upwards and wondering when it’s all going to stop. Gareth, on the other hand, is tough as nails. He takes all his bumps and bruises, cuts and scrapes, and being sick like a real trooper. He fusses minimally and only really gets cranky when he’s tired.
Although Gavin is possibly overly sensitive about everything, I have noticed that his sensitivity comes with a big heart that is full of empathy. Even when he was little, he could recognised when someone was upset and he would look like he really wanted to help. Being overly sensitive about many things helped him to be more understanding towards other people’s pain. Gareth, however, is not nearly so understanding. If anything, he appears to lack empathy. He laughs when you’re in pain because he thinks it’s a joke – he’ll bite me and when I yelp in pain, he’ll laugh. Even when I reprimand him for inflicting the pain, he doesn’t look at all remorseful. He doesn’t appear to notice when another child cries. He doesn’t even realise when another child slaps him either. We know he registers pain because he has cried over really painful situations – he just gets over them very quickly.
I’m sure there are many exceptions to this rule, but it would appear that in our situation, Gavin’s sensitivity has led to him being more empathetic, while Gareth being oblivious to pain has meant he is less aware of the pain others feel. There is a positive and negative to every characteristic of our children no matter how “good” or “bad” they might appear. We just need to learn to take them in stride and accept them for what they are.
And yet, I confess I have been troubled by Gavin’s sensitivity especially as he grows older and it does not appear to be abating. Why do I worry? Because he will be going to school and a sensitive boy is a child who will be ragged by his more “macho” peers. There are times when I feel desperate for him to “toughen up” because I don’t want him to end up being a victim at school. This is where I get torn because Gavin is exactly the kind of child I have hoped to raise – one who is sensitive to others and aware of their feelings, one who has the capacity to be kind and caring. If I brush off his pain, I am indirectly telling him that his pain does not matter.
Pain is a subjective feeling. Who are we to decide what is too painful or not very painful at all for someone else? Maybe their nerve endings are just more sensitive to ours – it’s just like how some people have a keener sense of smell than others. So it is right to tell a boy to toughen up and stop whining about his pain just because that is the expected behaviour for boys? It’s okay for girls to cry, but boys who do are “wusses”? Where’s the sense in that? We are so proud of our children who “feel no pain” but I am beginning to wonder about the logic in that.
I’ve realised that I only feel the need for Gavin to “toughen up” because I know what school can be like – children can be cruel. Yes, children can be cruel, but does that mean I have to be harder on my child so that he will be ready for this sort of behaviour at school? What will I be teaching my son with my own behaviour towards him? Monkey see, monkey do. So if we want to instill certain behaviours in our children, we had better be sure we treat them the way we want them to treat others. Besides, if I propagate the idea that you have to be tough at school, isn’t it the same as telling children to bury their pain and pretend it doesn’t exist? For a child like Gareth, it probably means nothing if he doesn’t feel the pain, but for a child like Gavin, it could be very damaging. If our children are hurting we want them to talk about it, not keep silent about it.
Teenage suicides are all about children who are unable to talk about the problems they face. Surely that is not what we want for our children?
What do you think? Do you have a super-sensitive child? How do you deal with it? Do you think your child needs to “toughen up” to face the real world?