Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Watchful Buddha Boy

Welcome to the January Carnival of Natural Parenting: Learning from children

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared the many lessons their children have taught them. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


"The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:
A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.
To him...
a touch is a blow,
a sound is a noise,
a misfortune is a tragedy,
a joy is an ecstasy,
a friend is a lover,
a lover is a god,
and failure is death.”

-Pearl S. Buck

I remember being seven months pregnant and worried that my unborn son might be deaf. I had been to a drumming workshop, and rather than leaping around to the rhythm, as all the books said he should, my normally active baby was deathly still.
Three months later I learnt why. I had a highly sensitive, watchful baby. He did not react or respond to new sounds or sights, but watched, intently, Buddha-like in his serenity, until he was sure he had the measure of them, then smiles and gurgles a plenty.

In his toddler years this little boy commented every time the fridge or boiler clicked on or off, or a plane flew overhead. Whilst the rest of the children in toddler group raced and banged and whooped, he stood aside and observed the madness, noting the tiny wind propeller on the top of the boat’s mast outside the hall window.

His modus operandi was always the same: watch, wait and then quietly, gently make his move, carefully, with intent focus. For a while I worried that he was autistic, or something more than just shy or quiet.

I watched him watching the world. Learning his cues, his interests, his fears. There was nothing “wrong” with him in any way. Though the world seemed intent on telling me so. “How will he manage at school?” a friend asked. Wait and see, was my reply. We have to let him unfurl in his own time.

And that's exactly what we did, with gentleness and patience, quietly being with him, helping him learn to challenge himself, but within his limits. Not pushing or forcing, but helping him to ease his way into the world as himself.

The reason we had absolute faith is that he has always been so affectionate, lively and responsive at home. He was quick to walk and learnt to talk “on time”. He is a real little performer who loves interaction: with people he knows.

But in public we have a different child. In England he is classed as shy, a term I dislike. In Ireland, with a term I have always hated: "strange". Strange means shy with strangers; for babies it means unwilling to be handed from person to person without making a fuss. For a baby to go off with a strangers as happily as with its own mother, that for me is strange. Strange means not smiling at anyone who pokes their face into yours, or their finger into your belly - I wouldn’t giggle if a random person did that to me. But then I’m a little "strange" too!

Having read the Highly Sensitive Person book when I was in university, and found it helpful in explaining many of my “differences”, my mother suggested I have a look at the Highly Sensitive Child. According to author Elaine Aron, 15-20% of children are HS, pointers include children who are labeled shy, fussy, faddy, colicky (tick), startle easily (tick), hate loud noises (tick), are hesitant in new situations (tick, tick), have issues with food (tick) amongst many others. The tone of this book is very much aimed at helping you to understand your child, not solve a "problem." Aron is careful to stress the many positive characteristics of a sensitive individual.

Our culture is not set up for sensitivity: we are bombarded with noises, smells and visuals from birth; we are constantly over-stimulated in our consumer-driven society. Our society does not prize quietness and reflection, but action; not thought, but speech. It demands that our children endlessly socialise from the minute that they are born. We are encouraged to stimulate their senses endlessly to raise their IQs from birth, with flashing lights and noisy toys.

I am so happy that we trusted ourselves and learnt about him by watching him and listening to his very real and slightly different needs, rather than the nay-sayers voices which surrounded us with doubt and worry. I am so grateful for the guidance and wisdom from Aron's book, which I recommend whole-heartedly to other parents. We have the most wonderful, sensitive, thriving boy we could wish for: our precious Buddha boy.

The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them (Paperback)
by Elaine N. Aron


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon January 11 with all the carnival links.)


  1. I was labeled "sensitive" as a child — which generally meant I was shy and a "crybaby," I think. As I've gotten older, I've come to prize my sensitivity. So it didn't worry me too much when my son wasn't the jump-right-in type. It's unfortunate that we live in societies that prize outgoingness to the point that anything else is deemed aberrant. I'm glad you can see how special your son is, and how normal.

    I love that picture!

  2. It probably helps that my husband and I are "sensitive" too!

  3. There is so much to be said for allowing children to unfold and show us who they are. This is a great reminder of how important that is. I think it's really noteworthy that your son (your Buddha boy - love that!) showed his personality even from the womb, and it says a lot about the type of parents he has that you were perceptive enough to not only notice, but to honor it.

  4. Thank you so much! My daughter is like this, and like you, we are trying to allow her to be herself. I will check out the book info--thanks!

  5. I need to read this book! Yours is the 3rd or 4th post I have read recently that makes me sit and nod along - Kieran is the EXACT same way. I have had people ask me the same questions - why is he so shy? Why doesn't he jump in and play? Heck, I asked those same questions when he first entered toddlerhood. It's just a matter of course for us now, but I know it would be reassuring to read more about being sensitive.

  6. So often, the watch and wait approach works so much better than diving in head first. He may be labeled "strange" now, but later on that will serve him well. :)

  7. Great post; you've described me and boy life in 21st century developed world can be a tough place - so alien, so LOUD and so bright. My daughter has a few of the tendencies and she is definitely 'different' to her peers; she finds things hard, and interaction is not easy for her, but fortunately I 'get it' - thanks for sharing such an important and informative post.

  8. Whew... I needed to read this. You have described one of my twins to a "T". Gus got his nickname early on, when he did everything with gusto. He ate with relish, smile expansively, giggled and interacted and just lived his life intensely. This was all at home, though.

    As soon as we took him to swim lessons at around 7 months, it was different. He hated lessons! It was loud, crowded, and alien. The contrast was striking for me. I thought maybe something was wrong the first day, but nope... each lesson he was the same. He curled up, put his head on my shoulder, and steadfastly refused to even peek at the water. But at home he was his "normal" self.

    I soon realized that he gets overwhelmed easily and needs some accommodations, which we gladly give. We arrive in a place-- the pool, church, family holidays-- early, so that the crowds come to him. I always make sure to stay with him until he's comfortable ("No you can't hold him, yet"), and hubby and I often take him to a different, quiet room when he's feeling overwhelmed. It works for us.

    But I am definitely going to check out that book... Thanks for an insightful, important post!

  9. Loved this post. Because of my sons superactivity the learning support teacher at school was anxious for him to be "assessed". I was annoyed by this need to classify him but agreed in case there was "something wrong". To me he was bright, active, affectionate and eager (to learn, to please, to be loved) To them he was disruptive and hyperactive. My son had no difficulty in paying attention so I was dismayed by the ADHD label. They couldnt have been more wrong. He has a super quick intelligence which means that he excels at his work but bores easily as he knows the concept and needs to move on, this could take hours weeks or even months. The real problem is that the teacher doesnt want my son to feel "special" or "important" by being given extra work. She literally wants a healthy, energetic 8 year old to sit on his hands and not move while he waits for the rest of the class to learn the lesson, with no book, or extra work to occupy him. Help. I may need to demand the dreaded "assesment" so that he gets the extra work he needs. Its a frustrating situation but my son is thriving...if a little bemused by silly adults who dont know hopw to create a better reality for themselves, while he so clearly does!

  10. I remember when I read Raising Your Spirited Child when my first-born was a baby and I was like, "I don't know about him, but now I know -- I was a spirited child!!"

    It was such a relief to have an understanding of myself... I had always been told that I was "too sensitive," but becoming a parent has helped me really unpack all that. Thank goodness! :)

    Maybe that's why I always wanted to give my children space to be themselves... knowing that that was what I myself was craving for so long. Hm...

    I love how you describe your son -- it is clear that you are in tune with him and supporting him. That fills up my heart, knowing that. Thank you.

    Namaste (deep bows),

  11. Thank you for this insightful post :) A friend recently suggested the Highly Sensitive Child for my son, who may be entering the public school system again. It is right on.

    Thank you for demonstrating patience, trust, and faith with your child - it shines through.

  12. fabulous and so true Lucy, i love those books
    m-c x

  13. Great post! Using for sunday Surf. You are very correct that our society is very eager to label children as strange. I shared the new list of mental disorders in children in one of my previous posts and it is clear that it is only getting worse. Everything that deviates from the norm needs to be labelled, sedated and/or put away...

  14. Greetings from Malaysia!

    My son is kinda like yours. He will observe his surroundings quietly, keeping to himself until he's sure he got all his perimeter checked and that it's alright to venture on his own. He is shy around strangers (which is what I like cos I don't want him going around being playful and open to strangers anyway)

    Do not let what other people says get to you. Our child is unique in their own special way.

    Btw, thanks for dropping by my blog and commenting! :)

  15. Thank you for all the comments. I am delighted it touched so many.



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