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Sensitive children are the canaries and the world our coal mine. They can tell us when the conditions are all wrong, when there is danger and injustice. They warn us that the world is too harsh while simultaneously softening it with their presence. They are candles lighting the darkness, and if we look toward them, once our eyes adjust to the light, we will see the turmoil and the hope.


I’m focusing on boys in this piece because I have no experience with raising a sensitive girl, only with being one. I have two boys, one of whom is an HSC (highly sensitive child—a trait 20% of the population carries), and raising a sensitive boy comes with unique challenges and blessings, as raising a sensitive daughter comes with its own unique challenges and blessings.

What is high sensitivity?

These children are born with nervous systems that are highly aware. They feel everything deeply—pain, love, sadness, joy. They may startle easily, dislike scratchy clothing or seams in socks. They often are sensitive to odors and notice changes in their environment. They are in tune with the suffering of others. They have rich inner lives and ask deep questions. They may prefer quiet play and be bothered by noisy places or sudden change.

If you think your child may have this trait, take this quiz at hsperson.com.

We still live in a culture that shames sensitive boys, which is why we, as their parents, must be their champions. In his book, The Strong Sensitive Boy, Ted Zeff says, “When sensitive boys do not conform to the stereotypical ‘boy code’ and instead express compassion, gentleness, and vulnerability, they are frequently ostracized and humiliated.”

You might think we’ve moved beyond this nonsense, but just this week I overheard a crying boy being told that, “Boys don’t cry like that” and to, “Straighten up.” Our culture still expects boys to be tough and emotionally repressed. Because of this, being highly sensitive is particularly challenging for boys.

Fortunately, with the right support, these boys can not only overcome their challenges but thrive as kids and adults. Here are a few ways you can support your sensitive boy:

A good environment is key.

Home must be a sensitive child’s safe haven. They quickly pick up on tensions between parents and can be deeply hurt by siblings who tease.

The best thing you can do for your sensitive son is to create a home atmosphere that is warm, soothing, and accepting. Do not allow siblings to tease or name-call. Work to create a home culture where family builds each other up and supports one another.

Here are a number of ways to do this:

  1. Build positive relationships through dinners at the table, cooperative games, traditions, light-hearted conversations, and quality family time.
  2. Do not compare siblings but celebrate the uniqueness of each child.
  3. Make clear rules about treating one another with respect and kindness. When a child breaks this rule, the “consequence” is that he must make amends and repair the relationship. This comes after a heart-to-heart discussion about how he made his sibling feel and why it is important to make amends.
  4. Keep conflict to a minimum. Zeff says, “Though any child may be alarmed and frightened by [hearing parents quarrel], highly sensitive children are likely to be affected even more by parental conflict.”

Maintain a secure attachment.

A positive bond between mother and son is important for all boys, but it is especially essential for the sensitive boy. There is a societal fear of raising “mama’s boys” and of coddling, which lead us to prematurely separate from our boys. Mom needs to remain emotionally connected to her sensitive son.

He will receive many messages outside the home from his peers, teachers, media and coaches that there is something wrong with him, that he needs to toughen up and “be a man,” but you are there with the consistent message of you are wonderful how you are. You are a worthy and loved human being.

Here are some tips for remaining close:

  1. Play. This is the easiest way to connect heart-to-heart with any child. Play looks different in the tween and teen years. Instead of playing trains or blocks, it might look like video gaming, canoeing, bike riding or learning about his comic book collection. They key is to get into his world.
  2. From hugs and snuggles to fist bumps and hair ruffles, stay connected through physical affection.
  3. Laugh together. Victor Borge wrote, “Laughter is the closest distance between two people.” Shared laughter strengthens relationships, so find something funny!
  4. Be his light reflector. Celebrate your son’s many wonderful traits. See the good in him and tell him what you see, because there are enough people out there who will tell them what they see wrong with him. It is our job, as mothers, to tell them what we see that’s right and good and true.
  5. Avoid harsh discipline and criticizing words which are very wounding to sensitive kids. Rather than shaming or physical discipline, opt for discipline that connects. However, also avoid being permissive for fear of wounding your child. Correct him, just do so gently.

Teach him how to handle his strong, deep emotions.

Sensitive boys feel all emotions more deeply than the 80% non-highly-sensitive population, so it’s crucial to teach your son about his feelings and how to cope with them.

It’s really important to not make him feel like he’s weird or wrong for having such deep emotions. I think that it’s also important to validate but not exaggerate his experience. For example, validating is, “I know it hurts when you stub your toe. I’ll get you some ice” while exaggerating is “Oh my poor baby! That must hurt so much. Let me see! That looks really, really painful. I see why you’re crying! It really hurts, doesn’t it!”

I’m speaking from experience; the latter only makes the situation worse!

Here are some tips for helping your child handle his emotions:

  1. Use time-in rather than time out. The time-in toolkit will help you create a calming space to regulate emotions and teach about them.
  2. Teach them how to take big deep breaths, hug their Calm Down Companion, watch a swirling glitter jar, and journal or draw their feelings to help them through tough moments.
  3. Use games and activities to teach about feelings.

Teach him to set boundaries.

Sensitive children often are people-pleasers and perfectionists. They go above and beyond to make everyone around them happy and comfortable, and sometimes they stretch themselves too thin or put the needs of others ahead of their own too much. Teach them that setting boundaries doesn’t make them selfish and that’s okay (even beautiful) to be flawed and imperfect.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Give them scripts to say to their peers when they need out of a situation.
  2. Give them a voice in your home so they can find their voice outside of it.
  3. Teach them to trust their intuition and honor their instincts.
  4. Role-play situations where they might need to enforce a boundary.
  5. Look for children’s books on boundaries, like No Means No.

A word of caution.

It can be difficult to not overprotect these boys. It’s a fine line I still learn to walk every day—figuring out just how much he can handle and the best way to support him without stifling his growth. There isn’t a perfect answer, and I know sometimes I get it wrong. Being overprotective sends the wrong message though—it says I don’t trust you to be able to deal with this.

I suppose the best message we can try to give our sensitive boys is I believe in you and your ability to fly, and I’m here to catch you should you fall.

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Summer heat has a way of making the house feel smaller, more congested, with less room for the air to circulate. And there's nothing like the heat to make me want to strip down, cool off and lighten my load. So, motivation in three digits, now that school is back in, it's time to do a purge.

Forget the spring clean—who has time for that? Those last few months of the school year are busier than the first. And summer's warm weather entices our family outdoors on the weekends, which doesn't leave much time for re-organizing.

So, I seize the opportunity when my kids are back in school to enter my zone.

I love throwing open every closet and cupboard door, pulling out anything and everything that doesn't fit our bodies or our lives. Each joyless item purged peels off another oppressive layer of "not me" or "not us."

Stuff can obscure what really makes us feel light, capable and competent.

Stuff can stem the flow of what makes our lives work.

With my kids back in school, I am energized, motivated by the thought that I have the space to be in my head with no interruptions. No refereeing. No snacks. No naps… I am tossing. I am folding. I am stacking. I am organizing. I don't worry about having to stop. The neat-freak in me is having a field day.

Passing bedroom doors, ajar and flashing their naughty bits of chaos at me, it's more than I can handle in terms of temptation. I have to be careful, though, because I can get on a roll. Taking to my kids' rooms I tread carefully, always aware that what I think is junk can actually be their treasure.

But I usually have a good sense for what has been abandoned or invisible in plain sight for the lack of movement or the accumulation of dust. Anything that fits the description gets relegated to a box in the garage where it is on standby—in case its absence is noticed and a meltdown has ensued. Crisis averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it all through…

Do we really need all this stuff?

Will my son really notice if I toss all this stuff?

Will my daughter be heartbroken if I donate all this stuff?

Will I really miss this dress I wore three years ago that barely fit my waist then and had me holding in my tummy all night, and that I for sure cannot zip today?

Can we live without it all? All. This. Stuff?

The fall purge always gets me wondering, where in the world does all this stuff come from? So with the beginning of the school year upon us, I vow to create a new mindset to evaluate everything that enters my home from now on, so that there will be so much less stuff.

I vow to really think about objects before they enter my home…

…to evaluate what is really useful,

...to consider when it would be useful,

...to imagine where it would be useful,

...to remember why it may be useful,

…to decide how to use it in more than one way,

... so that all this stuff won't get in the way of what really matters—time and attention for my kids and our lives as a new year reveals more layers of the real stuff—what my kids are made of.

Bring it on.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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For many years, Serena Williams seemed as perfect as a person could be. But now, Serena is a mom. She's imperfect and she's being honest about that and we're so grateful.

On the cover of TIME, Williams owns her imperfection, and in doing so, she gives mothers around the world permission to be as real as she is being.

"Nothing about me right now is perfect," she told TIME. "But I'm perfectly Serena."

The interview sheds light on Williams' recovery from her traumatic birth experience, and how her mental health has been impacted by the challenges she's faced in going from a medical emergency to new motherhood and back to the tennis court all within one year.

"Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months," she said.

It would have been easy for Williams to keep her struggles to herself over the last year. She didn't have to tell the world about her life-threatening birth experience, her decision to stop breastfeeding, her maternal mental health, how she missed her daughter's first steps, or any of it. But she did share these experiences, and in doing so she started incredibly powerful conversations on a national stage.

After Serena lost at Wimbledon this summer, she told the mothers watching around the world that she was playing for them. "And I tried," she said through tears. "I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

In the TIME cover story, what happened before that match, where Williams lost to Angelique Kerber was revealed. TIME reports that Williams checked her phone about 10 minutes before the match, and learned, via Instagram, that the man convicted of fatally shooting her sister Yetunde Price, in 2003 is out on parole.

"I couldn't shake it out of my mind," Serena says. "It was hard because all I think about is her kids," she says. She was playing for all the mothers out there, but she had a specific mother on her mind during that historic match.

Williams' performance at Wimbledon wasn't perfect, and neither is she, as she clearly states on the cover of time. But motherhood isn't perfect either. It's okay to admit that. Thanks, Serena, for showing us how.

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There are some mornings where I wake up and I'm ready for the day. My alarm goes off and I pop out of bed and hum along as I make breakfast before my son wakes up. But then there are days where I just want 10 more minutes to sleep in. Or breakfast feels impossible to make because all our time has run out. Or I just feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Those are the mornings I stare at the fridge and think, Can someone else just make breakfast, please?

Enter: make-ahead breakfasts. We spoke to the geniuses at Pinterest and they shared their top 10 pins all around this beautiful, planned-ahead treat. Here they are.

(You're welcome, future self.)

1. Make-ahead breakfast enchiladas

www.pinterest.com

Created by Bellyful

I'd make these for dinner, too.

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