Crying fits, tantrums and exhaustion: the holidays are not always fun for highly sensitive children. Social science researcher Esther Bergsma explains why and gives tips. “That’s a good thing to do.”
Inge van der Maarel (38) recognizes it like no one else: Her children are tense and restless during the holidays. “There are so many stimuli that my children can then react very expressively. Their bucket is already full before the day starts and someone only has to look at them and it all explodes.”
Restless and stomach ache
She has a daughter aged 7 and two sons aged 5 and 3. “During this period, they sleep much more restlessly and they have a lot of stomach ache. You can hear that from other children, that they find it exciting, but you notice that they are much more sensitive to everything that the day brings.”
Inge’s children are not alone: according to social science researcher and author Esther Bergsma, 1 in 5 Dutch people are highly sensitive. “That’s a lot of people, 3.5 million.”
‘No country to sail with’
Bergsma specializes in high sensitivity. She also sees that the holidays are particularly challenging for children. “I often hear from parents that there are a lot of crying spells and tantrums during this period. Children no longer like anything and there is no land to sail with them.”
“This anger and crying are expressions of overstimulation,” explains the researcher. “There are many stimuli during this period. Think of many sounds and children together. And thoughts of: have I been good enough, will I get a present?”
A little rest during holidays
Highly sensitive children are not only sensitive to stimuli, but also process them deeply, says Bergsma. “As a result, the same situation has much more impact on you and you experience stronger emotions.”
The fact that the holidays follow each other so quickly also plays an important role, she says. “1 special day is not such a problem if your child has enough time to relax afterwards. But with the holidays, all days are packed. And every time your child gets a overload of stimuli and treatment problems, but the rest time is missing.”
In short: This is how you ensure that your child also enjoys the holiday
- Make sure they get enough rest between the festivities, they won’t be thinking about that right now, so remind them.
- Think above all: what makes it possible and fun for everyone, instead of: what does society and my family expect of me?
- Don’t plan too many visits, make sure there is also time to hang out on the sofa in your pyjamas.
- When planning appointments, put your child’s best interests first.
- Talk to your kids so you know what’s going on inside them.
“Remember: what is possible and fun?”
The researcher emphasizes that not only highly sensitive, but all children can become overstimulated. “But rest is essential for highly sensitive children. They are very loyal and responsible and therefore not naturally inclined to take that rest for themselves. They are more concerned with: is there anything else I can do? Is there anything else expected of me?”, explains Bergsma.
“As a parent, if you cram your days completely and expect your child to happily go everywhere with you, it’s not going to work,” she continues. “So instead of being preoccupied with what society and your family expect of you, think about what makes it possible and fun?”
Your child’s interests come first
“So don’t plan two family visits in a row this Christmas, but visit 1 person and for the rest snuggle up on the sofa in your pyjamas,” advises the researcher. “And if you plan it that way with your child’s interests first, it’s also much nicer days and you think: oh, the holidays are fun.”
Bergsma also advises to ensure that there are enough rest periods. “And don’t look at the mobile phone, but really relax. And talk about everything that goes on in those heads. If you take that into account and make good holiday planning, then it’s great to do.”