Highly Sensitive

September 22, 2017

Growing up with little C is truly a journey to understand myself. While there are many who thrive on travelling to exciting places and doing new things, I revel in exploring the inner workings of my mind. I (over)analyze myself and wonder why. As little C grows up, I’m finding that he is temperamentally very much in the mold of  me. As I try to help him, I realize that those advice I would have loved to hear when I was younger and also that it’s not too late to heed them.

He is a really sensitive little guy – tags in clothing annoy him to no end, startles easily, doesn’t perform well when someone is watching, some movies that are not meant to be scary scare him, perfectionist (or is it a fear of failure…. not quite the same but some types of behavior though… ), worries about dying , etc   (http://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-child-test/)  Many things make sense now on hindsight, like how he cried the first time we stood around and sang happy birthday to him, him fussing in crowded/ dark/ funny smelling restaurants, being extra cautious on the playground. SO the funny thing is as I read about dealing with sensitive kids, I finally realize I was one too. I even had a friend tell me that I’m really sensitive but brushed it off then because I probably thought that everyone was just like me.

So what does it mean to be highly sensitive? According to Dr Elaine Aron,  a highly sensitive person has “a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.” The good news is that even though I didn’t have a label for my preferences and behaviour, I have been aware of what I needed. It is quite interesting when I made the connection with how I like my vacations relaxing with plenty of time to go back to the quiet of a hotel room and recover from the onslaught of new sensations before venturing out again.

But it also means that I have a tendency to get into my cozy place and never wanting to change or get out of my comfort zone and endure the awkwardness of making new friends. I’ve been gently prodding the little guy into trying things he is afraid of for the longest time. (At times, not so gentle, but I’ve learnt better since…) It was in that spirit of teaching by showing that I chose to do something I normally wouldn’t – join the PTA committee and I am really glad I did. At first, I thought it would be a good setting for getting to know other parents. I had to remind myself that being an introvert doesn’t make me bad at small talk, it is the fact I don’t practicing adult social skills that makes me more anxious when I do need them.  So I’ve started my self assigned task of looking for new friends because I’ll never meet any if I just sit at home and read.


Things that Shouldn’t Bother Me But Do

September 19, 2017

We are pretty close with the family of little C’s best friend, W. They have regular weekly playdates; I’ve helped them out in various occasions when they had trouble arranging for childcare – giving rides, babysat, picked up their son; our kids are in the same karate dojo;…  I had a tough time telling W’s mum that we were switching schools. She asked which school and I told her the truth.

So the thing is, right before school started, W’s dad started acting aloof towards us. When we saw him at karate, we would say hi as usual but he was withdrawn and didn’t want to be engaged.  The first time, I thought maybe he was stressed out or tired. By the second time, I was starting to suspect there was something deeper going on. And today, we were at the dojo again. They came late so we didn’t have a chance to say hi. When the class ended, they left in a jiffy without even saying ‘hello’ . Then I remembered how after W’s mum arranged with me to keep W for a day because they both had to work, the dad abruptly cancelled it the evening before when we met at the dojo.  I thought it was a little weird at that time, but I think it is his way of disassociating with us.  I’m not sure what we did that could have offended him except have our child be moved to a school that the anti-intellectual perceive as being for the entitled/ elite while I think of it as a place where he can be with peers who are similar to him, which hopefully means he’ll less likely to be bullied.

At any rate, even though I feel rather hurt by the snubbing, I’ll continue to do what I feel is right. If a parent wants to set an rude, ungracious example before their child, that’s not my problem to solve.


Social Anxiety

September 16, 2017

I suffer from some social anxiety. When I was still in school and naturally surrounded by people, it wasn’t obvious. The class environment makes it easy to make friends because you see them everyday and you have a lot of common experiences. It was in college when I first felt a little isolated and realized I lack the social skills to make friends outside a school context. I was the only person I know in my major and while I made a couple of acquaintances, I realized that it wasn’t easy to start up a random conversation with people. In hindsight, tutorials would have been a good chance to initiate contact but I kinda kept to myself.

I never quite realize that you need a different set of skills to interact with strangers and make small talk. I don’t think I’ve quite shaken off the trauma of having good friends (two in my lifetime) turn on me and decide I was pariah. I harbor the fear that people secretly detest me and I’m too dense to notice it. That makes it hard for me to open up. Deep down, I understand that I can never make everyone happy and it’s true that I was blithely ignorant before and may have hurt some feelings. In the end though, I think it is up to the person who has a problem to speak up about it if they are interested in maintaining the relationship.

So as I talk down my social anxiety about meeting people, I’ve been convincing myself that all those negative things I think they might be saying about me doesn’t exist. In some cases, that is true. Sometimes when me and J argue, he tends to keep quiet and I start to imagine the things he must be thinking.  When we both calm down and talk about it, I would find out that they weren’t true and that I should stop tormenting myself with the imaginary narration playing out in my head. Or maybe that’s more true with guys who have a less complicated inner life.

End of the day is, I told myself that nothing will get better if I don’t try it out. So that’s why I’ve been branching out to try out the PTA, to approach other parents or groups that I think I can make connections. Even if I don’t find good friends in the process, at least I am shedding some of the anxiety just by practicing the skill.

2nd Grade

August 31, 2017

School is starting next week.  I’m starting to feel a little jittery since there are uncertainties to deal with and I’m not good with uncertainties.  Part of it is because I made myself join the PTA but I think it’s probably a good thing for me because I need that push to go socialize with people and actually try to make friends. I have a habit of retreating to my comfy den and staying there otherwise.

This year, I’m hoping I can be relax a little on the math front since his school will be teaching at a level more in line with his Singapore peers. Hopefully, we can work more on Chinese and maybe enroll him in a sport after school. He really needs the physical activity!

Kids Say the Darndest Things

August 21, 2017

“What does this have to do with me?”  – said to two kids who were trying to show off their Lego? to him. They had been pestering him and his best friend to lend them their bikes previously.

“To you, it might be two sticks. To me, it can be a lot of things (looks like a bushman’s bow and arrow?) And what’s it got to do with you, you are not the boss of me.”  – When his dad asked him why he was keeping two ordinary looking sticks and that he shouldn’t bring it inside.

“Mum, I wish I could marry you.” – When he was worrying about whether he’ll find a girl to marry.

“I’m glad you and dad got married. If you married someone else, I might turn out to be a different person.”



August 19, 2017

This summer we’ve started Calvin on the path to learning to swim….. by that I mean, he’s actually not afraid of getting sprayed by the shower, he’s able to dunk his head underwater for all of 2 seconds and that he feels confident that he can learn to swim. Yes, the bar is set rather low but given his previous timidity, this is a big step forward.  He was the kid who never enjoyed the spray parks because he doesn’t like his face getting wet and he’d cling on to us for dear life in pools or just walk around the shallow areas. I contemplated sending him for swim classes but they were a) expensive and b) unlikely to help significantly. In fact, I was worried that he might even be traumatized by unsympathetic instructors or just plainly feel that swimming is boring. In the end, we opted for simply having fun with him in the pool and just waiting for him to be ready.

Well, it’ll still be a while before he’ll be able to swim by himself but at least that’s a start.

Week 8 of Summer Vacation

August 16, 2017

Summer vacation is going by in a flash! And I haven’t even blogged once since school was out. We didn’t send little C for any summer camps this year either with the exception of a PE enrichment camp at his old elementary school. We’ve seen kids at summer camp when we are out and about and it looks more like child care by teenage babysitters. It’s kinda like going with a tour group where you sometimes stop at places you are not interested in and don’t have enough time to spend at your favorites. I’d much rather go free and easy.

But that also means that it’s on me to keep him occupied. Some people might be aghast to find out that little C is doing homework everyday. Not that the tasks are onerous. It’s more helpful for teaching him to concentrate and focus and on getting work done and also learn good study and work habits. It’s also a good time for me to focus on teaching him Chinese and reading more books with him. His conversational Chinese has improved a little. I still have trouble remembering to speak more Chinese with him….

We did have our own summer camp with a wild west theme, went to the zoo 3 times before my membership expires, visited the science museum, went on park playdates twice, rode his bike at least once a week, watched a movie at the theater, went to the library programs (Little Bits circuits, recycled robots, ukelele), went to the beach at carkeek, do a bit of Scratch programming, …

We had a few events by J’s company, joined 2 potlucks with his best friend’s family, going for another BBQ potluck this weekend, went to the seafood fest, went and saw dad play basketball, went on vacation to Lake Quinault…

The rest of the time, he is left to his own devices – making comic books, doing craft,  reading, building Lego creations…

Oh and I’ve gotten him used to doing some chores in the morning after breakfast – feeding the fish and cleaning up the breakfast things (scraping the dishes and loading them into the dishwasher)

Teaching the Soft Skills

June 10, 2017

It seems like many skills have to be taught to my little guy explicitly. Like I have to spell out exactly what he should be doing at each point. I’m not sure why I’m surprised, but I was. Perhaps I felt like no one had taught them to me before and I somehow blundered into them and thus expected that kids learn them the same way. Perhaps my expectation of a 7.5-year-old boy is too high and he would indeed learn it on his own in a couple of years. I can’t even remember how well I was able to concentrate at that age.

Once again, the pedagogy befuddles me and I had to research some new ways to teach these skills besides plain nagging and lecturing, which obviously hasn’t gotten me very far. I came across some interesting strategies on this responsive classroom site. One of them

Things for me to try:

Interactive modeling –  modeling the correct behavior and asking the kid(s) to tell you what they observe.

Positive language – closely observing and give feedback on what is working.

“I see you followed our rule on _____” and “You did _____. That helps us all be better learners.” “You tried several different ways to solve that problem. That kind of persistence really helps you learn!” “You used your quiet voice. That helped me concentrate on my work.”

Some of the things I would like to work with him on improving are:

1. Transitions

  • Review expectations: what is supposed to happen. How it should look/ feel
  • Give advance warning: Teach him to plan what to do when the warning is given. Model thinking about a good stopping place, how to organize cleanup/ wrapping up and estimate how long it would take.  Ask him for his plan and review what worked and what didn’t and what else to try next time.
  • Have a set amount of time for transition

2. Staying focused on listening to speaker

  • Teach what staying focused looks like: Eyes on speaker, hands by the side/ in lap
  • Self-awareness on when he is distracted and how to refocus

3. Staying focused on task

  • Practice what that looks like during meal times and getting ready for bed

Practicing Patience

May 31, 2017

This month, I’d like to practice more mindfulness when I respond to irritation and annoyances. It’s been hard for me to take that step back and breathe and think through my response. Many times, the annoyance makes me snap and before I know it, I’d talk with a snarky, nasty tone that I wish I didn’t have. On the one hand, it’s normal especially when an introvert has to deal with the constant barrage of words, many of which are nonsensical or irrelevant or a running account of what happened in an imaginary world that I do not care about. The incessant talking wears me down till my nerves are raw and sensitive. I hope to teach little C to be more focused and succinct in what he wants to tell us. Sometimes, I encourage him to make a drawing or write a story (he has a number of comics that are improving in narration). But I also don’t want to be disinterested in what he seems to enjoy…..

On the other hand, I don’t feel good about the way I behave, so I’ll keep trying to work on it. One thing was to make sure I get sufficient sleep because I’m definitely short tempered when I’m tired and I seem to need quite a bit of sleep to function.

We’ll continue to work through it together, through small changes on both our ends. At the end of the month, school will end so I may need it even more since we’ll be together for a longer time each day.



Why I Joined the PTA

May 17, 2017

Years ago, I never thought I would actually join the PTA. I thought it was the domain of type A, extroverted parents who have something to prove.

As I challenge my son to keep learning and take in new experiences, I decided to walk the talk and do what I never thought I’d do – volunteer for the PTA board. When little C starts his time in the new school, I will be forced to have those dreaded social interactions with people I don’t know very well. Even now, after attending the first meeting and beginning the process of becoming a board member, I have the urge to dig a nice warm cozy hole and snuggle into it, never to be seen till it’s comfortably safe to poke my head out. And then I may make some new friends for myself and maybe new playmates for him.

I guess more importantly, while I dislike the awkwardness of social interaction, I recognize that hiding from it just makes the problem worse. In fact, I’m especially anxious in novel social situations. So I want to face my fears and just get with practicing. I mean when I’m fine once I actually talk to other people but the prospect of beginning to do it scares me. Well, we’ll see how it goes. It’ll be an exciting school year for us.