Highly Sensitive Person

Sheltering in Place Support for HSP Parents and Couples

Guidance for HSP couples and parents during the Covid-19 quarantine.

Posted Apr 27, 2020

“Hope is not a matter of waiting for things outside of us to get better.
It is about getting better inside about what is going on outside.”
—Joan Chittister

I know there is now a great deal of advice out there, but I thought I would add something for HSPs—especially for couples and parents. They are on my mind lately (see the book on HS parents and the new documentary on couples, here).

I will address couples first, as they generally come before parenthood:

  1. Research is very clear that stress can destroy even the best relationship. We know the divorce rate rose in China after couples were in quarantine. You can dare each other not to allow your relationship to be another victim of the virus. Under stress, we are not at our best and we are easily irritated or maybe disappointed by how the other is handling the crisis. Remember the big picture—all the reasons you are with your partner. And just how well are you handling it? Try to think through your criticism and shelf it. If there is a conflict, watch the documentary mentioned above, which provides the rules for safely arguing it out.
  2. Start a conversation with your partner about the stress you are both under, beginning with vulnerable feelings or a caring question. Try to just listen to each other expressing anxiety and irritations without trying to fix anything. Listening without interruption can be one's greatest gift. But be responsive to the emotions.
  3. Feeling irritable? It’s time to get away from each other. If your local regulations allow you to go out, go out by yourself sometimes. And if you can’t go out? Sit alone by a window. Or go to another room. If there is no separate room, agree to be in silence for a while. Always be clear how long you want to be apart or silent and that it is not about them. As an HSP, you sometimes just need to be alone. Assure them that you will be better company afterward. Your partner will see it’s true.
  4. If one of you can work from home and the other cannot, do not let the drudgery or childcare fall exclusively onto the partner not “working.” Even if that person is always at home, there is more drudge work to do with more people around the house. Remember, work comes in three categories: drudgery (torture, especially for HSPs); craft (which gives the pleasure of feeling effective); and calling (the pleasure of doing what you were meant to do). Divide drudge work fairly. Maybe the one not making the dough can practice the “craft” of looking online for new resources or entertainment for the evening.
  5. Research is clear that doing something “novel and exciting” together makes two people feel more in love, as long as both agree on that activity. Even while shut-in, you can try watching an opera for the first time or a sport new to you (search for “watch great sporting events from past”), watch travel shows about exotic places, take online art classes, or cook up something crazy with the ingredients on hand. Brainstorm your crazy list, then cut it down to what you both would enjoy trying.
  6. Research shows that time connecting with another couple you are close to also enhances your own relationship, so use Zoom to make it happen.
  7. When it’s time for romance, try role-playing. Each of you takes on a new personality, dressing in clothes that fit that personality and something that is novel for your partner. Maybe play out the other’s fantasy. (Finally, your partner has that cowboy or cowgirl. A swaggering rock star. A real prince or princess with tons of money.) Speak with an accent if you can. One of you knocks at the door and right then the gradual seduction begins. If you really like doing this, order wigs online.
  8. Keep conversations interesting. Spend time learning about something the other doesn’t know, talk about it over dinner, or any convenient time. Or each of you can read a novel, one chapter a day, and tell each other what happened in the chapter just read. Both of you will get to enjoy the story.

For HS Parents:

  1. Lower your standards. Don’t judge yourself. Don’t feel guilty about your slip-ups, depression, or shouting. You are doing the best you can. Of course, you are. Even if the best doesn’t seem very good, you are still doing all that you can under these strange circumstances. And if you feel you need help from someone with more expertise and more experience than you have, then get it. Here are two suggestions: Alice Shannon and Alane Freund.
  2. Reduce stimulating input. Too noisy? Get earplugs. Ask everyone to lower their voices. Consider headsets for kids when they watch TV.  Reduce or eliminate your intake of media and news.
  3. You must get downtime. If you are alone with kids, explain that to them. If nothing else, close your eyes for a few moments. You will still hear what you need to hear. Perhaps grandparents or someone else close to your kids can keep them occupied for a half-hour via Zoom or Facetime, maybe at a regular time daily. You can suggest activities. And see Alice Shannon’s post on HS parent self-care.
  4. Meditate if you can find the time. Even for five minutes. Information about types of meditation can be found here.
  5. Let your housekeeping go unless it makes you feel much better to have everything clean. Do try to reduce clutter. Just a few clear surfaces or one room kept neat will reduce over-stimulation and help everyone.
  6. To get some peace, do not be afraid of being more liberal about TV and devices. There are high-quality, meaningful shows designed for children. Parent involvement–watching a show with them or sitting beside them and watching while they play an agreed-upon video game–is considered good parenting and less stimulating for you than other things they may want from you. Once you get to know the characters or the game, you can do something else but ask about what happened to a certain character or their level at a game.
  7. If you don’t already, consider keeping daily and weekly schedules. It does not have to be rigid, but it will help you as much as your child. Put it where everyone can see it. Try something like this: Get up, dress, eat breakfast, do school work or learning games while the parent does laundry or cleaning, lunch, time outdoors if allowed, afternoon rest time, and so on. Try something fun before bedtime, like reading with the less available parent, but gradually slow down. Keep a final go-to-sleep routine. On the weekly schedule, vary the events that occur during the week (different things to be learned, different sports depending on the day), showing when they will happen. But, of course, it can all be flexible.
  8. Have something fun planned for each day and a big event each week—a craft project; a board game; a party for the pets or dolls or stuffed toys (maybe require a menu and bake cookies or decorate the day before). Design a city that might exist in 300 years. If you have Legos, each person scoops up one cup at random, and from these create a modern-art sculpture. Then arrange them in a Lego sculpture garden. Create a new board game or game of trivia that fits your family. Bring out new art supplies or projects and put away games for later use. Don’t have everything available all the time.
  9. It’s fine for kids to be bored. Explain to them that creativity and boredom are like the ups and downs of waves, as any creative person will tell you. “I can’t think of anything to paint.” Then comes the masterpiece.
  10. Boredom or fussiness or any emotion that seems oddly timed may be an expression of a deeper feeling, perhaps of anger, sadness, or anxiety—your child may not even be aware of these emotions. Sit down and talk often with your kids about their feelings. Teenagers may balk, and you may have to slide under their radar. “How are your friends doing with all this?”
  11. Take into account your child’s temperament. If you are not sure of all of its aspects, go to Preventiveoz.org. Perhaps figure out everyone’s temperament and have a fun conversation about your similarities and differences.  
  12. Especially for active children: Order exercise equipment like a balance board, exercise ball, or swings that hang from a doorway. Have them run around a course in the house, or outside if you can, with every lap earning some small fixed amount of money that will go to a favorite charity. Post, at the end of the day, the laps they ran.
  13. If you have more than one child, you might want to spend some time separately with each child. Everyone is given equal time. It’s less stimulating for an HS parent.
  14. Use your HS creativity. While watching TV or Youtube, older kids can learn yoga or a new dance step. A bright and ambitious child might take advanced algebra and surprise everyone at school by testing out of it next year. Thank goodness for our endless online resources. But do monitor what they are looking at.
  15. Contact other parents, get ideas, but do not compare yourself in a way that makes you feel “less than.” People will probably not expose their worst moments.
  16. On that note, don’t be surprised by very negative feelings, even murderous feelings. Research shows that this is common in parents. Feelings and thoughts are not actions. Go to your room, lie on your bed, cry, scream into a pillow, or just space out.  
  17. The big picture: If your children know at some level that you love them, they will grow up fine. You all will look back on this as a special time in your lives that you survived together. Children may even be improved by a little hardship if they feel supported through it (“What, no orange juice, again?”). Listen to their complaints, but do not let them get to you.

Hey, you’re doing great by just doing as well as you can at this time. Don’t judge.