Empathic Children sometimes have needs that are different from other children. Their systems are more sensitive and so their reactions can seem strange or too intense to someone who is not aware of their sensitivities. From my background in Psychology and classroom experience, I’ve found that all children have varied needs to start with, so an Empathic child may very well confuse and even annoy their parents, especially when the family isn’t aware of their abilities. This next few weeks will be continue our series about children who have Empathic ability and how they may differ from other children.
When I use the term “empathic,” I am referring to people who are not only sensitive to others’ emotions and energy, but also able to take the energy into their own system and also give their own energy away. In an adult, this can be very straightforward, but for children, it can differ greatly from child to child. In my last post, 7 Signs Your Child May Be An Empath, I gave signs and symptoms to look for in children who have natural Empathy.
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Sleep is a major one for Empathic children. All children need sleep for proper development, but an Empathic child can be especially sensitive to being overtired. This may be because their system is already overloaded with sensory information from their environment or because they feel the fatigue more intensely than other children.
As a child, I remember this. It’s pretty normal for children to sleep over at friends’ homes. Many children stay up all night having fun and spending time with their friends. For most kids, this means being a little groggy the next morning or even wanting a nap when they don’t usually take one. But, most school age kids can recover quickly and behave pretty normally the very next day on little to no sleep (when it happens occasionally).
This is not always the case for empathic children. The tiredness is highly uncomfortable and the child may revert to tantrums or clingy, whiny behavior long after it is developmentally appropriate (ie. late elementary into high school age).
I remember having an all day tantrum the day after my parents would let me sleep over someone’s house. This happened every time I stayed up all night as a kid. I was a kid and I never put two and two together. I never realized that when I stayed up all night, or got only 1-2 hours of sleep, I was miserable and uncivilized that next day. And, my parents only let me go a few times before they realized it. I was so poorly behaved that I actually remember crying and acting crazy as a teenager!
But, I never made the connection until my own daughter (an Empath) displayed the same behavior after staying up all night at her friend’s house. She was whiny, irrational and generally not someone you wanted to be around for about 24 hours.
Even though she begs to sleep over at her friends' homes now, I refuse. We do late nights with friends (stay until midnight) occasionally and make sure she comes home and goes to bed. When I say occasionally, I really mean a few times a year! It’s just not a battle I’m willing to fight. I also remember feeling physically bad and being emotionally miserable as a sleep deprived Empath child, and don’t want that for her either.
I feel bad sometimes telling her no, but I have a good memory! I want to avoid the tantrums and all day sulking.
Here are some simple reminders and tips that can help your Empathic child take care of their sleep needs.
Experiment with bed time. Even college students and high schoolers need a certain amount of rest. Many people consider kids over a certain age as almost “grown” physically because of their size and maturity. However, their brains and bodies are still developing. Encourage a regular bedtime and allow your child to see how long they really need. There’s no problem letting a middle or high schooler sleep 10 hours or more. Check with your pediatrician for guidance.
Let your child sleep in on the weekends. I used to be overwhelmed from the week’s interactions at school and in sports. The weekend was my rest oasis. Please allow your child to sleep in if they need it. However, if they are staying up past midnight, that doesn’t mean let them sleep all day. You will have to guide this. I won’t preach, but it’s better for you to sleep when it’s dark outside.
Don’t compare your child’s sleep habits (or other needs) to another child they know, especially siblings and friends. I’ve heard many parents ask their kids why don’t they eat or so something like their cousin or friend.
Make what they need normal. You’ll hear this over and over from me. Even though Empaths are a small segment of the population, you can make being an Empath normal for your child. Everyone likes to know that their needs are important and worth considering. If your child feels like they are too different or imposing on you, they can develop self-esteem issues. Home should be a place where they feel normal. This means modeling your own Empathic self-care as well.
Make your (parenting) life easy. If you have an Empathic child(ren), more than likely they inherited Empathy from you or their other parent. Try to establish systems and routines that support regular and sufficient sleep when you are not overwhelmed or drained. If you’re always tired or wired, you may benefit from my free Energy Protection Guide. Find quick tips and ideas for supporting your empathy so you can show up refreshed. There's even a quick quiz to help you see what areas of your life are most draining for you.
Have you ever experienced an Empathic child, relative or even yourself as a kid suffering after missing sleep? Maybe you never associated staying up all night (or repeated sleep deprivation) with misbehavior in a young Empath. If you live with an Empathic child, pay attention, you may notice an interesting pattern!
You may need to check your own sleep habits, too, but that’s another post!