On his first day of kindergarten, my oldest son teared up, overwhelmed by the crowd of kids and parents in the school assembly hall. His little face, eyes wide and chin quivering, is seared in my memory almost a decade later.

His adjustment to preschool was also rocky. He cried at morning drop-off for more than a month. I thank God for the care shown by one of his teachers, a wonderfully kind older woman who would rock him for 15 or 20 minutes while the other kids settled into the classroom. 

I look back on my son’s infancy and realize his sensitivity was there from the get-go.

He was always overwhelmed in noisy, crowded restaurants. We quickly learned it was best to avoid places like this. He bawled through a little gym class while my friend’s baby clapped and laughed through the loud songs and the parachute dance. 

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If you have a sensitive and/or introverted kid, you can probably relate to these moments or thousands like it. I quickly recognized our youngest child also has a sensitive nature.

Nevertheless, this seasoned mom of three has found herself apologizing for this child on the regular. 

At the library storytime we attend every Thursday, the librarian must think my daughter never sleeps. Her moods are mercurial and often inscrutable. Is she tired today? Oh no, are we having a hard day? 

I can’t explain why she doesn’t want to participate. I never know how to answer. We’re sticklers about bedtimemy 4-year-old slept well, as she does most nights.

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In the same vein, I struggle to explain why a certain preschool program just wasn’t working for my daughter. I loved the program’s nature theme, but it came packaged in a free-form, unstructured setting. Knowing what will happen and when is key for many sensitive kids. After almost two months of tear-filled days, I realized this program just wasn’t a fit.

We experience uncomfortable moments several times a week.

The aunt who looks at my daughter askance, clearly perturbed she doesn’t want to engage with her. The strangers who tell my daughter to smileI’m shocked by how often she’s told to smile. The inquisitive look from adults seems to beg for an explanation or an apology. Must she smile at every stranger? Can’t I give her the time and space to get comfortable in her own skin, in her own way?

I’m learning to shrug my shoulders and change the subject instead of stammering through an explanation or apology that my daughter hears and internalizes.

Little people are varied and complex, just like adults.

I was well into adulthood before I recognized my sensitive and introverted leanings and learned not to feel embarrassed or ashamed of them. These same leanings make me, and my two sensitive offspring, more perceptive, introspective, and thoughtful.

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We care deeply for others and are highly attuned to their emotional well-being. We make deep and abiding friendships, developing incredibly close connections with those we choose to let in. I have best friends from every chapter of my life dating back to high school, and I remain in regular touch with all of these people. 

We’re working with my daughter, as we worked with our son, on basic social niceties.

Things like saying hello back, making eye contact, and responding politely to questions even if you’d rather hide behind my leg. Shoot, half the time I’d rather hide in the bathroom than engage in small talk at large gatherings with strangers. It’s paramount to us that our kids are polite and respectful. But we also respect their desire for spaces that feel safe and comfortable.

I’ve apologized for my sensitive kids countless times. But I’ve decided to offer my kids a little grace. I’m done apologizing for their wonderful, perceptive, empathetic natures. Sorry, but I’m not sorry. 

Joanna Owusu

Joanna McFarland Owusu is a freelance writer and editor. A federal government analyst in a former life, Joanna now spends her days wrangling two tween-age sons and a preschool daughter.