Trust the Intensity

Unschooling parenting
For years, I have shared about my daughter, Tiff’s sensitive nature. She just turned twelve so I wanted to share a few things that I have come to learn about my daughter over the years. I remember when she was only two years old, she used to scream for everything. She worried about so much. She also seemed to be unhappy often, and this was so hard as her mother. She wouldn’t let me brush her teeth or her hair and finding clothes that didn’t annoy her was challenging. Everything seemed to be such a struggle for my sweet daughter. For years her needs outweighed everyone else’s in the family.

I honestly could cry thinking about how difficult and painful it was to parent a child like Tiff in all of her intense sensitivity. Loud noises made her run and scream. Changes were extremely difficult for her, as was not knowing exactly what we were going to do every day. Being spontaneous was nearly impossible because it would throw Tiff into such a distressed state. I would make sure that she knew what was happening everyday from hour to hour. She was a child who needed to know exactly what to expect and I learned how to give her that security.

Tiff also has a gift, although it can be really painful for her. She has the ability to read others like a book. Even if I am slightly annoyed with something, she knows it. She used to ask me repeatedly if I was mad at her. I used to hug her and and share with her that I wasn’t upset with her. I was just having difficulty with someone else in my life. She has always been able to feel exactly what I was feeling so strongly that I found myself needing to explain things to her that my other children didn’t even notice or care about. She is an extremely empathetic human being and being her mother has taught me more about myself than I ever knew was possible.

Family and friends used to tell me that I needed to have her evaluated, tested, put in therapy and medicated. Parenting a highly sensitive child, your intuition often becomes clouded by fears. I wanted what was best for her and to respect her in every way possible. I knew that if Tiff was put in the system it would forever change her. I knew she would be bombarded by others trying to control her and force her to be someone different than who she was. Instead of the advice from others, I took the path of my heart and continued trusting my instinct and her unique path.

I want to communicate to other parents with a highly sensitive child, that the this is such a short season in your lives. We have never punished Tiffany for the way she voiced her needs. She has never had a time-out, nor have we used any behavior modification techniques. She has lived in partnership with us and our role has been to love her for who she is. We have talked, explained, discussed and connected, helping her to feel safe and secure. I look back on the first six or seven years of her life as profound for me as a person, for my daughter has taught me so much about myself. I have learned the children never need to be labeled, medicated or made to change in order to have a happy, functioning life. Tiff has always been powerfully unique and she is someone who knows how to get what she wants in her life. The very qualities that made it hard to be present with her for those years have since shifted and are now some of her greatest strengths and more admirable qualities.

Today, I look back on those difficult and challenging years with such gratitude. Tiffany is one of the most beautiful, confident, patient and focused people that I know. She used to hate being around crowds and loud noises. Now her favorite place in the world, is New York City. She used to need so much help with tasks that others found easy. Now she helps me with daily tasks that the other kids find difficult. She used to horde food and toys, now she keeps her room spotless and simple. She used to hate itchy clothes and tags, now she wears fabrics that even I find uncomfortable. She has overcome issues that others told me that she would never overcome without therapy and medication. I was fed lies based on fear, yet despite all of the pressure, I never gave in. I loved and supported her through it all and today she is a whole person, body, mind and soul.

Now that she has grown older, she is able to control her emotions more and let me know when she is starting to feel overwhelmed. I help her by giving her coping tools and she trusts me and listens to my advice. She sees me as a leader and her best friend in life. She has taken up modeling and her inner beauty shines through all that she does. She is a success in life, already! She has had her own pet sitting business and helps others find joy in their lives in any way that she can.

Last night Tiffany took her first hip hop class taught by a beautiful, loving teacher whom she trusts. As I watched my daughter dance among the other girls, I began to cry. Memories of my sweet daughter flooded my mind. I remembered the worries, the fear and the pain that I felt for her for so many years as I helped her navigate her world. Tears were streaming down my face. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her as she danced in her perfection and inner light. She danced with a confident smile and her head held high and my heart was at peace.

Unschooling and parenting support parenting coach


  1. Marigold Kim Sing says

    Wonderful mum, wonderful daughter, wonderful example and inspiration. Thankyou Dayna x

  2. Rebekah Eaves says

    Hi Dayna, I think there are many more children out there that are empathic. Empathic children can be challenging, and I wanted to share a few things that I too have found in raising my daughter to add to what you have already shared (in case it can help someone else). If you don’t have anyone that you can ask questions to about them, or you are not empathic yourself, it can be challenging. As fortune would have it, many years ago, I sat by an older man (60s?) on a plane ride who was also empathic and was able to answer many of my question and allay many of my fears. Not too long after, I learned of someone close to me who is also this way and so I regularly ask them questions. As a parent of one of these children, you must be patient because they do not progress according to anyone’s schedule but their own and there will be times when you think “argh, we’re going to be stuck here forever.” My daughter was very slow to learn new skills (especially skills using fine motor muscles: talking, writing, tying her shoes, etc.) but then would all the sudden have the skills mastered in days (when she first walked, she was 15.5 months and when she tried, it wasn’t 1 or 2 steps, it was 15). She is thirteen now and has the most amazing amount of tenacity… and she too loves animals and has a dog walking business. I think one of the most important things when you have a child with these abilities is to be open and honest in your dealings with them… they’ll know if you’re not and then you’ve lost their trust; and trust their opinions because they are pure and true… unclouded by societal rules. We still have challenges with crowds (which can be any more than 2 people), and we have to give her plenty of down time, but I agree as time goes on it gets so much easier and she is an amazing person!

    A Ted talk I found most interesting on the topic of children being born today and being so different from parents is:
    It may or may not be accurate to what we’re really experiencing today, but it is an exciting possibility that we are witnesses a change on such a massive scale.

    Thanks for all time and energy you put into unschooling… it has help me/us tremendously.

  3. Hi Dayna,
    My now 7 year old daughter is a very sensitive child. I believe there were outside factors which triggered the sensitivities but none the less they were there. It took a few years before I realized which outside things they were and eliminated them. Now came the healing. I tried to be gentle and open to these new personality changes. It was hard but I knew I could help and I knew this was still my loving daughter, she just wanted to be loved and understood. Anyway, long story short, we tried different diet changes as well, which certain things seemed to help. But, the biggest changed I have seen is this last 4 months being Paleo. She is patient, understanding, sweet, compassionate, she concentrates better and has longer attention span, she isn’t as sensitive to food or clothing. Diet for my child has made a huge difference and I believe it plays a huge role in many childrens lives these days. I wish more parents had the patience to understand their children more and look for other factors other than ” it’s just the way they are”.
    Anyway, love u and the way u parent, u are such an inspiration!! Isn’t wonderful when we see our children becoming who they are? Love it!!

  4. Tiffany is beautiful and amazing just the way she is. 🙂

  5. Vashti Merz Samuel says

    GOOSEBUMPS!!! This inspired me SO much!!! Thank you very much for sharing this. Our 7 yr old daughter sounds so similar to Tif and I am holding on to what you have written and believed it deep down for years but now reading what you wrote about your beautiful and amazing daughter and how you kept going and trusted your heart with her has inspired me to carry on and believe what we are doing is right and helpful to her.
    Thank you so much

  6. Wow, you could be describing my 9 year old. It.helps so much to hear from other parents with like children. there are days were I feel like crying things get so tough. And days that we rejoice, it really is a rollercoaster ride. Thanks for posting.

  7. Hi Dana, I’m wondering if you could give advice to those of us with highly sensitive children who have not always been able to be so gentle and supportive with them. I find myself so triggered by one of my daughters and I really want to find a way to support her in all that she is and accept her, but fear that now she does not trust me. How can we find our way to where you are if we fought it for so many years? I have done a lot of healing on myself and now want to be that trusted advisor and confidante. My relationship to my daughter actually is really good, but when she is triggered and angry, I am finding she doesn’t quite trust me to support her and so still is defensive to anything I might say or do. I take responsibility for that, but how do I begin to build trust and confidence in her that I’m on her side and support her no matter what?

    • D, I am in the same boat. Our son is 11 and we have been on a very rough road, following terrible parenting advice. He is So defensive when we say Anything to him about his behavior and just starts yelling and screaming immediately. Or sits there glaring and saying NO.

      I am so, so sad about the way we treated him when he was younger and I so wish we could have begun with gentle parenting and respecting our kids. :'( But that was not to be and we are doing our best to pick up the pieces now.

    • I’m here too, with my 4 year old girl. I have tried to adhere to gentle parenting since she was born, but have definitely come up against a ton of my own authoritarian baggage and aNONgentle patterns. I am grateful for this post and for the stories of other parents embarking on the healing process of taking radical responsibility for our own shit and seeking to organically support these beautiful sensitive beings. Stories and encouragement and ideas are welcome 🙂

  8. Hi Dayna, I met you through one of your youtube videos last night and today I am looking at your webpage.The way you describe your daughter Tiffany is so much like my experience with my son.He has always been a sensitive soul-He’s a very intelligent 13 year old but he never has been able to go through new things with ease;we have always had to work up to everything.When he was a small baby,he would scream when I carried him with me to Walmart because all the lights and strange people there scared him but eventually we got him able to go although even as a preteen he doesn’t like shopping unless its at Gamestop.He loves video games and someday wants to design them.His first trip to a parade when he was little was a catastrophe;he was terrified of the firetruck sirens and his daddy had to take him inside a nearby laundrymat to get away from the noise while I stayed with our older child.Interestingly enough my husband said watching the clothes spin in the big dryers calmed him down.He was slow to pick up walking and talking but when he did ,he took off with it.I homeschool him now and am currently using eclectic curriculum but I am seriously thinking about shifting over to an unschooling and interest driven approach.For years I have had trouble getting him to work in his workbooks;we lost his daddy to congestive heart failure and copd ;and this year has been the worst about getting him to keep doing his workbooks so much to the point that I have nearly quit trying.Interestingly enough though I can keep his attention while reading through history books and watching youtube videos and documentery shows on history-so that is what we are more focusing on now than the workbooks although I do still dread the thought of a relative walking in and looking at undone pages in his workbooks and accusing me of just being lazy and not teaching him anything ! He watched one of the videos with me last night and seemed very interested in unschooling.So I am going to give it a try for a while.I think learning and life should be a partnership-not a dictatorship like is so much forced on kids in our public schools.And so many homeschool curriculums are essentially just school at home.I need all the help I can get in learning how to incorperate interest based learning with my son.Thanks for doing all you do to help other families. 🙂

  9. Thank you so much Dayna for telling us about your journey with Tiffany! Comforting words for me, because I have such a sensitive son as her. He is only 3 years old and I am woring sick about him, hoping he will find his way in life. His life. It is very painfull to see him struggeling with so many things. And he hasn’t even been to school yet.. or any other social activity. Just because he wants me with him all the time. I am trying to find ‘the best way’ to help him and you writhing about Tiffany’s changes in life makes me feel stronger. Just ‘discoverd’ you on YouTube and all the unschooling-video’s… It changed my whole way of thinking! 🙂 love xx

  10. I connected with your story about your daughter. I was similarly sensitive although not so much with noise and touch. I wanted to write to the other mums who were commenting about their daughters. It has taken a lot (a lot.) (no I mean A LOT) of therapy to be able to see this as clear as I currently see it. If you have that daughter (or that son) and are worried about how they have been parented to this point…my very hard won ten cents would be to learn about emotional validation, and validate, validate, validate. Give your child the message that all feelings no matter how hideous, huge, ugly or painful they may seem, are ok. Not all behaviour is okay, and behaviour leads to consequences and reactions in the natural world, but ALL feelings are okay. And apologise for times you may have given them a different message. And listen to them when they feel brave enough to tell you how they’re feeling. (and then validate, validate, validate.) Being sensitive can be very painful- but the real suffering, the real eat yourself alive viciousness, is when you believe that somehow you and your feelings are not okay and you try and make them go away.

  11. What a beautiful and touching testament to the most pure way of parenting! Thank you so much for sharing this! It has encouraged me greatly as I continue on in my own journey parenting my children! Bless you!

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