What Shoe Shopping taught me about Highly Sensitive Children

Just ‘popping’ to the shop to get a new pair of shoes for your child…?

New Shoes Photo credit: Laura Nagle / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

New Shoes
Photo credit: Laura Nagle / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

What people don’t realise is that with a Highly Sensitive Child (HSC) it is rarely this ‘simple’. If your experience is anything like mine, you may have often found yourself on the verge of tears at the frustration!

In your head, you imagine that you’ll get to the shoe shop, be given a choice of lovely shoes, your child will try them all on and then pick the one they like, job done, head off for a cup of tea and cake as a reward to both of you and pootle off home, with the new shoes proudly worn, the old ones relegated to a distant memory.

Not if your HSC is like mine. If your HSC is like mine, this is just not what happens.

The trouble is that shoe shops are often in town centres or shopping centres, which are busy places. We are often trying to ‘fit-in’ the shoe buying experience at busy weekends, or after school when the kids are already tired. Your HSC is often in a state of overwhelm before you’ve even started.

Once you have survived the drain of actually getting to the shop, you are then faced with having to prise the old shoes, to which your child has become intensely attached, from your child’s feet, so that they can then put their foot into a strange machine or manual contraption so a strange person who has clearly been put on this earth with the sole purpose of torturing the feet of small children (at least that’s what the reaction of your HSC would suggest!) can work out what size shoe your child needs.

If you get through this first phase, you are then faced with row upon row of shoes which you ask your child to look at and choose ones they like, so the person in the shop can go and dig out the right size. The choice is overwhelming.

If you are lucky, they have seen ‘the ones’ that they want which, incidentally, are probably identical to the one’s they already have, but then the shop don’t have them in the right size.

Helpfully the Shop Assistant will bring 6 pairs of similar shoes in the right size, none of which (if you can persuade your HSC to even try them (because whilst they may be similar, they are not ‘the same’)) will ‘feel’ right: they’re too tight, too loose –even though they ‘fit’ perfectly- they’re too lumpy, too stiff, they dig into their toes/ankle/foot, there’s a rigid seam right next to their pinky, their sock seam rubs on the shoe seam…

Shopping Overwhelm Photo credit: mdpai75 / Foter / CC BY

Shopping Overwhelm
Photo credit: mdpai75 / Foter / CC BY

….By which time your HSC is so overwhelmed, uncomfortable and probably close to tears, that the old shoes go back on, you apologise to the shop assistant, and leave empty handed, hassled, frustrated and perhaps a bit embarrassed.

At least that has been my experience, is this your experience too?

When you understand the world of the HSC you realise that there’s no such thing as a ‘simple’ shopping trip for shoes. But wouldn’t it be good if it could at least be less fraught?

There are things you can do to make the experience a happier one for both of you and here are three ways in which I have changed the way I shop with my HSC.

• I now arrange a time to shop for shoes when I have plenty of time, when I know my HSC is not so tired, and when I know the shops are less busy. So I avoid weekends, unless before 10am, I avoid end of term, and I avoid end of school holidays or sale times when there’s always a mad rush.
• I have an idea before I go of what styles work for my HSC and aim for something similar to the style he already has (and has therefore got used to and accepted as ‘good’). It’s boring, but it works. I help him locate this style in the shop amongst the overwhelming array of choice.
• I no longer try to persuade him that the shoe is fine just because the shop assistant says it’s a perfect fit. If he says it doesn’t feel right, I accept it and we move on (even if it means we go home without new shoes and have to go through the whole trauma again another day).

These small practical changes and my changed expectations mean that these days, most of the time, shopping for shoes is much less stressful (and we usually have enough ‘space’ left for tea and cake before Overwhelm kicks in!).

These are just a few of the ways in which you can make such trips a happier experience for you and your child. If you’d like to learn more about how to survive shopping and life in general with your HSC, take a look at How We Can Help and Resources.

P.S. If you’ve found the information in this blog post useful and would like to share your experiences, please leave us a comment below! We’d love to hear from you.


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