Being hangry is no joke for highly sensitive kids

Our family talked about being “hangry” before it was a commonly heard word.

Hungry + angry is never a good combination but it can be especially triggering for some people. I’ve always been someone who can’t let myself get too hungry, or watch out.

Likewise, I learned very early in my mothering journey that it was in my best interest to ensure my child never gets overly hungry.

Highly sensitive kiddos are already very sensitive to the world around them. Minor upsets can become major meltdowns with the greatest of ease.

I sometimes wonder if the reason we nursed for so long was to offset some of Xage’s highly sensitive child upsets. Nothing could soothe them like “mimis” back then!

Take a highly sensitive kiddo and add hunger into the mix – or overtiredness, for that matter – and you’re truly playing with fire.

One of my favorite parenting resources these days is a podcast called On the Hard Days. Megan does such an amazing job talking about her sensitive son and documenting his meltdowns and what works. It’s been a huge help to me and I know it would help you if you’ve got a kiddo who struggles with mighty upsets, too.

If you’re the parent of a neuro-diverse or highly-sensitive child who is prone to melting down, here are some tips that helped me when Xage was younger – and, in many cases, even today.

  • Keep snacks handy. Making sure you have kiddo-approved snacks on hand at all times is a must. And when your child is hungry is not a good time to try new foods or snacks, so be sure it’s something you know they like! I no longer carry a stocked diaper bag, but when we’re traveling by air or even just taking a road-trip, I’m still careful to pack a few things I know Xage likes to snack on.
  • Stick to a schedule. Many kids do best with a consistent schedule, but with neuro-diverse and highly-sensitive children, it’s even more critical. Schedules help with transitions, knowing what to expect and planning out your day and week. They help everyone, from busy moms to sensitive kiddos, to know what happens next. I like to stick to a fairly universal bedtime and getting up time. It’s just too hard to “stay up late” on the weekends only to struggle when school rolls around on Monday. Likewise, I try to keep counselor appointments on the same day of the week so kiddo knows “okay, it’s Tuesday, after school is my appointment.”
  • Don’t let them get over-hungry. If you know it’s been an hour or two since your child last ate, push snacks like it’s your job. This helps ensure kids don’t get to the point of hanger, aka the breaking point, aka meltdown alley. No one wants to go there, trust me! Healthy snacks work best for us, especially with some protein. We especially love apples with peanut butter, pretzels with hummus, string cheese, Chobani drinkable yogurts, hard-boiled eggs and Uncrustables. But hey, if you’re out of the house or on the road, chicken nuggets and fries will get the job done, too.
  • Don’t let them get over-tired. These are parenting basics here – I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Still, sometimes it helps to have a reminder. These tips are true into the tween and teen years! If we have a sleepover, we’re usually guaranteed a meltdown sometime the following day. Meltdowns look a little different with an 11 year old – often it’s just rudeness, sniping and slammed doors – but they’re still best avoided if possible. That means being the “mean mom” and insisting on reasonable bedtimes. Yes, even in summer.
  • Enforce downtime. Sometimes fun comes in waves – for example, kids want to have a sleepover at one person’s house, and the next night have a sleepover at the other person’s house. While this may sound like a good idea, it’s usually not for us. After a sleepover, highly sensitive and neuro-diverse kids often need some quiet time in their own space to chill and decompress. Whether introverts or extroverts, all highly sensitive people need processing time. Sometimes as the parents, it’s up to us to remind them of that and/or insist on it.

What other advice do you have for parents of highly-sensitive or neuro-diverse kiddos? We’ve got to keep them happy, right? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks in the comments below or over on Facebook.

About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat, snake and guinea pig mom. Travel nut. Writer since birth. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.

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