A highly sensitive child needs support if they are to grow into a healthy adult. Here’s how to know if your child is sensitive and what to do to help them.
You probably already know if your child is highly sensitive though you may not have put a name to the condition. A sensitive child may get upset by things that seem minor to you. You may also be frustrated by their fear of new things, people, and situations.
If your child shows the following characteristics, they are likely to be highly sensitive. This can be a good thing, however, it does require some delicate handling. Treating a sensitive child too harshly can make their sensitivity worse. But there are plenty of ways to support a sensitive child.
If your child displays the following characteristics and behaviors, then he or she is highly sensitive:
- Startle easily
- Are very sensitive to touch
- May find certain clothes and fabric itchy or irritating
- Often be very fussy about food
- Get very upset at being ‘told off’
- React strongly to the emotions of others
- Like to have a routine
- React badly to sudden changes
- Is sensitive to strong smells and loud noises
- Find it hard to get to sleep
- Use a comfort object until an older age than usual
- Can be clingy
- Is shy of strangers
- Prefer calm, soft-spoken people to loud, unpredictable ones
- Is cautious about trying new activities
Parenting a highly sensitive child
Parenting a child with these sensitivities can be frustrating. It is often difficult to deal with a child that seems to be overly sensitive to so many things. Often, as a parent, you might wish that your child would just deal with things better, be less emotional, less fearful, and eat and sleep better.
However, a highly sensitive child does not choose to be this way. They are not purposely being ‘naughty’ or ‘difficult’.
Dr. Elaine Aron suggests that 15-20% of the population may be highly sensitive. She believes that highly sensitive people have a nervous system that is highly aware and quick to react. They seem to be more easily triggered into a strong physical or emotional response than others.
On the plus side, highly sensitive children are often gifted in many ways. They tend to be compassionate, empathetic, creative and often intellectually above the normal range.
All children are different. The following suggestions are guidelines only and you will find that certain things work with your child better than others. Always use your child’s thoughts and feelings to guide you. However, these steps help your sensitive child make the best of their gifts and provide the support they require to grow into healthy adults.
Tactics to help support your child
1. Accepting your child as they are
The first thing that makes parenting a highly sensitive child easier and more rewarding is acceptance of the way they are. This is not always easy as dealing with their sensitivity can be frustrating and exhausting. However, realizing that they cannot help being this way makes this acceptance easier. Overcoming your own frustrations about their behavior makes it easier to find solutions to any problems that occur.
2. Understanding your child
Parenting a highly sensitive child, especially if you are not highly sensitive yourself, means really trying to see things from your child’s point of view. You may find their fears and sensitivities inexplicable. But by listening carefully to their thoughts and concerns, you can get a better idea of what worries or upsets them and what calms and reassures them.
You can use this knowledge to help them develop and grow. When they feel understood, sensitive children are more likely to try new things, as they know that you are there to support them.
3. Seeing sensitivity as a gift rather than a flaw
If you see sensitivity as a flaw or something your child needs to overcome, they will pick up on this. Sensitivity has many benefits and if you can embrace these it can make accepting your child and supporting them easier. While you may wish your child was less socially awkward or easily upset, you cannot force them to change their inherent personality, and any attempts to do will often make the situation worse.
It’s very easy to make a sensitive child feel like there is something wrong with them. If instead, you see them as having a gift, then you can boost their confidence and help them develop without feeling flawed.
4. Working with your child
Rather than trying to force your child to embrace new experiences, it can be better to work with your child on developing their strengths. This will help them to gain confidence and improve their self-esteem. Be guided by your child and gently encourage them to try new things.
You may also have to accept that they will always find some things difficult. Learn which battles to fight. If they are fussy eaters, then it may sometimes be best just to let them stick with the food they are happy with for a while. If they find certain fabrics irritating, stick to those that they find comfortable.
5. Maintaining a calm environment
A calm environment is of incredible benefit to a sensitive child. At home, serenity and security can help them properly relax and recuperate from the stresses of their lives. If necessary, talk to your child’s teacher about your child’s sensitivities. Many schools provide quiet places where children can go during the school day if required.
Soothing routines can also be very helpful for sensitive children. A bedtime routine may be particularly helpful. Sensitive children often worry a lot which can interfere with their sleep.
Of course, no home or school if free of conflict at all times. But by talking to your child about problems you can reassure them and ease their worries. Also, avoid unnecessary stress such as allowing them to watch violence on TV. It can also help to make time for whatever your child loves to do. Some may benefit from plenty of quiet time, drawing or reading while others will find physical activities ease their stress. Again, be guided by your child.
6. Using gentle discipline
Highly sensitive children respond poorly to harsh discipline. However, they do still need boundaries to help them develop in a healthy way. Firm guidelines can help children feel safe and secure. Explaining to a sensitive child the behavior expected of them and why it can help them to feel secure.
When a sensitive child does misbehave, it can be difficult to deal with. If they are in a highly emotional state, they may not be able to listen to reason. Allowing a child space to calm down can help. The behavior can be better discussed once the emotional turmoil has abated. When discussing behavior with your child, avoid shaming or blaming them for being the way they are.
7. Helping them develop relationships with others
A sensitive child can find some people easier to connect with than others. Wherever possible, make sure your child gets to spend time with similar people who can offer them support and understanding.
Don’t force them to play with boisterous children if they are uncomfortable with them. Help them to develop friendships by arranging play dates with children they find it easy to be with.
Following this advice may help you to support your highly sensitive child better. However, if you have concerns about the physical or emotional health and well-being of your child, you should seek professional advice. There are also many resources available online to guide you further.
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