Do the demands of raising your child leave you at a loss sometimes? Do you feel like raising your one child is like raising ten?
If these ideas recur frequently while you are parenting, you might have a highly sensitive child. Although sensitive children can be as charming and adorable as any other, and often more so, being a parent to one can be challenging.
Here are some signs of a highly sensitive child and helpful tips to reduce the chances of having a meltdown as you deal with your child’s daily struggles.
What are a highly sensitive child’s typical habits and symptoms?
Has big emotions
Sensitive kids are prone to big meltdowns, because every type of emotion they feel is much more emphasized compared to non-sensitive children. Even something as small as a simple rejection from a peer not wanting to share a toy can send a sensitive child into a tailspin of self-doubt and feeling disliked.
Gentle parenting works better than other parenting methods
No doubt you will face those moments where your child is doing something inappropriate which requires you as a guardian to teach them the right thing. But so many of the parenting methods out there seem ineffective with your sensitive child. It can be especially challenging for parents that are not overly sensitive to raise sensitive children, as it is hard for the parents to understand how something as simple as using a stern tone or serious facial expression can trigger an emotional uproar from the child.
If you struggle to find the best approach to discipline your sensitive child, the first thing to realize is that you will need a lot of patience and understanding. On top of that, you will need to train yourself to use a softer and gentler tone than you might be feeling, and remember to only describe the undesirable aspects of the inappropriate behaviour in neutral terms, without directly accusing your child of wrongdoing.
For example, you could say, “I saw a girl purposely pushing her brother’s Lego blocks, and it makes me sad to look at, your brother’s going to be sad too when he finds out. Promise it won’t happen again? Because I would be very sad if someone did that to my daughter’s Lego. Right?”
From loud noises to itchy, scratchy labels on clothes, your sensitive child can be easily triggered by sensory overload. Especially if you are living in a crowded city, your child will have to face overwhelming sensory input every day.
Sensitive children juggle endless thoughts that pop into their heads all day, and these can certainly pile up and affect their sleep time. They can struggle to wind down and often have trouble sleeping through the night. It can also be very common for sensitive children to have recurring nightmares and even night terrors.
Inflexibility and lack of adaptability
Highly sensitive children can be easily affected by their environment and have difficulty adapting to anything unfamiliar or unclear. Since they desire to control their environment as much as possible to cope with their anxiety, they do not like changes or spontaneity.
Perfectionism and adversity to correction
Sensitive children are susceptible to criticism and correction and they take it wholeheartedly. As a result, the impact on their emotions is much bigger than for other children. This susceptibility can negatively affect their mood and even lower their self-esteem.
Adult-like manner and highly cautious
Another characteristic of sensitive children is they tend to have a mature manner which can seem odd for their age. Also, they tend to have a cautious approach to new things and often show adverse reactions, since the unknown triggers their anxiety.
How to parent a highly sensitive child
A gentle approach to disciplining bad behaviour
When you have a child with a delicate heart, the last thing you should do is approach them with rigidity or assertiveness. Sensitive children need constant reminding that they are safe and loved, no matter what. When you have to discipline them for something, focus on communicating in a gentle manner so your child understands your point, without seeing your frustration and anger.
Pay attention to sensory overload
If you have a sensitive child, remind yourself that you have a few more steps to follow in your daily parenting, to provide a more comfortable environment for your little ones. Those extra steps could be anything from spending extra time reading up on fabric combinations to find more stretchable, comfortable clothes, to packing a pair of noise cancelation headphones anytime you go to a noisy place. There could be few or many additional things to consider, depending on your child’s specific struggles and needs, but your extra effort will lessen your child’s hypersensitivity to a more manageable level.
Allow preparation time before any changes
Hypersensitive children can easily be overwhelmed by new environments or sudden transitions, so taking time to explain before heading to a new place or changing the schedule will give your kid time to prepare, and also lower anxiety by enabling him or her to anticipate what is coming.
Enough bedtime routine to help wind down
Bedtime routine is a must for sensitive children, so never try to rush it with them, if you can help it. Sensitive children need a much longer time than most for their active brains to wind down, so take some extra time to help your child relax and get ready for bed with a calming bedtime routine.
You can try making time for some relaxing music, meditation, massage and so on, to determine what best suits your child’s specific needs and preferences.
Coach appropriate reaction level
Hypersensitive children can be exasperatingly over expressive with their emotions. Although it might be part of their nature, as they get older it can create barriers to forging new friendships and can elicit teasing from their peers. With some gentle coaching from you, talking it through, and breathing techniques, your child can learn to cope with their emotions so they do not react out of proportion to the circumstances they are in.
Help cope with subpar results and mistakes
It is important to help your sensitive child understand that it is okay to make mistakes, and that they do not need to excel at everything. It won’t be easy for your child to accept their mistakes or failures, but find opportunities for them to experience it firsthand, without interference from you. Provide enough comfort and encouragement to teach your child that mistakes and failure are not the end of the world, but will make them stronger and help them learn.
Change the activity and environment to increase flexibility
You will find your sensitive child might not be happy with spontaneous schedule changes or even guests coming over for an impromptu visit. But gradually exposing your child to new environments and more frequent changes can help them learn how to deal with change. Look for opportunities to switch up the usual routine and shuffle the schedule, to increase your child’s tolerance to new settings and events.
Things to take away from this article
Sensitive children require parents to take extra steps to calm their anxious minds, for everything from controlling sensory input to carefully orchestrating a suitable bedtime routine. If you are looking for effective parenting methodologies, focus on communication with a gentle approach. Also, helping your child learn to cope with their failures and criticism from others, and developing tools to calm their overwhelming emotions, will be crucial to minimizing outbursts and meltdowns, and enabling your child to thrive.