Parenting the Highly Sensitive Child
If your child is sensitive to the emotions of others, worrisome and easily overwhelmed by changes or new people and environments, you may have a highly sensitive child. Parenting can be demanding, and parenting a highly sensitive child can present additional challenges. However, with a few simple strategies, you will eventually enjoy the fruits of your labor and the joys of having a loving relationship with a highly sensitive child.
Change Your Viewpoint
First, it’s important to change your viewpoint. Your initial reaction might be to see your highly sensitive child’s special needs as a detriment, rather than an asset. However, highly sensitive children tend to be more creative, insightful and empathic. The phenomenon of differential susceptibility actually posits that highly sensitive children can thrive above and beyond non-sensitive peers when their environment fits well with their needs. With proper guidance and understanding, your child will absolutely grow into a happy and well-adjusted adult.
Encouragement and Praise
Your highly sensitive child will maintain their sensitivity into adulthood. Therefore, it’s crucial that he learn as a child to embrace and manage their emotions. Feeling shame about their sensitivity could cause them to develop anxiety and depression as they age.
Validate your child’s feelings by encouraging them to express themself, and listen when they speak. Encourage your child to manage their emotions rather than suppress them. Don’t ask or expect your child to “toughen up.” Trying to foster grit when your child needs support sends the message that you don’t accept them.
Your sensitive child will also benefit from praise on a job well done, as this will help them develop confidence in themself.
Help Them Prepare
Sensitive children can become easily overwhelmed by new environments and people, so a little preparation can be helpful to both of you. For example, if your child is headed to a new classroom, prepare them a week or two in advance by visiting the school, playing in the playground and meeting some of the teachers. Reassure them that it’s natural to feel a little anxious or overwhelmed by the uncertainty, and that the other children are nervous as well.
Create a Safe Space
It’s often important for highly sensitive children to retreat to a quiet place where they can be alone with their thoughts. Their safe space can be a literal space you’ve created, or it can be as simple as a container of crayons, blank paper and their favorite stuffed animal in a quiet area of the house. This need continues as they grow. You may feel personally shunned by your child, but this is not about a preference for being away from you so much as it is simply a need to be alone.
If you notice that your child tends to isolate or have great difficulty in social situations, try volunteering for field trips or as an occasional recess or lunch monitor. Let teachers or other caregivers know that your child is usually slow to warm up and that they will come around when given the space they crave. Encourage your child to participate by modeling yourself having interactions with other children. When they see you having fun, they’re more likely to go from observing to participating.
With love and gentle guidance, your highly sensitive child will develop a confidence and self-acceptance that will carry them into adulthood. If you or your highly sensitive child needs direct guidance and support, please give me a call to schedule an appointment.