If your child seems to have more intense emotional reactions, shows a high level of sensitivity to other’s emotions, and easily overwhelmed by changes or transitions, you may have a highly sensitive child. Parenting any child is demanding, however, parenting a highly sensitive child can present additional challenges. With a few simple strategies, you can support your child to better manage everyday problems and create a more peaceful home for the both of you.
Change Your Viewpoint
First, it’s important to check in with your perspective and assumptions. It’s easy to want our children to be “normal,” so your initial reaction might be to see your highly sensitive child’s special needs as a problem, rather than an asset. However, highly sensitive children tend to be more creative, insightful, and empathic. With proper guidance, understanding, and patience you can support your child to grow into a successful and happy adult.
Encouragement and Praise
Your highly sensitive child will maintain sensitivity into adulthood. Therefore, it’s very important that your child learns to embrace and manage emotions. Feeling shame about sensitivity could cause your child to develop anxiety and depression later in life.
Validate by encouraging your child to express how they are feeling and really listen when your child speaks. Encourage your child to manage emotions, rather than suppress them. Don’t ask or expect your child to “toughen up,” rather to understand their emotions and make choices about how to handle these “big feelings.”
Your sensitive child will also benefit from praise on a job well done, as this will help to develop confidence. Even better than telling your child that you are proud, encourage your child to make choices that make them feel an internal sense that they are doing the right thing. Building a strong internal sense of integrity and self-worth will help your child prosper, even in the face of challenges.
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. Help your child by physical or mental exposure to the new situation. This may mean going to a new school and walking around before classes start or imagining with your child what new situations they may face and coming up with coping strategies to prepare. Reassure your child that it’s natural to feel anxious with change, 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 to calm and sooth. Having a cozy area for your child to read, draw, or snuggle with stuffed animals can be helpful. Some children respond well to certain sensory soothing items, so you might try giving clay, kinetic sand, or a weighted blanket to help your child sooth. Having a smaller version of their soothing items to take out of the house may also be helpful, like a soft blanket, stuffed animal, or silly putty. You can redirect your child to use these items when they are overwhelmed and need help calming down.
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. Encourage your child to participate by interacting with the other children. When your child sees you having fun, they might join in and you can help coach them in social interactions. You might also be able to advocate for support from the school staff to help with encouraging your child in appropriate social interactions and helping to understand and manage any conflict.
With love and gentle guidance, your highly sensitive child will develop a confidence and self-acceptance that will carry into adulthood. I often work with adults and older teens who started as highly sensitive children and did not always get the support they needed, leading to developing anxiety, depression, and/or relationship issues. If this sounds like you or if you are parenting a highly sensitive child and would like some support, feel free to call me for a free consultation.