Parenting Your Sensitive Child
Now that you know a bit more about the characteristic traits of highly sensitive children (see blog post Understanding the Highly Sensitive Child), here are some tips for parenting these amazing, yet vulnerable, children to help them navigate the world and become more resilient.
- Find ways to reduce or prevent unnecessary overarousal – ensure your child has access to comfortable clothing free of tags, scratchy textures, tight waistbands, etc., as these can be a major distraction. Offer a variety of choices at the dinner table. Reduce exposure to excessively noisy environments and those that are visually overwhelming. Parties, stores, musical or athletic events and classrooms can result in sensory “overload”. After (and, if possible, during) such events, ensure your child has some “down” time, free of stimulation, to help them re-settle their system, or head home early.
- Balance “pushing” with protecting – children who are highly sensitive do need gentle encouragement at times, as it is important that they don’t completely avoid what is overwhelming or difficult for them. Support your child through their discomfort and help them attempt and experience small successes that will encourage them to try the next step. However, it is also critical to recognize when pushing will do more harm than good and to “pick your battles”.
- Avoid using harsh discipline tactics – highly sensitive children often only need gentle reminders of rules and expectations, away from others. They hate to feel reprimanded or embarrassed and often are hard enough on themselves if they’ve made a mistake that they don’t need it reinforced much more by the adults around them!
- Avoid sharing adult concerns or problems with your child – there are many things that children do not need to know about, and highly sensitive children will often worry more about things they hear or see. If they ask about something or seem to be concerned about a problem that is not theirs to worry about, present yourself confidently and let them know “I’ve got this…this is an adult problem and I am handling it”.
- Celebrate your child’s strengths and accept them unconditionally – highly sensitive children can feel different or “out of place” with others or in the world. Knowing that you love and accept them just the way they are is crucial for their development of a positive sense of self. Talking to them about their temperament and how everyone is different can help them develop self-acceptance and self-confidence. Invite and allow the expression of all of their feelings and avoid telling them they are “over-reacting” to something. Finally, seek out other parents of sensitive children for support and make sure to take care of your own physical and emotional well-being.
Understanding how your child experiences the world can make a huge difference in how you respond to them. For more information about temperament and highly sensitive children, we recommend the following resources, which were used as resources in the development of this article: The Highly Sensitive Child, by Elaine Aron; www.hsperson.com/pages/child.htm.; Hold On To Your Kids by Neufeld and Mate; The Strong Sensitive Boy by Ted Zeff.