Raising a Highly Sensitive Child
The Highly Sensitive Child
Most mornings and evenings we start and end with a crying sometimes sobbing child. My daughter can only be described as highly sensitive and an introvert. Socially she sometimes struggles to keep up with her peers and ponders deeply the movements and actions of her friends and family. She holds grudges, can be prone to mean outbursts when she is hurt and is highly reactive to new situations or circumstances.
My little girl is what would be classed by many as a highly sensitive child .. And that’s ok.. it’s who she is I’m learning.
A Highly sensitive child is one of the 15 to 20% of children born with a nervous system that is constantly on high alert, making her quick to react to everything around her. The smallest of changes, conscientious behaviour and quickness to grasp subtle changes are features. Highly sensitive children are also easily (and I mean easily) overwhelmed by high levels of stimulation, any sudden change and also the emotional distress of those surrounding them. They move and flow with the vibe in the room and are affected deeply by it.
Add to this a child’s own individual temperament and they can also be emotionally intense, demanding, persistent, show addictive behaviours, can behave in “difficult“ ways, active or inattentive. While others are calm, turned inward, and almost too easy to raise except when they are expected to join a group of children they do not know.
It doesn’t matter how your highly sensitive child presents though – ALL highly sensitive children are sensitive to their emotional and physical environment. Your moods and reactions will assist or increase their own moods and reactions.
HSC are often gifted intellectually, creatively and emotionally demonstrating genuine compassion at early ages. The downside is that these intensely perceptive kids can also get overwhelmed easily by crowds, noises, new situations, sudden changes and the emotional distress of others.
Take for example my daughter. She is extremely creative – she is 5 and lives and breathes crafting , sewing , molding , drawing and anything creatively inclined . I am SO far from that person i couldn't find a sewing kit if it was beside me , She lives and breathes it – it’s a part of her being. She has a brother whom until recently required a lot of our attention – he has autism and he has struggled with severe anxiety, meltdowns and moments that life has been very very hard for him – and for all of us at a times. I distinctly remember the time when he was having a major meltdown in my car on the way home from school, throwing shoes, kicking the car seat in front, screaming, contorting his little body and moaning loudly. My daughter looked at him and said : “Sammy its ok we are here for you , do you need your ducky ? Let me get him for you.. Remember to breathe Sammy. “
WOW .. what 4 year old can process that her brother double her own age needed those exact reminders , key regulation items and sit there through the storm waiting calmly for him to get over it and come back to us .
"... it is primarily parenting that decides whether the expression of sensitivity
will be an advantage or a source of anxiety."
Elaine Aron, PhD
PARENTING A HIGHLY SENSITIVE CHILD
Parenting a highly sensitive child is extremely rewarding at times but in all honesty it’s also extremely exhausting. I was raised by an alcoholic and I often liken it to this when it comes to living with a highly sensitive child. You just never know what is going to happen next, the highs are high and the lows are really low – and sad. You almost feel like you are walking on eggshells at times – waiting for the next bomb to drop.
Highly sensitive children deeply feel things other kids their age just don’t. This makes things wonderful – and also very difficult at a times . For example – if one child falls off the monkey bars and scrapes their knee – they might not even mention it when they get home. You might see the scrape and enquire what happened. It's a minor incident in a fun packed lunchtime. No Biggie - perhaps a bandaide ?
A HSC who did the exact same thing noticed someone laughing at them – or assumed every one saw - now when they are relaying what happened they are deeply hurt and sobbing because of it. They are ashamed and so so embarrassed at a core level.
See the difference?
I was raised in a suck it up kind of family – you don’t acknowledge pain and feeling for long. I struggle with my sensitive child. It’s been a big learning for me. But lately I’ve felt it’s more about seeing that sensitivity as a gift and thinking about ways to make her feel the same.
It’s not a curse, an inconvenience, it’s who she is and we as a family need to learn to accept it and help her to grow and love herself because of it ! Similar to how we treat our son who is autistic – she needs tools to work through together to be able to handle the world, socially, emotionally and physically.
Maureen Healy from Creative Development / Psychology Today listed the below sensitive parenting skills to succeed with your child:
See Sensitivity as a Gift - It's easy to get frustrated and angry with your son or daughter if they continually cry, withdraw and shy away from regular social situations. Instead of viewing your "sensitive" child as being inherently flawed it is more helpful to see your child as having a special gift. Sensitivity is typical of creative artists, innovators and children who are talented in varying ways. Some of our greatest thinkers like Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt are believed to have been highly sensitive.
Partner with Child - Sensitive children respond far better to being requested to do something, and partnering with the adults in their life versus harsh discipline. Harsh discipline can elicit the exact behavior you are trying to avoid like emotional meltdowns and outbursts of energy (i.e. temper tantrums, crying, yelling). Partnering with your child includes learning their triggers like crowds, avoiding them and also giving them tools when they feel overwhelmed like breathing exercises. Professionals like myself can also be helpful in this process.
Focus on Strengths - Learning how to remember that your highly sensitive child is an incredibly talented being is essential especially when he or she may be "acting out" because of feeling overwhelmed or emotionally upset. This is seeing the forest instead of the trees. Training yourself to see your child's strengths first like their incredible creativity, perceptiveness and keen intellect is important because it helps you accept their challenges (i.e. highly emotional, introverted at times, picky, shy or overly active).
Acceptance - Embracing your child as a highly sensitive child is step one. Many parents bring me highly sensitive children to "change" them into less sensitive, more traditional kids and I cannot do that. You cannot do that either. Being able to see their sensitivity as a gift and accept it as part of your shared journey - whether you yourself are highly sensitive or not - this is the way it is.
Creating Calmness - Since highly sensitive children are majorly impacted by their home and school environments it is worth taking the time to create spaces that match their type. Skye, one of friend's girls, is highly sensitive and loves her "Peace Corner" at home where she relaxes with her headphones, favorite plush toys and markers to feel calm. It is this type of serenity that highly sensitive children crave with just the right lighting, colors, sounds and surroundings.
Gentle Discipline - Because your child is highly sensitive doesn't mean they don't need structure and limits in their life. They absolutely do. Being able to give your child gentle structure and clear limits with respect goes a long way. For example, if its Jenna's bedtime and she is resisting - you might say, "Sweetheart, I realize you want to play all night but it's time for bed. You need your rest and we have agreed to the 8pm bedtime and its 8pm - please start getting ready for bed." This is an example of gentle discipline versus spanking and yelling.
(On a side note with this one - we in our house have found a regular bedtime routine , calming music to sleep to , essential oils to diffuse and a massage help wonders with this. )
Connect - Highly sensitive children are drawn to other "birds of a feather" and getting these kids together to nurture each other's strengths is a good thing. This may mean a little extra effort on parent's behalf to help a child make play-dates and find other kids that play well with your highly sensitive child.
I created Lime Tree Kids to help parents and share the journey I'm on with my children and family. If I find a resource I will try to stock it on my website so you can all share in its value as well.
Some of the resources I’ve delved into lately that are worth looking into if YOU think you have a child who is sensitive are :
Books for parents :
The Highly Sensitive Child By Elaine Aron
This book provides a guide to tell if your child is highly sensitive, how to help them thrive in a not-so-sensitive world and how to make school and friendships enjoyable. It also journeys through the needs of a highly sensitive child through varying ages - infants, toddlers, juniors and adolescents. An informative guide to successfully parenting highly sensitive children to healthy, well-adjusted, happy adults.
CLICK HERE to BUY
Parenting from the inside out by Daniel J. Siegel
In Parenting from the Inside Out, child psychiatrist Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and early childhood expert Mary Hartzell, M.Ed., explore the extent to which our childhood experiences shape the way we parent. Drawing on stunning new findings in neurobiology and attachment research, they explain how interpersonal relationships directly impact the development of the brain, and offer parents a step-by-step approach to forming a deeper understanding of their own life stories, which will help them raise compassionate and resilient children.
CLICK HERE TO BUY
The 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman
Children need to feel loved to best succeed. But if you and your children speak different love languages, your display of love might get lost in translation–affecting your child’s attitude, behavior, and development.
In The 5 Love Languages of Children, Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Ross Campbell M.D. have applied the innovative system of the 5 love languages to children. This easy-to-read resource gives practical suggestions for understanding how your child gives, receives, and interprets love
CLICK HERE TO BUY
Books for children :
Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman
Every child is special and unique, but every child also loves to dream of being something different. Wherever You Are, my love will find you, bestselling author and artist Nancy Tillman has created another heartfelt masterpiece celebrating the joys of imagination, and the comfort of always knowing that "you are loved."
CLICK HERE TO BUY
You're Here For A Reason by Nancy Tillman
You're here for a reason. If you think you're not
I would just say that perhaps you forgot . . .
a piece of the world that is precious and dear
would surely be missing if you weren't here.
CLICK HERE TO BUY
Happiness, sadness, bravery, anger, shyness . . . our hearts can feel so many feelings! Some make us feel as light as a balloon, others as heavy as an elephant. In My Heart explores a full range of emotions, describing how they feel physically, inside.
CLICK HERE TO BUY
All My Treasures : A Book of Joy
A beautiful gift of a delicate porcelain box from her grandmother sparks a little girl's excitement to keep only the most special things in it, but what could they be? What does she love best? Puddle-jumping on rainy days? blowing bubbles in the park? Watching her little sister's first steps? As it turns out, life’s most precious treasures cannot be contained in a box!
A beautifully written story which reminds us to take pleasure in everyday moments and immateriality of happiness
CLICK HERE TO BUY
A Big Hug Series
The Big Hug Books are a series of picture books designed to gently talk about topics that many find emotional.
Each of the stories has grown from psychological sessions with children (and sometimes with grown ups) to help them understand and talk about complex emotional situations in simple and gentle ways.
Each book includes some notes for parents or teachers that can be used to guide the ways they assist their children and students.
FIND OUT MORE HERE