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 can better manage everyday problems and create a more peaceful home for the both of you.
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. With proper guidance and understanding, your child will grow into a happy and well-adjusted adult.
Encouragement and Praise
Your highly sensitive child will maintain his sensitivity into adulthood. Therefore, it’s crucial that he learn as a child to embrace and manage his emotions. Feeling shame about his sensitivity could cause him to develop anxiety and depression as he ages.
Validate your child’s feelings by encouraging him to express himself, and listen when he speaks. Encourage your child to manage his emotions rather than suppress them. Don’t ask or expect your child to “toughen up.”
Your sensitive child will also benefit from praise on a job well done, as this will help him develop confidence in himself.
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 him a week or so in advance by visiting the school, playing in the playground and meeting some of the teachers. Reassure him that it’s natural to feel a little anxious, 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.
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 he sees you having fun, he’s 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 him into adulthood.