Being the parent of a highly sensitive child is no picnic, especially if you’re not an overly sensitive person yourself. It can be hard to understand why your son or daughter cries at the drop of a hat or takes things so personally when other kids can just laugh or shrug it off.
It’s also hard socially because your children might shy away from people and their behaviour might be misconstrued for rudeness whereas in fact they are just awkwardly and painfully shy. A highly sensitive child finds it hard to grasp subtle changes, prefers to reflect deeply before acting and is generally very conscientious.
They are also easily overwhelmed by high levels of stimulation, sudden changes and the emotional distress of others. While some are fairly active and emotionally intense, some are calm, turn inward and easy to parent, except when they are expected to join a group of kids they don’t know.
5 useful tips to help parent a highly sensitive child
1. Stand up for your child
If your child is always upset and cries a lot while his or her siblings take it in their stride, they are often teased or called ‘cry babies’. Go in to bat for your child and explain to your other children that some people feel things differently to others. Tell them that we’re all different in how we express our emotions and reactions and that there’s no right or wrong way to feel.
2. Don’t worry about what other people think
When your child shies away from someone or hides behind you leg so they don’t have to speak or acknowledge the person don’t worry about what that person thinks of your child or you. You also don’t have to justify their behaviour or make excuses for it. We’re all different and if this person passes judgement then it’s on them not you.
3. Try hard not to tell them off for crying
Many parents can’t cope with a child that cries for what they see is no big deal, but if you are constantly reprimanding someone for crying then they might stop showing their emotions in an outward way. This might lead them to internalise their angst and might make them less likely to feel comfortable confiding in you, especially as they grow.
4. Do some research and understand your child
There is a lot of help and literature out there about how to help you understand and parent a highly sensitive child, one is aptly named The Highly Sensitive Child. If you are armed with knowledge you will learn to appreciate your child and understand their intense reactions and behaviour. This book says that such child need to be handled with special care so they do not become anxious or ashamed of their failure.
5. Accept them for who they are
The most important thing of all is to accept our kids for who they are. Often we try to change our children’s behaviour to meet the expectations of society, we push them to play with kids they don’t know and make them shake hands or force them to say hello to strangers. Making a highly sensitive child do something that makes them feel uncomfortable won’t will you any favours with them and won’t magically change who they are.
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