In her wonderful book, “The Highly Sensitive Child,” Elaine Aron talks about the fact that in every animal population,15 to 20 percent are on the impulsive end of the spectrum, and 15 to 20 percent on the sensitive side.
In her great wisdom, Mother Nature has once again orchestrated creation to ensure that some members of our “pack” will explore the world at large fearlessly, while others will be cautious enough to pay attention to subtle warning signs that might lead to danger.
Life is easier for those born with a nature that falls in the middle. Parents of children whose temperament is impulsive worry about what kind of trouble their youngins’ reckless behavior might lead to. And children who are highly sensitive may find it challenging to cope with the noise and commotion of our highly stimulating world.
Sensitive youngsters tend toward shyness, meltdowns and/or a rigidity about what they they can and cannot comfortably do, creating restrictions that drive parents a little crazy at times.
But just like hair color or height, children are born with the temperament they’re born with. The more we try to force kids to change their essential nature, the more problems they create.
Here’s my advice on dealing with a sensitive child:
1. Rule out any trauma that might make an otherwise thick-skinned child suddenly sensitive, anxious or unstable. A sensitive child is born with that temperament, but there are times when a child suffers an emotional blow and takes on sensitive, insecure characteristics. If your otherwise resilient child is suddenly ultra sensitive, investigate what might have happened to cause them to be reactive or fearful. It may be worth exploring this with a professional, if you suspect they have experienced significant trauma.
2. Avoid being overly indulgent or overprotective. Some children are raised to expect people to give them whatever they want, denying them the ability to learn how to handle frustration or disappointment. Be compassionate and validate your child’s feelings, but don’t fuss over them or give in when they’re not getting their way.
3. Be gentle with sensitive kids. Those who are on the sensitive end of the spectrum have thinner filters; lights are brighter, sounds are louder and looks or comments that might go unnoticed by other children can hurt deeply. In other words, don’t make your child feel ashamed for being who they are, or tell them to simply lighten up.
4. Teach your child cognitive tools for dealing with the behaviors in others that trigger hurt feelings. I use something called ABC thinking that helps children identify what happened that caused them to feel hurt so they can avoid jumping to conclusions about events or social interactions that may leave them feeling victimized or overwhelmed.
5. Finally, make sure that you highlight the many wonderful qualities — including thoughtfulness and caring — that your highly sensitive child brings to your world.
For more support on raising a highly sensitive child – or if you are a highly sensitive parent – enjoy a replay of my Master Class with Elaine Aron and Alane Freund on Highly Sensitive Parents/Children by visiting this page.