Is my child highly sensitive or just spoiled? How do we know if we have a sensitive child?
Highly sensitivity can come in many shapes and forms. From crying a lot when told of or things go wrong, trying really hard to please you and others, to be very considerate about you and often ask how your day was etc.
Your child might notice all small changes and might not like surprises and maybe seem very intuitive. Or your child is the opposite (or both, jackal & Hyde); very defying, angry and argumentative. And difficult to give consequences (since they seem not to care, or end up giving you a consequence back)!
Highly Sensitive Consequences for a Highly Sensitive Child
This may not come as a surprise: Highly sensitive children dont respond well to discipline!
That is because highly sensitive children tend to be very self-critical and hard on themselves. So they often end up ‘punishing themselves’ since they process their mistakes so thoroughly. Parental criticism in particular is an especially hard blow!
Often when we give our highly sensitive child consequences, say a traditional time-out or yelling at them, it can emotionally hurt them on a very deep level.
They are often hyper-aware of subtle signals especially from you, and also hyper intuitive. So you cant really hide anything from them. They are aware of your feelings before “normal” people are.
Imagine the hurt uncontrolled outbursts, or unjust or thoughtless consequences can have on such a sensitive person. Especially a child.
Disciplines to Avoid:
- Avoid shaming: Sensitive children are particularly sensitive to shaming. “You naughty child” or “why can’t you get it right” may seem like mild correction. But to sensitive children, these words can be devastating.
- Dont tease: Some families use teasing as light-hearted fun. But the sarcastic messages which are almost always imbedded in the teasing will not be lost on a sensitive child. E.g. “Uh-oh, Emma is baking cookies. Hold your ears! The smoke detector will be going off any minute!”
- Avoid physical discipline: For every child!
- Dont isolate or withdraw warmth and love: Time-out or ignoring is not the most effective way to teach any child, But sensitive children are particularly vulnerable to the harm it does.
- Avoid being lenient: Don’t avoid correcting your sensitive child out of fear of hurting his/her feelings or because you feel sorry for them! Loving correction that is not harsh or shaming will not damage them but will help them to reach their fullest potential and feel valued.
- Don’t make up rules on the go: Your sensitive child might be very sensitive to right-and-wrong and to ‘fairness’. So, if you have agreed on a rule, stick to it. Don’t change it or make up a new one without a discussion.
Disciplines to Favor:
- Change your tone of voice for correction: For sensitive children, a correction given in a serious tone of voice is often enough to change their behavior. They want to please their parents (or any adult). Knowing they stepped out of line is distressing and will cause them to correct their behavior.
- Connect before you correct: Since sensitive children often approach a threat, by shutting down quickly. It is important to reassure them that you are on their side and will help them solve the problem. Listen, accept what you hear and reach an agreement together!
- Replace time-out for time-in: Because it is best to avoid isolating sensitive children to a time-out chair, time-in is a good alternative. You take the child to a calming area. Then you help them to calm down if needed. And then you discuss why the behavior was unacceptable and what they can do instead.
- Use consequences sparingly: Again, reminders and a change of tone is often enough to correct a sensitive child. In the case that they repeatedly break a rule when you’ve given them clear limits and instructions, a mild logical consequence may be useful. But watch for a shame reaction and adjust accordingly. More importantly, of course, is to find out why your child is repeatedly breaking the rule.
- Restore connection, security, and self-esteem after disciplining a highly sensitive child: Positive affirmations, encouraging words, and play time or focused attention will help your child to know they are still loved.
- Inform, Plan and Agree on Rules: Nobody likes to be told what to do and not to do or pointed finger at. But sensitive children often find it particular hard to process new rules or routines. Therefore, they might appear to ‘break’ rules or not comply. Sit down during calm time and talk about what rules you need in order for everyone to feel happy and respected. What routines will be need in order to create a happy and harmonious home?
Listen, understand and accept
When your sensitive child is defying, you should focus on listening, understanding and accepting.
Then deal with the situation: I can hear you are very upset. I understand that you are angry at me right now and that it is ok – now what can we do about it? I will leave you to calm down until you are ready to talk and I will be right here waiting.
The Highly Sensitive child, labels and irony
Ban all labels in your home: Labels and name-giving are sticky. Once you have labeled a child ‘the naughty one’ or ‘shy one’ or the ‘the sensitive one’ you will find that your child will start livening it up to their label. Rather, allow your child to be who they are supposed to be without labels. Just be!
As mentioned earlier in this article, that goes for sarcasm and irony as well. Dont use it on your children!
You may have noticed that these tips are not much different from how we recommend disciplining every child. That is because while some children are more emotionally and physically sensitive than others, all children have sensitive hearts that deserve to be treated gently.