Is my child highly sensitive or just spoiled? How do I know if I have a sensitive child? We’ll discuss every aspect of this trait to let you know if your child is a part of the 15 to 20 percent population and if yes then how to deal with the same.
High sensitivity in children can come in many shapes and forms. From crying a lot when things go wrong and trying really hard to please you and others to strongly resisting change and staying aloof most of the time.
One thing to remember with highly sensitive children is that they are very observant to subtle changes and are also easily overwhelmed by high levels of stimulation.
So on one hand, your child might notice all small changes, might not like surprises and also seem very intuitive and on the other, be very defying, angry, argumentative and unafraid of consequences (since they don’t seem to care.)
Common Indications of a Highly Sensitive Child
Before we move forward, it’s very important to realize that being highly sensitive is not a defect. It’s very common among children and is more like a personality trait. At the same time, it is also equally important to learn to deal with a sensitive child in a proper manner. While it’s common and not a defect, wrong parenting and an unheeding attitude can seriously hamper the physical and emotional growth of a child. So, your first step in parenting is to identify if your child is showing any signs of high sensitivity.
High sensitivity does not have well-defined indications or definitions. The spectrum is very broad and can include a number of varying factors. Here are a few common ones:
- Intense emotional reactions such as cries easily or lashes out in anger.
- Does not like change.
- Extremely attached to parents.
- Is a picky eater.
- Very particular about the texture of clothes. For example, they may complain about itchiness or tags.
- Likes staying by themselves.
- Often take things personally.
- Well behaved. They often adjust their behavior as per the surroundings.
- Are introverts.
- Worry about things easily.
- Hyper aware or others’ feelings, mood, behavior or body language.
- Not fond of surprises.
- Avoid being in social settings and are hesitant in new situations.
- Hard on themselves. Feel guilty and the need to apologize easily.
- Connect with music and animals.
These are not always tell-tale signs of a highly sensitive child. But, if you feel that your child is emotional and more intuitive than others, you must try a few parenting techniques discussed ahead in this article.
Highly Sensitive Consequences for a Highly Sensitive Child
This may not come as a surprise but here it is: Highly sensitive children don’t respond well to discipline! More specifically, the traditional ways.
That is because highly sensitive children tend to be very self-critical and hard on themselves. They process their mistakes so thoroughly that they often end up punishing themselves. Parental criticism in particular can be a hard blow for such children. Often when we present consequences to our highly sensitive child, say a traditional time-out or yelling at them, it can emotionally hurt them on a deeper level than we think.
They are often hyper-aware of subtle signals especially from you, and also hyper intuitive. So you can’t really hide anything from them. This is why they are more aware of your feelings compared to regular people.
It’s easier to say that uncontrolled outbursts, unjust or thoughtless consequences can have a major impact on such a sensitive person, especially a child.
Discipline Strategies 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 corrections but to sensitive children, these words can be devastating
- Don’t tease: Some families see teasing as light-hearted fun. But the sarcastic messages which are almost always embedded in the teasing will not be lost for a sensitive child. For example, “Uh-oh, Emma is baking cookies. Hold your ears! The smoke detector will be going off any minute!”
- Avoid physical discipline: This applies to every child. No spanking, pinching or slapping.
- Don’t isolate or withdraw warmth and love: Time-out or ignoring is not the most effective way to discipline any child. Sensitive children are particularly vulnerable to the emotional harm of the same.
- 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. A 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 rules on the go: Your sensitive child might be very sensitive to right-and-wrong and to the concept of ‘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 just to suit your preference.
Disciplines Strategies 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. Take the child to a calming area and help them to calm down if needed. Try discussing why the behavior was unacceptable and what they can do instead.
- Use consequences sparingly: Again, reminders and a change of tone are 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 steer clear from a shame reaction and adjust accordingly. More importantly, 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 playtime 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. So, avoid judging immediately. Sensitive children often find it particularly 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. Also, discuss the routines that will be needed in order to create a happy and harmonious home.
Listen, understand and accept
When your sensitive child is defying rules and limits, you should focus on listening, understanding and accepting.
Try this example to deal with the situation in a better way: 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 names are sticky. Once you have labeled a child ‘the naughty one’, the ‘shy one’ or the ‘the sensitive one’, you will find that your child will start living it up to their label. Rather, allow your child to be who they are supposed to be without labels. Just let them be!
The same idea and attitude go for sarcasm and irony as well. Don’t 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.