Whether it’s escaping to a quiet space during social gatherings, responding to a harsh tone of voice with sadness, or acting overly responsible for matters they are too young to bear, these types of behaviors are often signs of a highly sensitive child.
As a grown empathic woman who was once that overly sensitive little girl, I can personally attest to the importance of recognizing your child’s sensitive nature and providing the love and support they need in dealing with their emotions.
Like their empathic adult counterparts, “sensitive children tend to have a higher sensitivity to outside stimuli, such as sounds, big personalities, and hectic environments. They bring a lot of heart and care to the world and feel things very deeply,” shares Kim Egel, a family therapist who bridges the concepts of the mind, body, and spirit connection.
While it can be a wonderful gift for children to be sensitive to the world around them, too much sensitivity can become a severe detriment. If not equipped with the proper support to handle their overwhelming emotions, your child will be unable to tolerate criticism or deal with sudden and unexpected changes in life, especially the changes they cannot control. To avoid this, you must find ways to help your sensitive child cope.
Respect Their Feelings
Although you may want to change how your child reacts to specific situations, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still respect their feelings. Parents are always most effective when they look at things from their child’s point of view. So, while something may seem silly, or even an overreaction, to you, it may not be so for your children.
Rather than tell them to stop being ridiculous, you can begin a conversation by asking what could be wrong. But first, remember to check your body language, energy, and the overall atmosphere.
Are you angry with clenched fists? Are you pacing the room? Are you already nodding in disagreement? Sensitive children can often feel the emotions of others directly. Once you feel relaxed and ready, speak to your child eye to eye. Getting on your child’s level will help your child feel safe to discuss any problems and allow you both to come to a solution. Most of the time, kids just want to be listened to, and by being receptive to their words and feelings, you can help them overcome fears or frustrations.
Offer Supportive Encouragement
You shouldn’t chastise your kids for not acting the way you know is the right way, particularly if they are young, as they won’t have the experience to understand when they look upset or non-approachable. Instead, think of ways to encourage them without making a big deal out of it.
For example, if your child acts anti-social at family gatherings, let them know, in private, how it could appear unfavorable or hurtful to others. Once the dialogue is open, you can ask them to consider how they would feel if those roles were reversed. Upon discovering the potential negative impact of their actions, it may encourage them to alter their behavior and even be more accommodating to unfamiliar experiences they might have been sensitive to beforehand.
Expose Them to Worries
Some kids are as confident as can be, while others will worry about everything under the sun, especially if they hear something distressing without knowing much about it. Such unfortunate problems can be illness, crime, or even death.
You can explain to your children that such problems are not as severe to them right now as they might think. But if this doesn’t work, consider exposing them to such worries in a safe way.
For example, if your child is worried about attending a funeral, let your child know exactly what to expect. You might explain what the funeral rites signify, why bodies are placed in caskets made from wood, or why some people opt to wear black clothing.
If you’re attending a wake, you might describe to your child what the room looks like where the casket will be, share with him that many people send flower arrangements to express their sympathy to the family or create photo collages to celebrate the person’s life.
While there are a variety of ways to conduct these type of conversations, just remember to keep it age-appropriate and tailor it to the specific circumstance.
Likewise, any phobias, such as spiders, can be eased (if not solved) with gentle, non-distressing introductions.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being sensitive. In fact, it can come with a wide range of benefits. Sensitivity can help people have a deeper understanding of others’ wants and needs. It makes them more compassionate, caring, and even better listeners. However, there is such a thing as being too sensitive, and if you want your child to be able to cope with the uncertainties and tribulations that can happen in life, you need to take steps to help them manage their oversensitivity.
Respecting your child’s feelings, offering supportive encouragement, helping your child overcome their fears, and dishing out lots of love will go a long way in helping your sensitive child cope with their emotions.