It isn’t uncommon for young children to be sensitive and to respond intensely to certain emotional situations. After all, young children have yet to acquire experience with regulating their own emotions. So, if your five-year-old is upset, a tantrum is often the response. However, it is entirely possible for this sensitivity to exceed healthy levels. It may have a negative impact on your child’s emotional wellbeing. While some children are simply emotional, others are known as highly sensitive children.
When a child is highly sensitive, their emotional responses or outbursts are generally more frequent than in children who aren’t highly sensitive. Highly sensitive children have an increased awareness of their surroundings. This hyper-awareness can sometimes take a toll on the child’s ability to remain calm and react in ways that are less immediate and emotional.
Highly sensitive children experience their emotions on a deeper, more intense level, compared to many of their peers. On one hand, this increased level of empathy is a positive trait. However, being highly sensitive can take a toll on the child’s own wellbeing and even their ability to interact and form relationships with their peers.
The Top 5 Ways to Help a Child Who Is Highly Sensitive
If you believe that your child is highly sensitive, you’re likely searching for ways to help them better manage their emotions, using means that won’t cause them any additional distress. Here are five of the most effective ways to begin helping your highly sensitive child.
Show the Child Empathy
As we’ve established, highly sensitive children are incredibly empathetic — this can be both positive and negative. Still, when your child is highly empathetic, it’s important to interact with them in a way that demonstrates empathy to them, in turn.
For instance, maybe your child is throwing a tantrum. You feel unable to calm them down. In highly sensitive children it isn’t helpful to simply walk away, giving them time to relax. In fact, this can even leave the impression on your child that you aren’t accepting of them, and that you don’t care about their feelings.
Instead, speak warmly to the child. Allow them the chance to verbally express how they feel, giving them the opportunity to openly express their own emotions.
Avoid Becoming Defensive
Walking away isn’t the only negative response a parent can have to their highly sensitive child if that child is currently experiencing an outburst. As the parent, try your best to keep your own emotions in check. Don’t respond defensively to your child. Instead, put in the effort to validate your child’s feelings even if they contend with your own. Keep in mind that your child is an individual person and their feelings aren’t always going to be in agreement with your own in every situation. Simply put, it’s always best to think before you speak.
Help Your Child Feel Prepared
The truth is, highly sensitive children thrive on routine. If your child knows exactly what to expect in a given situation, they’re more likely to remain at ease. However, unexpected scenarios or events might cause a highly sensitive child to respond intensely. So help your child to ease into unfamiliar situations. Prepare them with responses whenever possible. For instance, prior to the first day of school, allow your child the chance to meet their teacher and get a look at the classroom. This will typically make the first day more manageable for them.
Create Safe Spaces and Avoid Overwhelming the Child
Remember that your child may need additional downtime to safely process their emotions. If your child needs some quiet alone time every day after school, then give them the space they need. Try not to force your child to invest large quantities of emotional energy all in a short span of time. Instead, give them safe spaces and time to work through their feelings if that’s what they want.
Use Gentle Discipline
As you discipline a highly emotional child, make sure that you’re taking their increased sensitivity into account. These children are more likely to be intensely self-critical. Therefore it’s important not to shame them or make them feel like a “bad kid.” Ensure that punishments are consistent and make sure to discipline them calmly whenever possible.
If you have a highly sensitive child, make sure to account for their unique awareness of their own emotions, as well as their increased empathy. Interacting with a highly sensitive child does take some added considerations. Here are a few books that may help. It’s possible to help them feel safe and accepted as you work together to process their emotions.