Advanced Pediatric Therapies

Kid-Powered

Parenting the Highly Sensitive Child

on March 16, 2016

sensitive

We have lots of kids who come through our doors that parents describe as “sensitive.”  What does this mean?  The book The Highly Sensitive Child written by Elaine Aron, defines a sensitive child as… (from website)

A highly sensitive child is one of the fifteen to twenty percent of children born with a nervous system that is highly aware and quick to react to everything. This makes them quick to grasp subtle changes, prefer to reflect deeply before acting, and generally behave conscientiously. They are also easily overwhelmed by high levels of stimulation, sudden changes, and the emotional distress of others. Because children are a blend of a number of temperament traits, some HSCs are fairly difficult–active, emotionally intense, demanding, and persistent–while others are calm, turned inward, and almost too easy to raise except when they are expected to join a group of children they do not know. But outspoken and fussy or reserved and obedient, all HSCs are sensitive to their emotional and physical environment.

Sensitive kids require extra attention and modification from their families.  The best route to effective intervention is to accept them where they are and not try to change them.  You can try to change your approach to your child in some different ways, though, to keep things calmer at home and provide some much needed predictability.  Sensitive kids tend to get “triggered” more easily.  They are more emotional and struggle to not become overwhelmed.

For parents needing some peer support, this series of articles on the blog Scary Mommy is really helpful.  Raising a Sensitive Child and My Imperfect Child give perspective on what it’s like to raise a sensitive kid.  Some additional reading is a book that has been recommended by parents is by Ted Zeff called The Highly Sensitive Boy.

In any event, parents often confront a difficult issue with these sensitive (or “emotional” or “difficult” as frequently labeled) is how exactly to discipline them so as not to break their fragile spirits.  From the book and this article in Creative Child magazine, we have some ideas.

Firstly, there are discipline techniques that should definitely be avoided.  Shaming, by way of name calling and “why can’t you get this?” type of correcting are perceived very negatively by your sensitive child and be potentially very detrimental.  Teasing a sensitive child is bound to provoke their intense emotions and likely will not be felt in the playful nature that was intended.  Best to be direct.  Physical discipline is also devastating to sensitive kids and most childhood developmental specialists warn against using it with any kids.  Time outs likely will be perceived as being sent away by sensitive kids and can take an additional emotional toll.  Finally, being too permissive in an attempt to avoid tears or meltdowns is to be avoided as well.  Loving correction is best.

Discipline Techniques That Work Well:

  • Be careful of your tone.  Loud does not mean you will be listened to any better, and to a sensitive child can be even more harmful.
  • Connect first.  Remind your child you love them and gently tell them what your concerns are.  You don’t want to be perceived as threatening.
  • No time outs.  Instead, take your child someplace that will help them to calm down and peacefully explain what went wrong and what should happen next time.
  • Consequences should be mild.  Most sensitive kids will adjust their behavior based on their ability to see it displeases you and is not acceptable within the family.  Consequences that make them stand out are shaming and to be avoided.
  • Follow up.  Have play time, and use positive language after the discipline has occurred.  This restores connection.

Hope these are useful to you and your family.

Ask any of our OT’s if you have questions or ask about our lending library for resources on sensitive kids.

 

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