Interesting, I said to myself: If I talk to others about the experiences we have with our respective children, at school or in every-day life, I am often surprised if the behavior of a child is being categorized as ‘odd’, ‘weak’ or ‘undesirable’. While the same behavior, to me, is just a perfectly normal and natural outing of being ‘(high) sensitive’. If I mention this to the grown-up I’m talking to this can get me the most diverse reactions. They range from comments like ‘Interesting – tell me more’ to ‘If they stay so sensitive they will never get anywhere in life-so they better harden up’ to “Is this curable?’. Apparently, there is still much confusion about the phenomenon being (high) sensitive) and I think it’s time to give it some more thought, especially with respect to (high) sensitive children.
Let’s start by challenging your view on ‘difficult’ children who are (high) sensitive using a wonderful quote:
“… it is primarily parenting that decides whether the expression of sensitivity will be an advantage or a source of anxiety.” Elaine Aron, PhD
For my part I relate to Elaine Aron’s description of the highly sensitive child. She states 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.” These children are incredibly sensitive to their environments, no matter if it concerns lighting, sounds, smells or overall mood of the people in their proximity. (High) sensitive children pick everything up.
Does your child go into overdrive when it gets really tired? Does it want all the tags removed from her jumpers and shirts? Does it seem to read your mind ? Or haunt you with asking lots of questions? Perhaps it has been characterized as ‘shy’ or ‘not so strong’ by someone close to her. If you answered yes to any of the above you may be raising a highly sensitive child – congratulations! (You can find Dr. Aron’s test to find out if you are raising a highly sensitive child at: http://www.hsperson.com/pages/test_child.htm)
With a sharpened sense of awareness (high) sensitive children are often gifted intellectually, creatively and emotionally demonstrating genuine compassion even at an early age. The downside is that these very perceptive kids can get overwhelmed easily by crowds, noises, new situations, sudden changes and the emotional distress of others. They can come home from school after witnessing a bullying episode, or a teacher who lost his nerve and just break down crying. Distress, criticism and defeat and the distress of others is something sensitive children often deeply.
But with some extra awareness and care these kids can learn how to see their sensitivity as a strength. And that it can be useful and empowering to tap into the ‘upside’ of their sensitivity. Just simply by using their insight, creativity and empathy while simultaneously learning how to manage their rich emotional lives.
Bringing up a (high) sensitive child
Being the parent, teacher or educator of a (high) sensitive child can be wonderful. However, it can also be exhausting. Imagine, your child comes home from school with a scraped knee because it fell off the slide – but it doesn’t think much of it. Yet perhaps your other child, a (high) sensitive child, fell off the swings and noticed someone laughed at it – now it won’t stop crying because of that. See the difference?
This is the kind of differences we are looking at when we want to raise a healthy, happy and well-adjusted (high) sensitive child. Most of us can do with some extra inspiration aside from the more or less traditional way of ‘upbringing’. For you as driven parent (or teacher, coach or educator) I’ve compiled some easy to implement tips for ‘sensitive parenting skills’ to help you succeed.
1. Acceptance – Start seeing (high) sensitivity as a gift – Embracing your child as a (high) sensitive child is step one. Some parents bring me (high) sensitive children to ‘adjust’ their sensitivity, in order to make them function ‘better’ in society. But I cannot do that. Nobody can without damaging the core of their being. Being able to see their (high) sensitivity as a gift and accept it as part of your shared journey – whether you yourself are highly sensitive or not – this the key to your wonderful, surprising and rewarding life together. It’s easy to get angry or frustrated with your child if it easily cries, withdraws and shies away from common social situations. Instead of labelling your (high) sensitive child as being somehow deficient it is more helpful to realize see your child might haven a special gift. Sensitivity is often found in creative artists, innovators and children with various talents. Some of our greatest thinkers like Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt are believed to have been highly sensitive. Being (high) sensitive may even be trendy.
2. Focus on the up-side – Training yourself to remember that your (high) sensitive child is an incredibly talented being is essential especially when in situations where it seems to go a little crazy because of feeling overwhelmed or emotionally upset. This way, you focus on the whole being instead of a particular situation. Training yourself to first and foremost see your child’s strengths, like their incredible creativity, perceptiveness and keen intellect helps you accept their challenges (i.e. highly emotional, introvert at times, picky, shy or overly active). And to accept that the expectations you might have about your child ‘should be’ might not always be met. But then again: is there any child that always meets the expectations of their parents?
3. Team up with your child – Although discipline has been a long-time favorite of parents and educators to get children to do something, (high) sensitive children respond far better to being requested to do something rather than demanded. Therefore, if you partnering a (high) sensitive child you can expect to get where you want more easily than by using harsh discipline. Harsh discipline can provoke the exact behavior you are trying to avoid like emotional meltdowns and outbursts of energy like losing temper, yelling and crying). Teaming up with your child includes learning their triggers. For example, if you child does not like crowds, you both can try avoiding them and also find a way to deal with the if stuck in one anyhow (like breathing exercises). Apart from learning their triggers you might also learn (through the child) about what triggers your reactions and emotions. And find a way to not let it stand between you and your child so much in the future. Professionals like myself can also be helpful for you in this process.
4. Creating a comfort cave – Since (high) sensitive children react strongly on their home and school environments you should take some time and create retreat spaces (comfort caves’) that match their type. That may be a corner where they can relax with their headphones in the midst of 100 plush toys, a cave build by curtains and blankets where all the favorite comic books are at hand, or a space in the garage where they can build and destroy machines to their liking. This is this type of safety that (high) sensitive children crave with just the right lighting, colors, sounds and surroundings. And remember: don’t decide for them what it is they need – design the comfort cave together with the child or children. If you are in a situation where you don’t have access to the comfort cave, you and your child might find Bach flower remedies very handy to calm down. You can read more in the ‘10 essential ‘instant Zen’ flower remedies for (high) sensitive person’s emergency use’.
5. Create structure and implement it gently – (High) sensitive children thrive well if a little structure is provided for them. Being able to give your child gentle structure and clear limits with respect goes a long way (see also tip 3). You can, for example set a fixed bedtime. If the bedtime is approaching and the child resists, rather than raising your voice – you might say, ‘Darling, I know you want to play all night but it’s time for bed now. We have agreed on 8.00 pm and you need your rest – and it’s 8pm – please get ready for bed.’ This is just one example of gentle discipline versus spanking and yelling. Note: if you feel you speak very gently and understandingly and your child still does not respond in any desired way, you might think about whether your words and tone match your inner feelings. Because if you secretly feel impatient of even angry be sure your (high) sensitive child will notice instantly – and react to that ‘secret’feeling instead of the words you are saying.
6. Establish connections – As everybody, also (high)ly sensitive children are drawn to likeminded children. Getting these kids together to nurture each other’s strengths is a valuable thing. Even if this involves a little extra effort on your behalf to find other (high) sensitive kids and help a child make play-dates. Having a (few) good friends gives your child a great boost of self-esteem and feeling safe in f.ex the school environment.
7. Sport and exercise – Regular exercise is quite important for an (high) sensitive child’s mental, physical and emotional health because it helps it to live out the positive side of life more. While this applies to every human being (high) sensitive children who get overstimulated relatively faster by everyday events like finishing homework or keeping appointments. Consider a sporting session of about 2 times a week and a daily ‘exercise’ of about 30 min at least. When choosing a sports you should involve your child in the process (see also tip 4). Because if it does not like the activity, it will only get more stressed by having to do it, which is absolutely counteracting your interest of empowering and relaxing your kid. Mind you, this includes play outside with friends, cycling or climbing trees. Spending time outdoors can also have a very positive effect on the balance of a (high)sensitive child because there is more oxygen in the air than in f.ex. the average classroom after three hours of lessons. If possible for you – have you considered cycling to school? By being active the brain produces more endorphins. Endorphins makes you feel better, you concentrate better and are also soothing. Sounds like the perfect start of the day.
8. Food and food supplements – Supporting our well-being through balanced nutrition is important for everyone but (high) sensitive people often react faster if they fall short an nutrient. A healthy supply of essentials is therefore recommended. This can be achieved by eating plenty of greetings and at least 1x per week of fat fish. Fat fish contains a lot of omega 3 and 6, which has a favorable effect on the brain and contributes to better concentration and a balanced mood. Think also of nuts and seeds. Prefer to use organic products that are very pure and full of good nutrients. You find more information in ‘7 effective tips for (high) sensitive persons to improve health and happiness. Do you find it challenging or tedious to have to think about food? Then choose a green smoothie! These are delicious shakes that you can buy or make yourself. If you do that and your child have three birds with one stone: healthy food for both of you (or your family), a playful little education about food, and fun activity for your quality time together. I have also had good reports from food supplements, namely LTO3. This supplement combines three essential ingredients that are mutually reinforcing, if taken in the correct proportions. LTO3 is a natural product originally from Canada but now also available in The Netherlands.
9. Self-awareness exercises – If you want to help your child to gain better mental, emotional and physical balance, try self-awareness exercises. There are simple exercises like ‘follow your breathing ‘or the ‘body scan’ to help your child be more aware of their feelings. Or you might want to try the ‘invisible submarine’ which helps your child to shut out any overstimulation it might experience at any one time. If you integrate either exercise in the child’s day it will help it to stay calm, focused and happy. Alternatively, opt for a playful exercise which I call ‘my favorite (and second favorite) animal’ which gives the child (and you) a wonderful insight in its self-perception and wish how it would like to be. The For more details of each exercise please contact me at email@example.com and I will send you the simple instructions.
10. NLP or the art of being coherent – A little bit of a more advanced approach which I personally have benefited immensely from is NLP (neuro-linguistic programming). This technique is more for parents/ educators use than for the use of the (high) sensitive child itself. Through NLP the parent/educator will learn more about the state of their own mind and can train their brain to reverse deeply ingrained expectations and negative patterns into positive patterns. This will help them to feel much better because you no longer daily at these subconscious blockages Start Up deter you to feel good about themselves too. NLP is not a cognitive behavioral therapy. The idea is to effectively train the brain so that new connections are created which are positive and supportive. This is possible because the brain continues to adapt throughout our lives to what is being asked of him. Parents/educators can do NLP on themselves (or seek the aid of a professional NLP therapist). Of course, the NLP approach can also be used to better understand what a child is really saying through analyzing it’s choice of words and what it chooses to talk about – or to leave out.
So what does this mean?
I guess my main point for you is: start and see your (high)sensitive child as a gift and an opportunity. An opportunity to learn and develop yourself. Which brings me right back to Elaine Aron’s quote at the beginning of this blog. Start examining your vision of the world and of yourself in it. Start analyzing why you maybe would want your child to be different of what it is. Are you afraid of what others may think? Because ‘boys don’t cry’, for example? Are you afraid that it will not do well at school and consequently fail later in life? Are you finding it hard to bring up a child which reacts so different as compared to you (as a less sensitive person). Or are you worried that the negative experiences you had yourself as a (high) sensitive child and adult have made wait for your child and worry that you can’t protect it against them?
Either way: if you give yourself the chance to examine your own convictions, beliefs, fears and desires you will not only start an amazing journey towards yourself but also become more understanding of your child’s motivations and needs. And you will become an even better role model for your child. And is that not secretly something we all would love to be?
I know you can do it, I know you are a wonderful and conscious adult who wants the best for the children in your care. Otherwise you won’t read this blog. Just have faith in yourself and dare to be child-like yourself, again. And you will do a great job in raising any kid! Should you wish any help-don’t hesitate to contact me.
If you have any tips or experiences to share with these tips, you’d put a comment below. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m curious about your experiences!
If you liked this article, mark the following date in your agenda:
‘3 simple and fun exercises that can change your life as a (high) sensitive person.’ (September 14th)
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Anke Weber Smit, P.h.D. is an passionate coach and approved healer with nearly 10 years of professional experience working with children, teens, adults, and companies. Anke’s mission is helping people with recondition the past and creating their future lifes. She has experience with treating (high) sensitivity issues, eating disorders, body image, relationships with others or with yourself, psychological abuse and anxiety. Anke is a honest, warm inspirational counselor, author and speaker who uses professional expertise, humor and personal recovery to help others to help themselves. For more information on her services, please follow Anke’s blog or visit her on www.cocreate.com (English) or www.ankewebersmit.com (Dutch)
(Image credits A. Weber Smit or see referenced blog posts)