Being the parent, teacher or educator of a (high) sensitive child can be wonderful. However, it can also be exhausting. That depends much on the attitude of the parent, teacher or educator and on their willingness to explore the child’s way of perceiving the world – and to deal with it.
There is a wonderful story illustrating brilliantly the importance of coaching the child (or person):
‘One day, little Thomas Edison came home from school with a letter from his teacher. The letter was only to be read by his mother. He asked her to read it out loud. The tears welled out her eyes as she did: ‘ Your son is a genius. This school is too small for him and doesn’t have good enough teachers to train him. Please teach him yourself.’ Many years after his mother had died, Thomas Edison became one of the greatest inventors of the century. One day, he found the old letter hidden in a closet. He opened it and it read: ‘Your son is mentally deficient. We cannot let him attend our school anymore. He is expelled.’ Thomas became emotional and noted in his diary: ‘Thomas A. Edison was a mentally deficient child who’’ s mother turned him into the genius of the century.’
A positive word of encouragement can help change anyone’s destiny
(High) sensitive children can be under permanent voltage at school. There is a lot of noise in the classroom, it is busy and lots of things are happening at the same time. The stimuli come flocking in. And the child has not (yet) learned to filter these stimuli or to simply block them out.
While having to deal with everything that a sensitive child picks up, it’s parents and teachers expect it to perform the same as less sensitive children. It can happen that a sensitive child is therefore confronted with expectations which, regardless of equal intellectual and emotional capacities as other children, it cannot meet.
The cause for this is inability is not unwillingness. On the contrary: the child can initially try extra hard to meet the expectations. Only if that fails, a child often loses motivation. For example, if after much effort to learn how to read has has not been successful, or in spite of hard training the desired swimming certificate is still not achieved, the child might lose heart and simply stop trying. Once the motivation plummeted this could trigger a negative spiral where a child without assistance experiences great difficulties to get out. Thoughts can arise like “I’m stupid” or “I’ll never make it.” Consequently, the self-esteem is diminishing and self-confidence is declining steadily. It may even happen that the child refuses to learn or to go to school altogether. When at school, this child might be perceived as very insecure, as a difficult student or even as a troublemaker.
Unlogic processing of information
Like all (high) sensitive people, (high) sensitive children often process the information in a different way than less sensitive people. This also holds for subjects taught at school. Most schools offer the material in a logical way. The structure of the lecture is based on the assumption that the child thinks logically. Logical thinking is important to process texts and think rationally and analytically. This include the memorization of calculation tables and spelling rules. However, (high) sensitive children don’t necessarily learn or think logical.
To understand why logic thinking is not necessarily obvious to a (high) sensitive child, it is important to understand how our brain works. The traditional classification of the functions of the brain’s two hemispheres is such that the left hemisphere is in charge of logic thinking, linear connections, rational decisions. The right hemisphere is in charge of creativity, conceptual th
Knowing this you understand what my point is: At school the information is traditionally offered in a logical manner, based on texts and tables; all features that are controlled by the left hemisphere. (High) sensitive children, however, often process information with the right hemisphere to processing of information, preferably the right hemisphere. This can complicate the learning process for the sensitive child. Challenges might include planning, structuring and limiting their world to ‘rational’ thoughts.
I am explicitly using the word ‘can’ complicate because there are simple things that you can do to help (high) sensitive children to function with ease in a less sensitive environment. And the key solution to all challenges is, as I said in the story about Thomas Edison: recognition. A child that feels recognized will naturally feel more at ease and be willing to learn and adapt.
Recogintion is something you can practice with your child in many ways (see also ‘The single most important factor for (high) sensitive people to lead a happy and fulfilled life’).
More practical tips to assist the child in his or her learning process include my favourite 3:
1) Problems with planning and structuring can be easily avoided if the child is introduced playfully and at a young age to it. Help it find structures and find a personal ‘logic’ that helps the child to structure it’s life and start develop the capacity to make ‘realistic’ plans. This will be a priceless aid for the child also later in life, as an adult
2) Teach the child to filter the stimuli it perceives or to simply block them out. A wonderful way to do that is the exercise of visualizing a ‘soap bubble’: Close your eyes (this can be on the toilet or even brushing your teeth or wherever you are) and imagine yourself, as you look right now. See yourself and place a beautiful soap bubble around you. Imagine it to start from under your feet. Then pull it up around you, leaving space between your body and the soap bell. You are standing (or sitting, or lying) comfortable in the soap bell. Gently close it above your head. The soap bell is an impermeable shield against stimuli from the outside world. Inside the soap bell it is quiet, cozy and safe. Visualize yourself inside the soap bell and say (out loud or in your mind): “Now there are only things inside the soap bell that I want to have inside. All other things and stimuli will be looked out. “3. Teach the child to filter the stimuli it perceives or to simply block them out. A wonderful way to do that is the exercise of visualizing a ‘soap bubble’: Close your eyes (this can be on the toilet or even brushing your teeth or wherever you are) and imagine yourself, as you look right now. See yourself and place a beautiful soap bubble around you. Imagine it to start from under your feet. Then pull it up around you, leaving space between your body and the soap bell. You are standing (or sitting, or lying) comfortable in the soap bell. Gently close it above your head. The soap bell is an impermeable shield against stimuli from the outside world. Inside the soap bell it is quiet, cozy and safe. Visualize yourself inside the soap bell and say (out loud or in your mind): “Now there are only things inside the soap bell that I want to have inside. All other things and stimuli will be looked out. ” . The children I have worked with find it exciting to be able to create their own ‘world’. Some of them bow do it daily. Even at school, where children many suffer from the crowds and noises in their classroom, this exercise is working great because it can easily be done at school if the child needs a break.
3) Parallel to the above two tips, help the child to strengthen its “right brain functions’ like creativity, relationships, context. This is important not only to strengthen the child’s core being and self-confidence. These capacities can also be used very effectively in learning (theoretical). A good learning progress is often achieved when the substance is offered a combination of (auditory / visual / tactile). However, you want to prevent overstimulation by reducing too many hard sounds, fast images or excessive instructions. In addition, don’t overload the child with information. A sensitive child will learn more effectively and perform better in tests if it is given regular breaks or the opportunity to play outside or go to the gym between successive theoretical lessons, to ‘get rid of some steam’. Due to the switch between mental and physical effort the child will perform better at both disciplines as compared to a long period of only mental effort.
As you see, there are various things that can help (high) sensitive children (and adults) to deal with a less sensitive environment. I even feel not only (high) sensitive people greatly benefit from these 3 golden tips. I believe that everyone will blossom if he/she uses all their talents more extensively and dares to explore new paths (as for example, using more of their right brain hemisphere). Or if he/she starts to dare to filter out information that doesn’t not help to make them happier or healthier.
Therefore, let me I invite you to play around with my 3 golden tips and see where this takes you!
Did you like this article? Then check out the next article: ‘5 tips for stress-free Christmas holidays’. Online December 7th.
For interesting talks, courses and workshops on (high) sensitivity or how to improve your wellbeing and happiness check out the agenda.
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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)