Written by Aarthi Arun and published on 26 July 2021.
Do you feel that your child is highly sensitive? Do you worry about how he is going to thrive in this tough world? Don't fret. Help is at hand.
I am a highly sensitive person, but I never realised that sensitivity is an acceptable - or a desirable - trait until I found that my son was also highly sensitive.
As a toddler, he was always fussy in crowded places and was very sensitive to sounds. In his first year of preschool, he had all but one friend, who also displayed a similar temperament.
As a child, I was often told not to be so 'emotionally fragile'. But, I have always wanted my son to thrive as he is, and not force him to change his highly emotional nature.
Luckily, I came across the book, 'The Highly Sensitive Child', by Elaine Aron. It changed my outlook on parenting a sensitive child. According to the author, heightened sensitivity is not as bad as the society perceives it to be; instead, it has many advantages. Highly sensitive individuals are more creative, conscientious, intuitive and empathetic.
If you're wondering whether your child is highly sensitive, here are eight signs to watch for and some handy tips to help your child thrive.
1. Your child feels intense emotions: From excitement to sadness, your highly sensitive child (HSC) will often feel strong emotions. One moment, she may be bouncing up and down, and the next moment, she may be in tears seeing a bird getting hurt in her favourite TV show. Going through these emotional ups and downs also means that you'll be at the receiving end of many crying episodes and meltdowns.
So, buckle up for the emotional roller-coaster ride...
Telling your child to 'toughen up' or ignoring her feelings or labelling her as a 'cry baby' will be counterproductive. So, as a first step, empathise with your child and accept her feelings. Then, help her recognise and name her feelings, and teach her to regulate her emotions.
2. Your child gets easily overwhelmed: A highly sensitive child notices even a slight change in his immediate environment, for his senses are sharp. He reacts to a lot of things around him like loud noises, new food, and even to the texture of his clothes. Crowded and noisy places increase his anxiety.
So, offer downtime...
Give your child predictable routines and don't overschedule him. Provide him with a quiet corner at home to indulge in his interests like listening to music, painting, writing, and reading. This will prevent an overload of his nervous system.
3. Your child is slow to warm up to others: Most highly sensitive children are introverts. So, your child may feel uncomfortable around strangers or new-found friends. She may prefer to play alone, rather than involving herself in group play.
So, teach her how to blend in...
Social skills may not be your child's greatest strengths, but you can still teach her how to be socially savvy. Model acceptable social behaviour like sharing and taking turns. You can also role-play social situations and read books together on the subject to develop her social skills.
4. Your child is overly cautious: Have you wondered why your child doesn't barge into the playground to climb the tallest slide? An HSC's brain is wired differently. He is full of doubt and tends to be apprehensive. Due to this, he will always look before he leaps.
So, allow him to go at his own pace...
Listen to your child, and validate his fears and opinions. Ease out his stress and anxiety by gently guiding him when he's trying something new.
5. Your child thinks differently: Your HSC is imaginative, very creative and possesses some unique talents. She is intuitive and will look for meaningful activities.
So, give her creativity an outlet...
Provide plenty of opportunities to your child to engage in her interests. Indulging in creative pursuits will help her recoup and rejuvenate from the everyday hustle and bustle. For example, if she likes music and is interested in learning to play the guitar, enrol her in a music school.
6. Your child takes things personally: Most highly sensitive individuals set lofty standards for themselves and are perfectionists. This might be the case with your child as well, who would be trying hard to live up to his high standards. In such a situation, criticism, no matter how constructive, will not go down well with your sensitive child. It will only fuel dissent and discontent.
So, tread gently...
The best way to point out your child's mistakes, and make him understand and correct himself is by connecting with him. So, spend time together to get close to your child.
7. Your child can perceive others' feelings: Your HSC is likely to be well aware of the subtle changes in others' body language and emotions. This keen sense of awareness makes her kind and compassionate. As a result, she will think twice before emotionally hurting others. She will also have a strong moral compass and will be an advocate for fairness and equality.
So, encourage her...
If your child is sad because her friend suffered an injury, appreciate her for being caring and kind. When your child asks difficult, thought-provoking questions, don't dismiss them. Try to answer her queries as best you can.
8. Your child is always on the move: Along with the heightened emotions and senses, your child may have the urge to move or fidget. He may find it difficult to wind down, and falling asleep easily can be a challenge.
So, head outdoors...
Spending time with nature can help your child calm down by reducing his brain activity. Physical activity or play will also help your child channelise his energy productively.
It is natural for you to worry about how your HSC will fare in this big, tough world. But, remember that sensitivity is what the world needs. I live by this quote of the American author L R Knost, "It's not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It's our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless."