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Does your child react with strong emotions to the slightest of things? Chances are he's a highly sensitive child. And you may not be doing the right things to help him. Here's what you could do instead.
Reena had some guests at her place the other day. She called her 9-year-old son, Vijay, to the kitchen. Handing him a tray with a few cups of tea, she said, "Go and serve them to Uma aunty and others." Vijay took the tray and walked over to where the guests were sitting. He kept the tray on the floor, picked up the cups, and placed them on the center table. Observing what Vijay did, Uma aunty said, "Vijay, you could have kept the tray on the table."
Vijay didn't like what he was told. He walked back to the kitchen, burst into tears, and told Reena, "Does she have to tell me how to serve in front of everyone? This is why I never like to come to the drawing-room when there are guests." Saying that he stomped back to his room.
Highly sensitive children are a bundle of emotions. In her article, 'Highly Sensitive Children', published in Early Years Educator (2010), Tania Schmieder says, "High sensitivity is a temperament trait found in 15-20 percent of babies and young children, which is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, and is only recently becoming much better understood."
So, according to the study, it can be surmised that one in about five children is a highly sensitive child. These children process information more deeply and reflect on issues with greater subtlety. As a result, they also show higher emotional reactivity.
Certain behaviors in your child could signal that you have a highly sensitive child. Some of the behaviors are:
Therefore, parenting a sensitive child presents its own set of challenges as issues like intense emotions, unique perceptions, and over-the-top reactions need to be handled with a lot of care and sensitivity.
If you are the parent of a sensitive child, here are 7 things you should never do:
1. Trying to change your child: The cultural background of parents, to a large degree, influences the way they perceive their child's behavioral traits. For example, the display of restraint and reserve is much appreciated in most Asian cultures. However, in the West, the predominant opinion may regard it as a sign of shyness or anxiety. Therefore, stop looking at your sensitive child as an aberration.
Instead, try to understand that he is not sensitive by choice but that it's his biological trait. Labeling your child, trying to change his behavior, or coaxing him to develop a tough attitude will only end up harming him.
"It's not easy for parents to accept sensitivity as a natural trait in their child, because it requires them to change their whole approach to parenting. So, while the child is comfortable with all his emotional reactions to almost everything, parents feel emotionally drained just trying to cope with them. Unless parents understand and shift their attention to appreciating and encouraging their child's other strengths, and help him use his sensitivity in productive ways, they will tire themselves trying to change the child." -Arundhati Swamy, Family Counselor.
2. Being impatient: It's quite natural that parents feel frustrated when their highly sensitive child tends to cry over seemingly minor issues. But the child is overwhelmed by the deep emotions he feels. Your immediate reaction is to get tense and tell your child to stop crying. In fact, your child will pick up on your tension and cry even more.
Instead, be considerate and give your child enough time to come to terms with her feelings and move forward. And to be considerate means that you will need to manage your tension before you try to manage your child's emotions.
3. Suppressing your child's emotions: A hypersensitive child experiences a deluge of intense emotions. Not being allowed to express his feelings may make your child act out the feelings or cause him to feel depressed.
Instead, create an environment where your child feels safe to express himself. Also, help him learn how to recognize and verbalize his emotions like anger, frustration, and sadness. Encourage him to use relaxation and calming techniques like deep breathing exercises when he feels overwhelmed.
6. Neglecting routine: Highly sensitive children usually dislike surprises and feel uncomfortable with changes. They prefer the world to be a predictable place, where they know what is going to happen next. This helps them regulate their emotions and not feel overwhelmed.
Instead, help your child create a routine for herself and stick to it. Also, ensure that your child is not overscheduled and takes enough breaks during the day to soothe her nerves. Prepare your child for planned changes in routine, and support her when she is overwhelmed by sudden changes in her routine.
7. Discouraging your child: Criticism, making fun of your child for being more sensitive than you think is right will only serve to trigger strong emotional reactions. According to John C Maxwell, an American author, and speaker, 'Encouragement changes everything'. It cannot be truer than in the case of a sensitive child.
Instead, validate your child's feelings, dispel his doubts and give him plenty of encouragement. Help your child understand that successes and failures are a part of life and that he shouldn't focus too much on failures. Most of all, being highly sensitive also makes him a naturally compassionate person, a highly valued trait in contemporary leadership.
With proper nurturing, a highly sensitive child can grow up into a well-balanced, empathetic, creative, reflective, and perceptive individual who not only stands by those around him but also can lead from the front. So, listen to your child, stay close to him, recognize that there is nothing wrong with him, and remember our tips to help your child become an asset to society.