Parenting the sensitive child
Do you have a sensitive child? A child who seems to get upset easier than other children seem to? A child who gets nervous and anxious often? A child who has big feelings and as a result meltdowns?
You may have a sensitive child. These children can be a challenge for parents. They are easily affected by their environment and the moods and energy of those around them. You may notice this when you are stressed. Your child picks up on your feelings and starts acting out because they don’t know how to handle the emotions they are picking up on. These children feel big emotions and depending on their age, may not have the skills to manage these feelings. As a result they may come across as defiant or simply have meltdowns that may seem to come out of nowhere. These children aren’t misbehaving or trying to make life difficult….they need your help.
You may feel at a loss in the moments as to how to help your child or what to do. The good news is that there are some fairly simple ways in which you can assist your sensitive little one.
1. Keep yourself calm. In order for your child to manage their overwhelming feelings, the parent needs to manage theirs. Keeping your composure when your child is having an intense emotional reaction can be a challenge. If you get overwhelmed and “lose it” too, you won’t be in the right frame of mind to assist your child. Your child needs help managing their feelings and they need your guidance, support, and sense of calm to do this.
2. Validate their feelings. Your child may be really upset by something that seems trivial. For your child, however, this is not the case. It is a big deal and their emotions are real. Suggesting that shouldn’t be feeling what they are feeling won’t be helpful and doesn’t change what they are currently experiencing. If you are struggling with what to say simply state what you are seeing. For example : “ You are really having a hard time” , “You seem really upset, etc”
3. Offer comfort and support. Maybe they need a hug or for your to rub their back. If they seem resistant simply stay near by and let them know that you are here. Staying nearby lets them know that you are there if and when they need you. It also sends the message that you are OK with their big feelings and that you can handle it. This is an incredibly important message for your children to receive as it lets them know that you can handle their hard times and they are more likely to come to you in the future (planting the seeds for your relationship in the adolescent years).
4. Play Detective: See if you can determine what might be triggering their feelings and/or behaviors. If you can figure out what might be affecting your child then you will be better able to work around it or assist your child in managing the situation in the future.
5. Verbalize their feelings (or at least the feelings that you are seeing them show). When children are unable to find the words to express their feelings, they will find alternative ways to show them, typically through behaviors. Young children don’t have the vocabulary to express exactly how they feel. If you verbalize what they may be feeling for them, they will begin to learn the words that they can use in the future. This won’t necessarily change much in the moment but it may decrease the likelihood of future challenges.
6. Model coping skills. Model for your child how to manage overwhelming emotions. What do you do when you feel overwhelmed. Have discussions about this and brainstorm together to identify strategies that may work. Maybe it is a mantra, deep breathing, getting outside, taking quiet time,
or any other strategy that helps calm and center you.
Claudia Glassman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist, and Parent Coach. Mighty Oak Parenting was started as a way for her to share all the things she learned from being a therapist as well as a parent. Her vision is to share her knowledge about children and parenting as well as to bring awareness to the importance of the relationship that we have with our children.