How to Assist Your Sensitive Child to Cope with the Overwhelming World

During a casual FaceTime session with their Uncle Ivan, my three children had an encounter that was emotionally challenging for my 4-year-old. What was meant as light-hearted banter resulted in my sensitive child misinterpreting his uncle’s playful “poopy-face” remark as a cruel jibe. This instance underscores how important it is to assist your sensitive child to cope with an overwhelming world, especially when humor and emotional tone can be so easily misunderstood.

My son has always had a hard time dealing with his emotions. If he doesn’t have a snack, he immediately starts crying and acting like he’s starving to death. An argument with his sibling over a toy can set off a screaming fit that lasts for several minutes.

Up to 33 percent of the population is “sensitive,” meaning they feel things profoundly and can become overwhelmed by emotional and physical stimulation, as stated by Jadzia Jagiellowicz, Ph.D., founder of the Highly Sensitive Society.

Dr. Jagiellowicz, who works with clients all over the world and studies the neurobiology of highly sensitive people, has found that highly sensitive people’s brains are more attuned to external stimuli and responsive to physiological cues, such as a stomachache or rapid breathing than those of their less sensitive peers.

Being emotionally vulnerable has its advantages, though. Empathy, self-awareness, and original thought are the fruits of a sensitive mind.

Extra-sensitive children can benefit from their heightened sensitivity while learning to manage its negative aspects by employing a variety of strategies. With guidance and practice, they can learn to control their feelings and avoid becoming overwhelmed or overreacting. Here are some easy strategies for parents to use with their sensitive children as they face an often overwhelming and distracting world.

Verify and Connect

It’s common for sensitive kids to feel like their feelings aren’t being taken seriously by adults. If a child has strong emotions, the most helpful thing you can do is to acknowledge them.

Try to see things from their point of view and let them know that you want to talk to them. Instead of trying to fix the situation, just be there for them when they’re upset. By acknowledging and accepting these emotions, you can help children begin the process of learning to manage, calm, and tolerate them.

Maintaining an emotional connection with your children is essential at any age. They may resort to riskier activities and less healthy coping mechanisms if they don’t learn to control their intense emotions. Keeping an open line of communication with your kids’ emotions will help you figure out whether they need extra aid as they learn to navigate the complex world. And if they ever need help, they know they can come to you.

Recognize and Label Your Emotions

Understanding and labeling emotions can do wonders for helping children deal with their swings in mood. Help children find words to describe their emotions and set an example by expressing yourself openly.

Linking what happened and how they feel can help those who are having trouble opening up and expressing themselves. You may say something like, “I noticed that after I cut your sandwich, you got really upset and stopped talking.” if your child refuses to eat it, you cut it into triangles when they wanted rectangles. I wondered whether you were feeling angry at how it was trimmed.

Non-verbal methods of communication should be made available to younger children and those who require a stronger push to express themselves. Let your kids express their feelings by pointing to an index card with a face on it that best represents their current state of mind.

You may also have a stack of sticky notes ready with checkboxes for yes, no, and maybe replies in case they are too overwhelmed to speak but able to write answers to specific questions. The gap between frustration and communication can be bridged with these minor adjustments to language use.

Be Ready for Anything

Sensitive children benefit much from structure and predictability. You can help your child adjust to their new school by familiarizing them with their teacher and classroom before the first day of classes. Or, have your youngster meet up with a friend from the neighborhood on the way to school on the first day. Keep things as familiar as possible and ease into any necessary adjustments.

Sensitive children can get frozen by their fear of others’ judgments. Harris advises parents to “prepare language that kids can use to respond in different situations” and to act out these events to prevent them from happening. Help your child find healthy methods to cope with stress by working together with them.

Find what works for them: deep breathing, tearing up paper, pounding play dough, stomping, or mimicking animal gestures.

Set Limits and Safe Zones

Preventative measures are more effective than corrective measures for sensitive youngsters since they are more attuned to and affected by their surroundings. It’s important to create a peaceful environment for infants to sleep in.

Make space for quiet time following stimulating outings with older children. Help them establish limits so they can safely work through difficult feelings. Considering the emotional drain of both hockey practice and a birthday party, you may want to rethink sending them to both. And make sure they have a peaceful place to go when they get home.

Employ Soft Discipline

Highly sensitive children have a keen eye for moral ambiguity and hypocrisy. Take caution while disciplining them, as they will likely be harsh on themselves if they have done wrong.

Consequences are fair and tied to family rules and customs, and limitations are communicated clearly and without judgment when using gentle discipline. Don’t make it about them; saying, “You can’t have iPad time because you haven’t finished your homework yet,” is better than saying, “The iPad is off-limits because you’re a bad kid.”

Sensitive children have a deeper capacity to store emotional memories. The effects of shame are devastating. Her adult clients often report that they “remember things from their childhood” and are profoundly affected by distressing recollections of their formative years. For sensitive children, every emotion is amplified, including shame.

In Conclusion

When our kids are having a tough time, our natural inclination as parents is to come to their aid and rid them of those awful emotions. Although well-intentioned, such an approach does children significant harm. Instead, encourage them, allow them space to process their emotions, meet their emotional needs, and provide them with tools to deal with life’s inevitable difficulties.

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