Do you have a child that people call "sensitive soul"? Or worse, are they labeled as weak, a sook, or wimp? Our culture has presented these children in a negative light as if feeling deeply is a negative attribute to have. When we try to "toughen kids up", we are actually damaging a character trait that that sees, feels and understands things that most people don't. If we nurture and guide these children to understand and develop their sensitive side, what incredible adults they will be.
Sensitive kids aren't weak, they actually are far more aware of what is happening around them than most. They notice changes in their environment, they seem to notice the moods of others more quickly and will be running through every possible scenario in their head before making a decision. Yes these children are more prone to anxiety, but their sensitive nature doesn't have to be a negative trait, they just need help to develop it.
It Starts At Home
Being in a highly social environment such as school, can be exhausting for sensitive kids. They are surrounded by people who's moods are constantly changing, the environment is noisy and unpredictable. They need home to be a safe place, somewhere that is calm and allows them to be themselves whole and completely. Relationships in families won't always be calm, that's unrealistic. But our kids need to know that no matter what, they are accepted for who they are and nothing that they do will change that. There needs to be constant connection so that there is an understanding that they are never alone. However, sometimes parents think that the bond from birth will never change. This simply isn't true. Connection is something that you have to work on. It can be broken, but it can also be restored. Connection doesn't have to be grand gestures, it comes from the many little things throughout the day. Here are some ideas:
Play: This is such a powerful way to connect with children, especially if we enter their world and not just play on our terms. When we let children choose the play, we are telling them that they are important and we like being with them.
Conversations: Have regular 'check-ins" and times that everyone is free to talk. At the dinner table is a common place for the family to talk about their day, but whatever works for your family. It is easy to get caught up in the endless drop offs and after school activities that we can be just surviving. It's not uncommon for parents to finally get kids to bed at night and realise that they hadn't really had a conversation with their child. Sensitive kids need someone to confide in, they are carrying a lot. They need to know that there is a time that they can talk to you.
Touch: Touch is a physical manifestation of connection. It doesn't have to be long hugs or back rubs (although it can), it can just be touching their shoulder or a tussle of the hair. When we touch, we are in their personal space, which creates intimacy. However you can't force touch, if they don't want you to hug, tickle or other touch then this will damage the connection.
Celebrate strengths: Sensitive kids notice everything and they take everything to heart. Where other kids may be able to let passing comments from others go, a sensitive kid may be wounded. As this can be overwhelming, their strengths can be hard for them to see. We have to point out what their strengths are. Be careful not to just make general comments like "you are kind, caring and smart". They probably won't believe you, thinking you as their parent has to say that. Instead, point out when you see this strength, "that was such a kind thing to do. Thank you". If we do this, we are giving them proof that they have these strengths.
Connection through Correction: We have to be so careful when disciplining sensitive kids. A harsh word or tone is likely to really cut them. This doesn't mean that we don't correct them, all kids need guidance. However, discipling is an opportunity to talk to them about what they did and why. Tell them how it effected others and then problem-solve what they can do to fix the problem.
Regulating emotions is difficult for any child, their brain is still developing and they can't always access the rational part of their brain. However, this is especially true for sensitive kids. They seem to feel so deeply, that they are very easily overwhelmed in emotional turmoil. That's why it is especially important for these kids to learn to recognise emotions and learn how to ride the wave of emotion without getting completely engulfed by it.
Recognising emotions: When we recognise emotions it helps us not to be so reactive. When emotions are overwhelming, we go into auto-pilot and out body/emotional brain takes over. If we can stop and label the feeling, it is more likely that we can find a solution and not feel so out of control. You may have to coach your child in how to do this. It might mean that you have to say, "it looks like you are feeling sad", but be open to them correcting you, it might be something else, the important thing is that they are recognising the feeling. I have written more about this in a previous post about feelings.
Relaxations: As anxiety is commonly associated with sensitive kids, it is so important that they learn relaxation and mindfulness. Their little body tends to be in a constant state of stress and they need to learn how to relax. Controlled breathing is a key to relaxation. When we learn to slow our breathing, it quite literally changes our body's chemistry and causes calm. I have written about relaxation and mindfulness in previous blogs if you would like some more information.
Boundaries: sensitive kids often try and please everyone and don't recognise their own needs. We need to teach them that it isn't their job to make everyone else happy. It is okay to help a friend, but they don't have to do everything that the friend wants. This is something that takes practice and will not come naturally to them. You might have to roleplay say "no" to others or being assertive. It can help to have a script of what to say when someone is crossing their boundaries.
Sensitive kids have an amazing interpretation of the world. They aren't weak, quite the opposite. It takes strength to feel the depth of feeling that they do. If we are going to develop this trait to be a positive attribute, then we need to guide these sensitive kids and not allow them to be damaged by the "tough love" world around them.