How to Raise a Sensitive Child

Jul, 27, 2016
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Sensitive Consequences for a Sensitive Child:

Sensitive children tend to be very self-critical and hard on themselves so often end up ‘punishing themselves’ because they process their mistakes so thoroughly. Therefore parental criticism is an especially hard blow!

Often when we give our sensitive child ‘consequences’ or ‘correction’ i.e. “don’t do that”, “no” or a traditional time-out, it can hurt them too much emotionally and they see it as a huge attack on them, taking it very very close to heart. Therefore they might try to get out of time out, ‘demand’ hugs/kisses to reconnect again or even try to get back at you for the hurt you have done (or to teachers for a detention or warning) and suddenly we are in a negative spiral!

My advice to you is to listen to your intuition and find better solutions for YOUR sensitive child.

Disciplines to Avoid:

  1. Avoid shaming: Sensitive children are particularly sensitive to shaming. “You naughty child” or “why can’t you get it right” may seem like mild correction, but to sensitive children, these words can be devastating.
  2.  Avoid teasing: Some families use teasing as lighthearted fun, but the sarcastic messages which are almost always embedded in such teasing will not be lost on a sensitive child. E.g. “Uh-oh, Emma is baking cookies. Cover your ears! The smoke detector will be going off any minute!”
  3. Avoid physical discipline: For every child!
  4. Avoid isolating or withdrawing warmth and love: Time-out or ignoring is not the most effective way to teach any child, but again, sensitive children are particularly sensitive to the negative effects of this.
  5. Avoid being lenient: Remember to think, ‘I love you too much to behave like this’. Don’t avoid correcting your sensitive child out of fear of hurting his/her feelings or because you feel sorry for them! Loving correction that is not harsh or shaming will not damage them but will help them to reach their fullest potential and feel valued.  (we run workshops on Positive Discipline)
  6. Don’t make up rules on the go: Your sensitive child might be very sensitive to right and wrong and to ‘fairness’. So if you have agreed on a rule stick to it and don’t change it or make up a new one without a discussion.

Disciplines to Favour:

1. Change your tone of voice for correction: For sensitive children, a correction given in a serious tone of voice is often enough to change their behaviour because they want to please their parents (or any adult). Knowing they have stepped out of line is distressing and will cause them to correct their behaviour.

2. Connect before you correct: Sensitive children often approach a threat, by shutting down quickly, so it is important to reassure them that you are on their side and will help them solve the problem. Listen, accept what you hear and reach an agreement together!

3. Replace time-out for time-in: Because it is best to avoid isolating sensitive children in a time-out zone, time-in is a good alternative whereby you take the child to a calming area, help him/her to calm down if needed and then discuss why the behaviour was unacceptable and what they can do instead.

4. Use consequences sparingly: Again, reminders and a change of tone is often enough to correct a sensitive child. In the event that they repeatedly break a rule when you’ve given them clear limits and instructions, a mild logical consequence may be useful, but watch for a shame reaction and adjust accordingly. More importantly, of course, is to find out why your child is repeatedly breaking the rule.

5. Restore connection, security, and self-esteem after disciplining a sensitive child: Positive affirmations, encouraging words, and play time or focused attention will help your child to know they are loved.

6. Inform, Plan and Agree on Rules: Nobody likes to be told what to do or not to do nor have fingers pointed at them but sensitive children often find it particularly hard to process new rules or routines and therefore might appear to ‘break’ rules or not comply. Sit down with them during calm time and talk about what rules you need in order for everyone to feel happy and respected – what routines will be needed in order to create a happy and harmonious home.

Ban all labels in your home: Labels and name calling are sticky. Once you have labelled a child ‘the naughty one’, ‘the shy one’ or ‘the sensitive one’ you will find that your child will start living up to their label. Rather, allow your child to be who they are supposed to be without labels. Just be!

You may have noticed that these tips are not much different from how we recommend disciplining every child, and that is because while some children are more emotionally and physically sensitive than others, all children have sensitive hearts that deserve to be treated gently.

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