I am the proud parent of a highly sensitive child. Unfortunately, a recent change in school staffing and a naive and insensitive teacher has resulted in a number of stressful feelings for him. This has resulted in me needing to review my highly sensitive child parenting strategies.
What is a highly sensitive child?
The term Highly Sensitive Child was coined by psychologist Elaine Aron. It defines a child who “…is one of the fifteen to twenty percent of children born with a nervous system that is highly aware and quick to react to everything.”
HSpearson has created a free online test to identify whether you may have a highly sensitive child. I’d recommend taking the test and purchasing Elaine’s fantastic book. My son scored 14, which means he is very likely to be a highly sensitive child and Elaine’s book confirmed this.
There are many different types of highly sensitive children. They can be extroverted or introverted, active or inactive, well behaved or prone to meltdowns. And all types need careful nurturing and parenting.
The highly sensitive boy
I believe highly sensitive boys have a tougher time in life because of the expectation that boys are tough and shouldn’t show emotions. My recent conflict with my son’s teacher stemmed from her accusing him of being “too emotional” and “crying all of the time”. This type of behaviour is often accepted in girls, yet highlighted as a fundamental flaw in boys.
Allowing a boy to express his emotions in incredibly important in childhood development. In her blog Sensitive and Extraordinary Kids, Leila has a great selection of tips for parents of highly sensitive boys. I’d definitely recommend reading up on this to support your highly sensitive child parenting strategies if you have a son.
Highly sensitive child parenting strategies
Developing a toolbox of parenting strategies for your highly sensitive child is key to a harmonious home. You’ll need to think outside of the box and become attuned with your son or daughter.
Disciplining a highly sensitive child
A gentle approach is vital when disciplining your highly sensitive child. Telling him/her off in a normal manner could result in a meltdown or high levels of anxiety. Talk clearly to your child explaining what they did wrong and the impact their behaviour has had.
I’ve also found that pre-warning them of the punishment for bad behaviour can often do more damage than good. Instead, I prefer to explain that his behaviour is becoming unacceptable and I want it to stop. If I start with “do that again and you’re grounded” a meltdown immediately ensues as he focusses on the pending punishment rather than the behaviour modification.
Your highly sensitive child and school
It is important to develop a good relationship with your child’s school. You’ll want to include them in your highly sensitive child parenting strategies from day one. Talk not only to the class teacher but also to the head of school, to ensure a long-term consistent approach to your child’s environment.
If you are uncomfortable with the methods used in the school, don’t be afraid to speak up. A good school should be positive about working with parents to support children’s individual needs. If they are dismissive or reluctant to help, consider looking for other schools.
Highly sensitive child sleep problems
Sleep is a common challenge for parents of highly sensitive children. My own son will sometimes still be awake long after I’ve retired myself. He doesn’t disturb me and will happily stay in his bed reading, however, it can result in extreme tiredness which in turn heightens his sensitivity.
Building a strong daily routine for your child should be part of your highly sensitive child parenting strategies. Children thrive on routine, particularly those of a highly sensitive nature. When we first become parents we instil a structure into our babies’ lives. Maintaining this throughout childhood will ensure your son or daughter feels safe and secure.
Developing a strong routine
A strong routine is a fundamental part of your highly sensitive child parenting strategies. Work with your child to create a safe and secure routine using the suggestions I’ve provided below.
Wake your child up each morning at a sensible time each day. You’ll need to allow them time to eat breakfast, get dressed, clean their teeth, and relax before facing the day.
Ensure that your child eats a healthy and filling breakfast. A hungry child is a grumpy child! Try and include some fruit for slow release energy. Don’t forget to ensure they drink a glass of water of fruit juice, milk, or water too.
Try and have everything ready the night before to reduce stress in the morning. Set out clothes, pack lunches, and get the school or nursery bags packed and by the door.
The time immediately after your child gets home from school should be quiet and calming. Don’t immediately send them off to do homework or tidy their room. Sit quietly and chat about the day together. I love to have some nice biscuits and a hot drink with my boys after school.
Once your child has been given time to wind down they should start on their chores and/or homework. Don’t leave this until late when they’ll be overtired and grumpy. Once they’ve finished allow them to get some exercise out in the garden or take the dog for a walk together.
Have a light and nutritious meal for dinner as a family. This gives you another opportunity to talk about the day. If your child is fussy about food, don’t try to force them to eat something they don’t enjoy. Adapt your meals to include their favourite foods.
The evening routine is key to a good night’s sleep. Your highly sensitive child may need more support to fully relax and wind down before bed. I’d recommend a nightly bath and massage if possible.
My sons’ bathtime is created for ultimate relaxation. I dim the bathroom lights, add a couple of drops of lavender oil to the water, and play relaxing music in the bathroom. They usually spend 15 minutes in the tub which allows them to relax without getting too wound up.
After the bath, a glass of warm milk and light supper are a really good way to further relax. My sons don’t often want a massage as both are older. Occasionally though they might have a short back massage to wind down. I take their lead.
When the boys get into bed I read with them and then dim their lights. Unless it’s incredibly cold, I’ll also leave the window slightly open to allow fresh air to flow in. This promotes a deeper sleep. After I’ve left them in bed for half an hour I’ll then turn the lights off remotely using my Philips Hue smart lighting system.
For a comprehensive guide to supporting your highly sensitive child, I’d recommend purchasing a copy of The Highly Sensitive Child, written by Elaine Aron. This book details the different types of sensitive child, the difference between a highly sensitive child and a child with ADHD or Aspergers, and how to support your child throughout their formative years.