How to Parent a Sensitive Child

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This post was written by School Mum contributor Carolyn Tate

Of my three kids, it’s my 6 year old son – the middle child – who is the most sensitive. You could chop his hand off in a threshing machine and he would barely flinch, but hurt his feelings and his bottom lip will quiver faster than you can say ‘Nawwwwwww’.

It’s a tough balance trying to parent this kind of child. His sensitivity is so touching and so lovely, and I don’t want him to toughen up to the point of not being able to access his emotions. And I certainly don’t want to teach him that boys don’t cry. But there are times I think we need to bring in a little bit of balance too.

If I tell my son that we’re having vegetables instead of salad tonight, or he can’t wear his red t-shirt because it’s in the wash, or if I tell him we’re short of time so he’s bathing with his little sister, I really don’t want to have to deal with waterworks and histrionics every single time.

So how do you strike that balance between nurturing a sensitive soul and helping your child to see things in perspective? I’ve been doing some research and trying out a few tactics. Here are a few tips I’ve learned.

  1. Offer a hug. This won’t stop your sensitive child from becoming upset, but it can be just the comforting moment they need to calm down and know that everything will be okay. I used to get annoyed with my son when he started crying over nothing, but that just made him shut down further and it took him a long time to recover. Sometimes a hug and some recognition is all he needs.
  1. Teach your child to talk about their feelings. The best way to teach is to lead by example, so be open about your feelings with your child. Talk to them about how you’re feeling and why, and ask them questions about their feelings when they’re not feeling upset to start with, so it’s easier for them to talk about. Then try to introduce talking about feelings when they are upset and see if they can articulate what’s wrong. Being heard and acknowledged goes a long way.

  1. Talk to your child about their concerns. If your child is a worrier, talk to them about what they’re worried about, and then go through things rationally. Do their worries have any foundation? Are they likely to come to fruition? Have they experienced anything like that in the past that they’re now worried about repeating? Often just talking about it out loud can really help to dissipate the tension. It can also help to have a contingency plan. So if they’re worried about a giant spider coming into their room in the middle of the night when it’s dark, you could leave a spray bottle beside their bed with magic spider repellent (coloured water) that they can use in an emergency.
  1. Find a positive outlet. Being good at something, or finding something they really enjoy, can really help a child to restore their confidence and get on top of their emotions. The activities really depend on your child’s preferences, but can include imaginative play, arts and crafts, sports, or drama. These activities can give your child a way to express both their positive and negative emotions in a less overwhelming way.
  2. Get them doing some good. Helping others is a great way to get your mind off your own challenges and put things into perspective. You don’t need to get your child out volunteering in a soup kitchen just yet, but giving them a special task to help you with around the house is a great start. Helping to look after the pets is a great one because it can also teach them empathy and compassion towards others. And sensitive children are often very happy to help other children too, so you might like to ask their teacher if they can help settle in new or struggling students.

The main thing is to be patient, gentle and positive with your sensitive child. But ensure structure, rules and discipline are still in place too so they feel secure (and you don’t lose your mind).

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Being a mum to 3 kids (one of them full time at home with me) and trying to juggle everything became pretty crazy.

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