9 Strategies for Parenting Your Highly Sensitive Child
It’s not always easy being the parent of a highly sensitive child. They’re more sensitive to their surroundings, and you may feel like you have to walk on eggshells around them. Thankfully, we have a much better understanding of highly sensitive children today. And there are lots of resources and help for parents.
In my previous blog post Could Your Child Be Highly Sensitive?, I laid out the definition and common characteristics of highly sensitive children as well as the strengths and challenges associated with this personality type. I also provided some cursory parenting strategies. In this blog post, my goal is to provide more comprehensive parenting strategies that go a bit deeper. Ready to dig in?
Specific Strategies for Helping Your Highly Sensitive Child
Let’s take a look at some of these specific strategies that can help both you and your highly sensitive child thrive.
Acknowledge their sensitivity with compassion
Understand that highly sensitive kids often internalize their feelings. As a result, they may feel like they’re the only one who is suffering from a certain feeling or situation—even if it’s something common to all humans. This can be frustrating for parents and teachers alike, because it makes them seem like they are making up problems where none exist.
Be patient and embrace this quality of highly sensitive children as a gift rather than something to fix or change. They’ve been told by society that being more emotional is not acceptable—but it is! Embrace each moment of emotionality as an opportunity for growth and healing rather than something to be fixed or found wrong with your child.
Give them space to express themselves (in words, writing, art), especially when they’re upset about something you don’t understand. Try saying things like “I’m sorry you feel so mad right now” instead of “What’s wrong?” And remember these tips: ask questions instead of giving advice; listen without judgement; reassure them that their feelings are normal; give hugs when appropriate (and sometimes even when not).
Model taking time to be still and calm
One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to model healthy ways of taking time for yourself in order to be still and calm. This means that when your child or teen asks for attention, it will not work if you respond by being rushed and harried.
It’s also important that family members take time together outside of the home, even if it’s just a walk around the block or a trip to the local park. Kids with highly sensitive nervous systems benefit from spending time outdoors. They need more sunlight than other kids in order to get their daily dose of vitamin D (which helps them sleep better).
Make your home a calm and peaceful place
You have a choice in the type of home environment you raise your children in – a calm and peaceful place where kids can come to decompress and regain balance, or an environment that sets them up for failure.
“But what if I have no control over my child’s experiences outside of the home? Then how can I possibly parent effectively?” The answer is simple: by creating a calm, peaceful, loving and nurturing environment at home!
Ensure your highly sensitive child has enough time alone to replenish themselves
Avoid overscheduling your child with activities as much as possible. They may benefit greatly from listening to music, reading in their room, or playing a video game by themselves.
Help them set up a personal space. A personal space could be a window bench, space beneath a stairwell, a corner of the living room, or a nook in the kitchen. Make sure they have the opportunity to use it regularly. And encourage them to do so at least once a day for at least 10 minutes.
A bedroom or a private study room may also be ideal, but any place where your child can have some privacy will work fine. Just make sure that they won’t be interrupted by siblings, pets or phones ringing constantly.
Make sure your highly sensitive child has regular exercise opportunities
Exercise is an important part of physical and mental health for all ages. But it can be particularly important for highly sensitive people, who may feel overwhelmed by the world at times.
If your child has been diagnosed as highly sensitive, try to ensure they have regular exercise opportunities. For example:
- Encourage them to join sports teams and after-school activities that involve physical activity (for example, baseball or soccer) and are age-appropriate for their developmental level.
- Take walks together in nature (or play games like tag outside).
- Make sure that if you live in a city or urban environment where there are lots of distractions such as traffic or loud sounds, you encourage your child to find quiet places where he or she can safely run around.
Don’t push them too hard or expect them to be just like everyone else
Highly sensitive kids and teens are often aware of their differences. They may feel as though they don’t fit in, and this can be very stressful for them. It’s important to encourage your child to pursue his or her passions, but also give him or her space to be himself (or herself).
Encourage your highly sensitive child to find activities that he can enjoy without pressure—activities where he can use his strengths and talents at his own pace. These might include reading, writing poetry or essays, playing music or art classes, volunteering with animals at a shelter, etc. Your parenting style should not push your highly sensitive teen into doing things that make him uncomfortable. Instead you should offer him opportunities for self-exploration through hobbies that he enjoys doing on his own terms.
You can also help your highly sensitive teen develop a sense of autonomy by allowing him more freedom with decision making in his daily life. Examples include when to eat dinner, what time he goes to bed, whether she wants company while studying upstairs in her room versus another family member joining her downstairs where TV noise is louder; etc. The more freedom you give them while still providing consistency within the parameters of safety guidelines (i.e., curfew times), the more confident they will feel being who they are meant to be–and happy!
Help your highly sensitive manage anxiety by fostering safe ways for them to talk about big feelings
Anxiety is a big part of being highly sensitive. Help your kids manage it by fostering safe ways for them to talk about their feelings.
Don’t make them feel like they are being a burden. If you are a highly sensitive person yourself, you have probably been told more than once that you should stop worrying so much and just get over it. It can be hard not to take on this same attitude when dealing with your own child’s anxiety and fears, but try not to fall into that trap! Your highly sensitive child will likely appreciate hearing that they are valid in feeling the way they do, and that there is nothing wrong with their emotions (even if those emotions seem exaggerated or irrational).
Don’t dismiss their feelings or try to fix things for them. Just because something seems small doesn’t mean it isn’t important to your child — maybe even more so because it matters so much! The best thing you can do for your highly sensitive child’s anxiety is validate its existence without making suggestions about how they should deal with it themselves. Rather than trying to micromanage every aspect of their lives, let them know they’re doing good work by simply listening when necessary and helping find solutions where possible
Emphasize emotionally healthy habits and routines, especially before bedtime
Teach your kids to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Help them establish a regular bedtime routine that they can count on, even on weekends. This might include their favorite book or music, a bath or shower, and then reading in bed before lights out. If they have trouble falling asleep, try letting them practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation (where you tense and relax different muscle groups one at a time).
Don’t use technology in the bedroom—and especially don’t use it as an alarm clock! There is no need for an alarm clock anymore when there are many other ways of waking up without causing discomfort to sensitive people. Another option for those with high sensitivity includes wearing special glasses that filter out blue light emitted by electronic devices. This precaution helps the body avoid negative reactions during sleep hours due to exposure levels exceeding what’s considered healthy (elevated cortisol levels causing fatigue/ exhaustion).
Teach your highly sensitive child to self-regulate
There are several things you can do as a parent of a highly sensitive child or adolescent to help them regulate their emotions and thrive.
Explain to your children what self-regulation means and how it works. It’s helpful for your kids to understand that their emotions will sometimes be too much for them, but also that they have the ability to calm down if they need to.
Be mindful of when you’re talking more than listening during conversations with your children and teens. When we get excited about something, we tend to talk faster and with more volume than usual. This kind of behavior makes it difficult for our kids to stay focused on what we’re saying at times when they need us most! Remember to keep things calm so everyone involved (including yourself) doesn’t get defensive or angry. Focus on problem solving together instead.
I hope that this article has helped you to understand how your child’s sensitivity affects them, and what you can do as a parent to help them. It can be overwhelming at first, but don’t worry. The more you learn about highly sensitive children, the easier it will be for everyone involved!
Begin Online Therapy for Highly Sensitive Children in Illinois
As an experienced and caring therapist, I love providing counseling for anxiety. To start your child’s counseling journey, call me at 224-236-2296 or email Helena@BrieflyCounseling.com to schedule a FREE 20-minute consultation.
Whether you’re in Naperville, Chicago, Champaign, Barrington, Libertyville, or Glenview, I can help. Schedule your appointment or consultation today. I look forward to working with your child to quickly and effectively help them in activating their strengths, resources, and resilience, in order to live with confidence and hope.