What’s the deal with overly sensitive children and how can parents deal with them? Let’s find out.
It’s common to witness young children getting upset by minor circumstances, like when they break a toy or have to leave the playground earlier than usual. “Even kids who aren’t typically teary can go through emotional periods,” says Elizabeth Pantley, author of the ‘No-Cry’ series of parenting books. “If there’s been a recent change, such as a move or a new baby, your child may become more sensitive,” she adds.
According to Karin Goh, child psychologist at The Centre for Psychology, children generally react negatively and emotionally to situations they perceive as threatening, fearful, hurtful, embarrassing, or disappointing and sad. While all these and other daily situations may increase sadness, whining, and crying in children, what happens when a child gets too sensitive, to a point when their tantrums go out of hand and they become a cry baby? Could they be overly sensitive?
The Oversensitive Child
Dr. Elaine Aron, author of ‘The Highly Sensitive Child’, shares that a highly sensitive child is one of the fifteen to twenty per cent of children born with a nervous system that is highly aware and quick to react to everything. This makes them quick to grasp subtle changes, preferring to reflect deeply before acting, and generally behaving conscientiously. They are also easily overwhelmed by high levels of stimulation, sudden changes, and the emotional distress of others.
Children who are too sensitive may not be able to tolerate unintentional teasing, as they may not be able to identify between the real teasing and playful teasing.
Additionally, Dr Aron explains that due to the blend of temperament traits highly sensitive children are born with, some of them can be fairly difficult – active, emotionally intense, demanding and persistent – while others are calm, turned inward, and almost too easy to raise, except when they are expected to join a group of children they do not know.
Downside Of Oversensitivity
“Emotionally sensitive children may avoid situations that invoke negative emotions, such as homework completion, change and trying new things like food. They are also likely to have difficulties predicting consequences or may inaccurately predict the worst outcome,” says Karin. Concurringly, a mother we spoke to shared that because of her daughter being too sensitive, it can be hard to communicate with her at times. “I do not know if our pampering or leniency has made her extremely sensitive. But after a scolding, she tends to distant herself from us for a few hours. And during that time, it is almost impossible to get through to her.”
Work With Your Child
Children who are more likely to react more emotionally would benefit from having their feelings acknowledged, and then spoken with calmly to better understand their concerns. This gives them an opportunity to try and use words (if age and verbal ability permits) to explain and describe their distresses. By doing so, children learn the power of words, grow to become less emotionally reactive and more cognitive in how they respond to situations.
Here are four quick tips by clinical social worker and expert Laura Kuehn on how you can go about managing your fragile child.
- Give Them Down Time
All children need “space” – time to unwind and process the events of their day. Even if your child resists, tell them that quiet time is like a clothesline for the mind – it airs it out.
- Practice Empathy
Brushing your child off when something is genuinely a struggle for them will build walls. Practise empathetic listening. Take a deep breath and keep your frustrations in check. Try to see the situation through your child’s eyes.
- Don’t Apologise For Their “Quirks”
Accept your child for who they are. If your child hears you apologising over and over again for their social faux pas, they will start to perceive the sensitivity as something is wrong with them.
- Provide Coping Strategies
Teach your child ways to self-soothe, such as holding a stuffed animal, or imagining a calm and quiet place. Also, teach them how to talk themselves down from the triggers, like “This is only temporary,” “I can handle this,” “I will be okay”.
On contrary, it has also been said that children who are overly sensitive tend to be more compassionate and empathetic to those around them. So, if you feel that your child is way too sensitive, follow our tips to help them overcome it, and never take the situation lightly. It is important to ensure that kids are able to identify how they feel, as naming the emotion helps to tame the emotion, advises Karin.