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More Help Working with Sensitive Children

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Yesterday, you read about a few ways to effectively parent or work with a sensitive child.  Sensitive children are easily overwhelmed by new things in their environment and various sensations.  Your key job is to support and coach them through their adjustment so they can enjoy their daily life.  Here are two more important points to consider in this process.

Using Limits and Boundaries

Using limits is likely to make a sensitive child upset at times.  They are highly focused on their comfort level and their emotions.  When they become upset, the thing they want most is to feel more comfortable.  When you use limits and boundaries, you will need to separate yourself from them at some point.  This might be to stop an unacceptable behavior or as part of encouragement to join the new environment.

It can be so tempting to soothe and protect a sensitive child from everything that makes them upset.  Unfortunately, this makes the child vulnerable to being easily overwhelmed with no action plan for coping.  Use acceptance and warmth along with structure and boundaries.  This follows the authoritative style of parenting, which is widely agreed to be the healthiest for children.

If they want you to constantly carry them, put them down for a while.  You don’t need to act mean, you simply show you understand their concern and offer them a different way to get to where you are going and have comfort.  You might offer your hand to hold, a favorite toy to hug, or you might offer to give them a break from the activity if it seems too overwhelming.

You might go halfway toward the activity and watch for a while.  Depending on the child, this adjustment process may take a few hours or even days.  Be understanding, but also continue to show them the opportunity to join in.  When they feel safe, they will participate in the new activity.

Encourage Initiative

Be certain that you offer and encourage the “move to action” part on a regular basis.  This isn’t being pushy, you are just showing that there is plenty available to them when they move through their adjustment.  If you do too much rescuing, a sensitive child may stay in their hesitancy.  They may not fully realize the value of sticking with the situation and moving patiently through their discomfort.  On the other hand, if you push them too quickly, they may resist strongly because they don’t feel understood.  This will almost always make the adjustment period more difficult.

This process can be a tricky balance for a babysitter or child worker that isn’t familiar with sensitive children.  Even seasoned parents can become frustrated with the sometimes long periods of adjustment their children need.  With patience and an understanding of using understanding and structure, you can be a trusted helper for a sensitive child.  Seeing them feel joy instead of fear can be so rewarding.  You know you’ve helped them learn to overcome their concerns one step at a time.

Temperament Parenting Is Different

I know I’ve felt occasional frustration when helping a sensitive child.  It’s made me rethink what I was doing to match what they needed from me.  And a sensitive child can easily be mistaken for a child who has had their whining and demanding behaviors indulged for a long time.  This is no picnic either.  It really takes some patience and discovery to realize whether you have a correctable behavioral problem or a temperament situation.

If you were a sensitive child, if you work with sensitive children, or if you are a parent of a sensitive child, what are your thoughts on this?  Things that have worked, things that haven’t?

More Help Working with Sensitive Children


Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska.


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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2009). More Help Working with Sensitive Children. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 25, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/family/2009/06/more-help-working-with-sensitive-children/

 

Last updated: 25 Jun 2009
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.