Ever wonder if your child is too sensitive? Read More
Maureen: This article was incredibly helpful on many counts. It describes our daughter perfectly. Although she's only 22 months, and it may be too early to detect these signs, every trait you've described my wife and I have noticed since she was just a few months old (esp. the highly perceptive to details, people, etc.). We've known she's notably emotional - usually in a highly positive way. As for 'gentle discipline,' you're right. She's been approaching 'the age of meltdowns' for the past few weeks, and I just happened to read rather quickly how important it is to speak in a way that indicates you understand their feelings. So while she wails, I'll start saying in a kind tone things that indicate that I understand why she's crying and then respectfully explain the situation to her. Usually, but not always, her crying subsides, she'll utter, "yeah," and calm down.
Thanks for giving my wife and me language to help us further understand our daughter and for affirming we're doing the right things as parents.
I was a highly sensitive child and am now a nervous wreck. I hope lots of parents read your article and heed your suggestions.
Jeffrey, definitely NOT too young to tell! I was a sensitive child and so was my husband. I had a really tough time, even with my mom now who told me I was too sensitive and would try to just control me or not be so sensitive and treated it like it was a deficiency.
My daughter was born and immediately did not like bright lights, sounds, etc. and was a very calm and mellow baby ( very happy ) so long as not overstimulated. We've followed Montessori in our house and have found it is awesome and she is 3 and has had very few tantrums and is caring and sweet, focused and independent. We try not to raise our voice -- give guidance and choices rather than discipline ( not even a time out because even a stern look is more than enough to get the point across ). She is shy with strangers and takes a bit to warm up, though, and is sensitive still around loud noises.... prefers quiet, leisurely dinners to noisy restaurants. My mom now keeps saying "You and your husband made her that way."... very annoying. Besides, she is amazing in our eyes-- who cares if she doesn't want to be at the Cheesecake Factory on a Friday night with other screaming kids.
Rachel: Thanks for your affirmation and further insight. Can you recommend resources for learning more about Montessori's methods in the home?
The first one ( aside from actually reading Absorbent Mind which is lengthy and in-depth and not as practical ) was Montessori: Birth to Age Three. It had some very practical ideas for creating a calm environment that inspires independence, self-sufficiency, and confidence. That single book probably made the most difference in how we be came mindful in our actions with our daughter. By not interrupting her play/work and truly respecting her pace made a huge difference. Aside from that, most of the great advice we had came from Montessori teachers. For example, we never heard them say "don't do that" to the children. The toddler ( assistants to infancy ) teachers in their parent education nights ( nice that they host education for parents, by the way ) taught us simple things like, "Young toddlers often focus on the last thing that you say. So if you say 'Don't run.' they may have just hear 'run'. We always try to model the appropriate behavior and say 'please walk slowly'. Try to reinforce the correct behavior rather than chastising the negative behavior. If a child is grabbing a cat, don't say 'Don't grab the cat.' but rather, 'Let me show you how we pet the cat. We need to pat gently on his back because he is very sensitive, etc.'"
Another book that was recommended by her Montessori school was "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk". It is usefully once the child becomes more verbal ( maybe around 2 or so ), but for me, since I am an extrovert, it was helpful. Since she is sensitive and a bit shy, sometimes simple silence or an "oh, really?" or "that must've been tough.." is all she needs to open up rather than me questioning her ( which is my natural inclination ).
I did also read the "Highly Sensitive Child" by Elaine Aron when she was about 1.5 because my family was so tough on me about the fact that she wouldn't run right up and hug them and that I should "make her an extrovert". It is a great book for perspective on my daughter and described her to a tee.
BTW, I have found that Montessori, because it is such a calm and orderly environment ( both visually and physically ), really does suit her. It is amazing to watch a class of 8 or 9 2-3 year old children all quietly, respectfully, and cooperatively working together in an orderly manner.... beautifully stunning. It really allowed her to come out of her shell and grow. I wonder if anyone else ended up choosing a Montessori or Waldorf for their sensitive children... it just seems a natural fit.
Brainpickings.org just posted two great videos about Montessori education.
I found this article really helpful, describes my daughter perfectly! She is nearly 4 and we sent her to a Montessori Nursery and she does amazingly well there. It gives her an element of control which really helps her. I knew she was sensitive but having a 2nd child has really shown how sensitive she really is. I didn't want to give her a label but want to know how to nurture her and make sure she feels like we understand her sensitivity.
Thx for your resources way back when. our daughter is now 3.5 years old and attends a new Waldorf school that opened 10 minutes from our house. It does suit her - although, and this is peculiar, she sometimes even seems the "odd duck" among the other children. She was the last child among the 10 to assimilate to the group. This did not bother me as much as it seemed to concern the veteran (20-plus years) teacher (who has just opened her own school). Last week, the teacher allowed the children to roam the open grounds, and as my daughter wandered with a younger boy toward the road, the teacher called out, "Follow me! Follow me!" and my little girl did not heed.
The teacher seemed flummoxed when my wife arrived and said, "We have to talk. ____ did not respond when I asked her to follow me. I have just about had it, and if this [not responding to "gentle commands"?] happens again, I will have to call you and have you come and get her."
Hmmm. Anyway, I've been out of town and plan to call and meet with the teacher this week.
Thx again for the resources. We've reviewed them all and found them useful.
My son is 8 years old and as a baby we have found him to be highly sensitive. I have read your artical regarding how to deal with a 'Highly Sensitive Child' as a parent but what about in school? I have had trouble getting my Son to go to school as he seems petrified of his teacher - saying she shouts and he feels like she doesn't care about him. He is very unhappy to the extent that he isn't eating at mealtimes & is withdrawn at home, which has affected my whole family. The thing is is that he had the same teacher in Year 1 and I had exactly the same problem. The school didn't offer much support and treated me like a 'neurotic' mother who was over protective. He was very happy in Year 2 with a different teacher. Now in Year 3 he has the same teacher as Year 1 again and it has all started up again. My son clearly has some issues to wards the teachers manner in class. How can I get the school/Teacher to deal with my Son in this sensitive manner and understand this issue.
Great question! I believe "advocating on behalf" of your son, really listening to his perspective and bringing these issues to the right person @ the school is step one. Your approach to begin with the head teacher sounds good --- although I agree with Jeffrey that you need to be ready to go to the Principal, and "Higher Ups" as needed so a positive solution can emerge.
Of course, you may also want support from someone like me to help you see the specific issues/dynamics clearly - and if so, you are welcome to reach out to me (www.growinghappykids.com).
Kylie ~ By way of personal identification with your son: When I was in second grade, I was placed in an advanced math class. The teacher terrified me. She was abrupt, insensitive, at times cruel to other children. I developed severe stomach aches and frequently went to the nurse's office with fake illnesses to avoid her class. After literally being hospitalized for five days with no results, my parents started attending my classes and figured out the connection. My mother implored the principal relentlessly to listen that I would rather be in a "normal" math class with a teacher I liked than in an "advanced" math class with a teacher who scared me. The principal admitted to my mother that the teacher "doesn't seem to like children very much and probably should be teaching in a high school." I'm interested to hear what Maureen suggests, but I suggest you go to the top - to the principal, to the superintendent, and then to a board member if necessary.
Thank you SO much for taking time to reply to me.. you don't know how much it means to me that someone actually can relate to what we are experiencing. I have got an appointment to see the Headteacher tomorrow morning but not sure if I'm going to be able to get her to understand what my son's going through... but I sure am going to try!!
I'll let you know how I get on.
Thanks again... sincerely.
Thank you so much for this article! This describes much of the frustration and anguish I dealt with (specifically in school) as a sensitive child. I was very fortunate to have a mother that was highly attuned to this, and while she was firm in her discipline, she always made sure I knew it came from a loving place through routine hugging and cuddling.
School was torture a good percentage of the time, especially in middle school and onward. The lack of understanding from my high school teachers led me to believe something was inherently wrong with me and I subsequently gave up on trying in my sophomore year of high school and I barely passed my classes. Having been an honor roll student for most of my youth, this was a sudden shock to my parents.
As I grew older, I gradually learned how to deal with my sensitivity to situations. I've spent the last 5 years learning how to cultivate my sensitivity into usefulness without allowing it to inhibit my activities. Some days are more difficult than others, but I am learning more and more about myself with each new situation.
I run across lots of children the parent's label as sensitive, but in many of the cases the child lacks the empathy towards others that you describe. I have to admit that a sensitive, but empathetic child is easy to be patient with. I am often overprotective of that type of child. The child who is easily hurt by others, cries a lot, but tattles on others, wants special treatment, etc., is not one I have much patience for. It feels more like entitlement than sensitivity. Is the sensitive child always empathetic towards others? If not, how does one draw the line between sensitivity and entitlement.
Highly sensitive children tend to be very caring and concerned about others well-being. This doesn't mean they act this way 100% of the time.
Many HSC have strong personalities and may (as you state) appear to act like they are entitled to "special treatment" because they know deep down they are special.
What I can say to you is this: Be patient and realize that the children that are the hardest to love are the ones who need it most.
My son is now 9 and displays many of the traits of a highly sensitive person. I realize now that we've been dealing with him incorrectly, so my question is, is it too late to help him? We worry all the time that we've done something to damage him and just didn't know how to deal with him. I was ready to send him to a child psychologist for help. Can we adjust our behavior now to help him adjust to situations, or has it gone on too long? I desperately want to help him.
Your post was fairly heartbreaking. It must feel terrible to carry this feeling that you've "damaged" your son. Although you may not have treated him ideally at every step along the way, that you are posting here shows that you deeply care about him. I am curious as to how you feel you have treated him over the years, and whether either you or your spouse are sensitive types as well. Although 9 is quite far advanced (and a sensitive 9-year old might have the emotional intelligence of an average 13- or 14-year old), I would certainly not say that it is too late. It will be important to consider the patterns that you and your spouse have fallen into when dealing with him: Do you reflexively raise your voice and punish instead of talk to him in a calm, respectful manner? Have you pushed him too far outside his comfort zone (note that a little push is good, but that forcing him to do something that goes against his basic identity is not)? Can you build trust and communication by taking some time together and "rebooting", so to speak?
My son is much younger than yours, but after I realized that he was more sensitive than most kids, I changed the way I dealt with him. It's a trap we fall into as parents, I think, that if we just keep encouraging them and correcting their thoughts and behavior that they will become whatever we want them to be. My son was stressing out and agonizing when he was punished, but he only acted out as a result. When we stopped scolding him harshly and started talking to him, working out feelings that he was having trouble dealing with, his behavior turned around. He still acts out on occasion, and he is still emotional and sensitive (he wouldn't be him if he weren't), but I feel like he listens better, and he definitely trusts our judgment more.
Just my two cents' worth.
Knowing now that he is highly sensitive, we've been able to make changes. And my husband has come to realize that he is also highly sensitive. I work at controlling my anger, and when my son gets upset I try to get him to stop what he's doing and focus on breathing (a little meditation exercise). What kills me the most though, is when he punishes himself. He may think one of us is angry, even when we're not, and so he punishes himself. I told him he suffers from a perception distortion, meaning that what he may perceive is not necessarily reality and he needs to take a moment to understand what is really going on and how the other people are feeling. He's oftentimes more upset with himself and so he projects that on to other people and then says that we're angry with him.
At least now we understand what is going on in his head better, and it'll constantly be a work in progress. Thanks for responding.
I am so happy to find more information about highly sensitive children. I have a son who just doesn't really understand most other little boys. I would like to find other highly sensitive boys for him to play with - boys his own age. Do you have any suggestions on how to go about this?
Hi Shannon, Thanks so much for your thoughtful question! Highly sensitive boys need to make friends that are - yes, highly sensitive. So how do you do it? I suggest "going places" that your son loves so he can find other "birds of a feather." Is he interested in art? outdoors? karate? playing the piano? I am not sure his creative outlet but you want him to connect with others who enjoy the same highly sensitive pursuits. Of course, I am happy to work in depth with you (my website: www.growinghappykids.com) but here's a start. Best Wishes, Maureen Healy
I would say to not push him into friendships. I've been reading a lot about introverts lately (because I am very introverted!) and several books say that highly sensitive people are often also introverts. You don't mention how old your son is, but I suggest you observe him first. Does he enjoy playing by himself? Or does he seem lonely? Watch how he spends his time. Pushing an introvert (and he may not necessarily be one) into friendships doesn't help them any. Also, if he's interested in sports, if he's introverted or highly sensitive, martial arts is a good sport to try. It's something a person does on their own for personal benefit. It will help him become strong and confident. Check out different schools and styles to find one that will fit your son.
Thank you so much for your comments. We are going to try swimming and a martial art. I appreciate what you've said about introverts and will read more.
I have a 4 year old boy who is struggling with his emotions and so am I. I am a very sensitive person too and find it very difficult to deal with his emotions. At 1 he used to head bang when you told him no and his went on for a year and we went to see a chip phycologist who helped us to get our son to understand and express his emotions. This worked in regards to the head banging but other things continued to b a challenge like nursery drop off and now school. He cries when I leave, always wants something he can look after and his been doing this pretty much since he was 16 months. We have recently had a loss in our family which I feel has affected him. He is now saying things like I'll miss yo when yo die or when I have snapped at him he's said you don't love me or yo want me dead! This is so sad I don't know how to deal with this?? His school has said he only has friend at school and if he is playing with someone else my son will not seam out new friends. When I spoke to him about it he said it was too hard to choose! He has a sister who is 2 and they usually play lovely together but have recently started to fight and h don't seem to be able to control himself and I have caught home punching her in the face when she upsets him. I really need some practical tips on how and what I should be saying him. I feel overwhelmed and I think he does too :-(
My child of 2 years is a hyper - sensitive baby. I managed to cope up with her, by being a bit strict.It doesn't mean that I was rude to her; my husband happens to be a jovial person and I was told that if one of the parents is jovial then the other might act a bit strict so as to handle a touchy baby. Our kid still throws tantrums at times, but she now knows her limits. If you don't find my reply to be helpful then do read about this issue over here goo.gl/z2uUF. Hope this would you.
I have a 11 year old and a 4 year old girl. My older was always a very shy and introvertive child. I struggled a lot with schools and teachers because she wouldn't feel comfortable and gets hurt easily when a teacher or classmate makes a judgement about her. Sometimes she came home crying and always is the same reason, the teacher or someone did or said something that hurt her feelings. I advice her to don't concern too much about what others said, because that's their problem.. also she just told me she hates when for some reason the teacher calls her and she starts crying in front of the class without even knowing the reason.. I tell her to don't feel bad about it, that is ok to cry if she feels like to, don't feel ashamed.. but stills worries me because she's going to middle school and kids tend to be more rude and don't want no one hurting her feeling, also seems like she is always looking for permanent approval from friends and teachers.
In the other side, my 4 year old is extrovertive most of the times, friendly and playful but as soon as you try to correct her, she tears up and don't stop till I hug her, kiss her and tell her 100 times that I love her..I do it everyday with both of my kids but seems with the little one that is never enough and Dad is getting crazy , he thinks I spoil her too much and is my fault.. I'm just soft and tender with her but if I only change the tone of my voice when she don't obey..and that's enough reason for her to cry and cry and grab my leg desperataly asking me to hug her which sometimes makes me even angrier .. I don't know how to manage this situation, I feel sometimes she takes advantake of my patience and I don't want to.. Please help!
I was about to give up reading when I saw this post. The narrative "friendly and playful but as soon as you try to correct her, she tears up and don't stop till I hug her, kiss her and tell her 100 times that I love her..I do it everyday with both of my kids but seems with the little one that is never enough " This sounds a lot like my two daughters -- full of life and verve, but the minute we have to correct them on something, it's like we've assaulted them! They start with all the "I'm a rotten kid/stupid/annoying/". This morning my 8 yo experimented with my hairspray and squirted a big spot on her head. I said "you'll want to wash your hair, you won't like how that feels" and she started to panic and cry, and whine "no, I don't want to wash my hair!". I tried the soft approach for about 20 seconds but since I was minutes from having to leave for work, I finally said "Suck it up! This isn't something to cry about! Let's wash your hair and be done with it and move on to more important things!" She complied very meekly and I felt like a jerk. We frequently comfort and use lots of hugs and discussion but I honestly wonder sometimes if we're just teaching them to avoid confronting fears and therefore life in general? I mean, if I let her obsessively fret about washing her hair this one time, doesn't that tell her that it's OK to obsess and fret over anything? We have these out-of-the-blue outbursts every now and then and we're like "where did this come from?" How will our sensitive kids ever learn to face the big things in life if we don't occasionally push them hard a bit on some of the little stuff? It's only going to get harder as they get older and the "stuff" gets bigger. We have family members who lament about their "anxiety / social anxiety" but seem to think it's OK to spend the day avoiding reality by reading/watching TV/movies/computer and letting everything about every day life just pass them by, while commenting upon what everyone ELSE ought to be doing with THEIR lives. At some point everyone has to earn a living, buy groceries, pay bills, etc. If we don't push our sensitive kids a little bit every now and then, how will they ever be able to summon up the courage to do the stuff of every day adult life? I was/am a highly sensitive person myself, but I was also raised in a home where there was little support/love/patience/understanding, so it took well into adulthood for me to develop coping strategies so I can enjoy life. I know the environment I was raised in is not the right answer, but I am really questioning whether the super-soft approach is right, either. Aaagh! Well, enough of my venting. I'll have to do more research on the "highly sensitive child" and see where it takes us.
Thanks for your comments and message! I would be happy to have you join my upcoming webinar --- Succeeding with Sensitive Kids, which I think you'll get a lot out of. More info: http://www.growinghappykids.com/node/170
More information about formatting options
Maureen Healy is a popular author, speaker and expert working with parents and their highly sensitive children.
When and how should we open up to loved ones?