Picking up the phone, Claudia, a mother said to me: “My daughter is shy and scared. She no longer wants to go to first grade. Can you help?” Of course, I can be of assistance. But she raises a very real dilemma for many parents raising highly sensitive children. That is: What do you do when your child is overwhelmed with fear? I share some tips below that can help in those pressing moments.
Scared of School
So many of our highly sensitive children scare easily and certainly feel fear. And sometimes it overwhelms them so much that life is disrupted like Emily, Claudia’s daughter, who didn’t want to go to school anymore. Or in some of my other child clients their fears have seemed quirky like: Being afraid of people with tattoos (a real challenge in NYC) or thinking that ghosts could come up through the bathroom sink (boy didn’t pee alone!). So when your kids are scared be sure to help them:
- Feel Safe – Emily needed to feel safe in the world. She was looking around and gathering evidence that made her think, “I am not safe here” and that’s where the fear rises quickly and she doesn’t want to do things like go to school. Actually, she’s a very intuitive and intelligent child who became overwhelmed by the bright lights, loud noises, pushy kids and other school activities in her new program. Ultimately, this may be a mismatch of schools for her but I gave her some “quick fixes” like noise canceling headphones and other empowering tips so she could immediately navigate her situation better --- and well, give school another try.
Said differently: Your kids need their feelings validated and they need to co-create solutions with you to move beyond their fear. One way to think of healthy fear is that it just signals you’ve never done this before like Emily going to first grade.
- See Things DIfferently – Emily couldn’t imagine school getting any better or making friends so she stayed stuck in her fear. By helping her see beyond her current situation and just consider that school might hold gifts for her she can’t currently see helped move her from fear (resistance) to courage (willingness). Some of those possibilities included: Making New Friends, Learning New Things like Archery and Winning a Spelling Bee (she’s already an avid reader).
Said differently: Your kids need you to love them, and gently guide them toward seeing their situation differently. One way to do this is share real-life stories from your life where you successfully faced a fear.
Being able to gently guide your sensitive children from fear to faith is essential. They are very sensitive to input (for example, sound, lights, words people say, energy) and need to develop a true belief that they are safe. When something disrupts their feeling of being safe such as if they were teased, or overwhelmed by loud noises they need to be soothed. They need to be listened to, comforted, shown how to self-soothe and then move forward either going back to school like Emily or create another solution.