The Highly Sensitive (Yet Defiant) Child

Is your child defiant?

Posted Jun 27, 2013

Our society celebrates original thinkers like Steve Jobs, Barbara Streisand and Oprah Winfrey but what do they have in common? They were defiant. In so many ways they went against the grain of what others told them, and each of them—in their own way, followed their truth. I see our highly sensitive children doing the same thing. They follow their inner wisdom and instead of being celebrated oftentimes people label them as defiant. But what really is defiance?

Defining Defiance

Defiance in common terms means “bold disobedience” by Merriam Webster’s online dictionary. Of course, this makes sense. What I see differently is that highly sensitive children appear defiant but what’s really happening is this:

  • They follow their feelings
  • They trust their instincts
  • They don’t aim to please others

One of my child clients, Jackson, was so upset by his teachers that he refused to go back into the classroom (this is defiance). At age five, Jackson was trusting his instincts because his teacher’s didn’t appreciate he was the only African American boy in class and that asking students to bring baby pictures was unfair (he obviously would be picked out first from all the other kids!). They wanted to play a game where preschoolers would guess “Who’s Who” but Jackson was insightful and could foresee how this wasn’t going to be fun for him.

Defiance like this is honorable. And most defiance that stems from sensitive children comes from them wanting things to be fair, fun, equal and honoring of who they really are—versus whom you want them to be.

Without Defiance

Without a certain degree of defiance we wouldn’t have any breakthroughs on this planet and people would be boring. Imagine life without the IPAD, IPHONE, TV, and most life-changing laws which required a level of defiance of the norm of their times. I am not suggesting that children need to run amuck but what I am suggesting is that when sensitive children are going against the grain that we ask:

  • What are they feeling? (For example, hurt in some way or unheard)
  • What are they obeying?  (For example, a need for honesty, need to feel fairly treated and desire to be themselves)
  • How can I help? (For example, seek to understand and partner with them. No old-style, authoritarian parenting – this never, ever works)

What my experience has shown me is that defiance is always a symptom of something deeper occurring. There are these core needs for sensitive children such as the need to be treated fairly that when that gets “triggered” they may act defiantly or very insensitively such as sassing you back. (Many more needs for these kids exist as well that I explain in my upcoming book: The Energetic Keys to Indigo Kids.)

One of my other clients, Emma, at age thirteen was in her mother words “defying her” but going deeper—Emma felt that her mom yelled at her, and didn’t appreciate how she felt so she refused to do certain things. There was clearly a breakdown in communication and each of them felt like they weren’t being heard. So I helped Emma “see” her mom’s point of view, and then worked separately with her mom to more clearly see how Emma perceived the situation. Quickly they began working with each other versus against one another.

Loving Unconditionally

Being able to love children even when they are acting defiantly and poorly is the great job of many adults. I am reminded of that saying: Those that are the hardest to love need it the most. I find this especially true when working with highly sensitive children because they are deeply aware, perceptive, oftentimes gifted and quick to respond to life in ways that work for them—and sometimes that don’t. Our role is to help them learn how to manage their sensitivities, grow their gifts, learn skills of success and become the wonderful (and sometimes positively defiant) beings they came here to be.

By Maureen Dawn Healy © 2013

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