Highly sensitive children (HSC) process the world around them intensely so they are often more quickly overwhelmed than other children.
Here are six ways you can recognise that your HSC has reached their limit, or in other words when their bucket is full and they need your help. (Remember that all children are different and so the extent to which an activity, event or environment overwhelms a child also differs, and how that overwhelm manifests itself differs too.)
1. Your Child Retreats to a Quiet Space
A child may retreat to a quiet space and express the desire to be alone. Creating a space they feel comfortable in, where they can go to as and when they want will help them deal with their emotions. It may be their bedroom, or elsewhere in the house. Use a Happy Sensitive Kids door hanger to help them communicate that they need peace and space without a long discussion.
Should you be outside your home, identify an area when you arrive in a new place where your child can retreat to if they need space. Agreeing on a safe, quiet place before the need arises may ease your HSC’s mind a great deal.
2. Your Child Displays Big Emotions Without Obvious Reason
Your child may suddenly display emotions that seem disproportionate to something that just happened or they just experienced. A meltdown or tears may seemingly come out of nowhere, but is actually the result of a build up of emotions over a period of time. A common example is a meltdown once a child reaches the safety of home, triggered by the wrong word uttered by a sibling at the end of a school day. At that point it’s the build up of stimulation from the classroom, rather than the comment from a brother that’s behind the big emotions but a HSC no longer has control over their emotions – and their bucket spills over.
3. Your Child Shows Anger
Your child may suddenly become angry, go into an (unexplained) rage or even be aggressive. This is especially true for young children who cannot yet regulate their emotions or put them into words. Walking around with a full bucket is frustrating and tiring – an overstimulated child who cannot understand why they are feeling the way they do often ends up resembling a volcano. This is common in our house around bedtime when one of my children realise that their bucket is still full – and sleeping just isn’t an option yet – there’s lots of stomping and frustration coming out.
Helping your child out their anger or frustration in a controlled manner will ensure that nobody gets hurt! Think about things like a punch bag, a cushion or pillow to hit, a football to kick or get them screaming as loud as they can – or simply a hug.
4. Your Child Cries Uncontrollably
Your child’s frustration, anger or overwhelm may also show itself in the form of tears, lots and lots of uncontrollable sobbing. It’s heartbreaking to watch, but holding your child whilst they out their feelings with tears can be exactly what they need. Don’t tell your child to stop crying, instead let them know you are there for them as soon as they’re ready to talk, if they want to. Sometimes a child reaches the point where they simply cannot take anymore – and have no control over their emotions. In these situations there’s nothing worse than being told there’s no need to cry…….
5. Your Child is Hyperactive
Your child may literally bounce around the house, with energy that feels like it knows no bounds. This is one of the reasons that highly sensitive children are often mistaken as having ADHD for example, where in actual fact a classroom is just too stimulating for a child.
Often a HSC will be a model pupil in school and will sit still and do what is required – holding all their emotions, experiences and thoughts in. This bottling up will manifest itself in some way – and that may be with hyperactive behaviour. Channel that energy into activities that will help your child release everything that has been bottled up during the day – running, football or creative expression. Finding what works is trial and error.
6. Physical Ailments
Our bodies are masterful at letting us know when we have had as much stress as we can take. If your HSC starts complaining about physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches then listen. Whilst they may not have a virus or sickness as such, what they feel is real. Their bodies are not coping and physical ailments that disappear quickly are a telltale sign of feeling overwhelmed. Some children even get an unexplained fever, particularly towards the end of a school week. Give them the time and space to recover. The overwhelm is real.
In all cases it may seem, particularly to the outside world, that your child is acting up and displaying unacceptable behaviour. Being told by others that you are making a fuss of your child, spoiling your child or allowing them to get away with undesired behaviour, makes parenting a highly sensitive child tough. Comments from ‘helpful’ bystanders will certainly make you doubt yourself and your parenting skills. However, if you can learn over time exactly what lies behind your HSC’s outbursts and behaviour and you will be able to intrinsically trust your instinct and support your child accordingly.