When you are parenting a highly sensitive child (HSC) you may need to do things a little differently. No child comes with a fool proof instruction manual but for a HSC you may find you can throw away all the advice in almost all of the parenting books you read. HSCs need their own manual and as parents it’s our job to slowly put it together. The good news is that with flexible and creative thinking, and a little patience, you can come to understand your highly sensitive child, and help them thrive.
KEEP A JOURNAL
Track the activities your HSC has undertakes in a day, and their reactions to them. Record their emotions and a behaviour on a daily basis. You may start to see patterns and be in a position to work out their sensory and emotional triggers – what fills their bucket? Are they more emotional after school on the days they have a gym lesson? Are they having lots of bad dreams? Are Tuesdays a particularly troublesome day for them? Patterns will help you pinpoint the why.
You can then plan accordingly, anticipate problems and help them avoid overwhelm by reducing the activities they take on in a day, talking to a teacher, or building in more downtime to their day.
Determine what helps your child calm down after a busy day at school, or a day of activity. HSCs tend to need lots of downtime in order to recharge from all the sensory input around them – even extrovert HSCs. Working out what helps them process their day, what helps them empty their bucket, will help you devise a list of tools to try when your child needs downtime. Consider tools that help them focus on themselves – breathing techniques, meditation, relaxation books or CDs or music. See more ideas here.
A list of activities that helps your child calm their body and mind is of no use if you cannot find enough time in the day for your child to have downtime. Plan lots of free time in to your child’s schedule so they have time to ‘just be’ instead of continuously be doing something.
This may mean turning invitations down or dropping a regular after school activity (at least temporarily) but downtime really is vital for a HSC and you won’t get the best out of an over scheduled child.
BUILD IN TIME TO BE CREATIVE
Many HSCs need an outlet for the emotion and overwhelm they feel from all the stimuli they have faced. Creative expression and allowing their imagination to take hold often works well to calm their mind and get their emotions out. This could be in the way of journaling, dancing, playing a musical instrument, painting, arts and crafts, drawing, making up stories, moulding with play dough or kinetic sand. It could be building with Lego or Kapla.
VALIDATE THEIR FEELINGS
HSCs seem to take on the problems of the world on their shoulders. They can become emotional about things outside the realm of their control, or even things that don’t directly affect them. This doesn’t make their feeling any less valid. They often can’t find the words to explain the big feelings they have. Take the time to listen to them and don’t second guess. What is going on in their mind is much bigger than the picture you see. Give your HSC your full attention and make the time to listen fully to them – the insight you will gain into what worries them and how they think will be invaluable.
Understanding and accepting the traits of your HSC is the key to parenting a child who is later prepared to accept their highly sensitive nature and be able to use the tools you have given them to function effectively in a world that isn’t optimal for HSCs (you only have to look at traditional schooling to see that the world isn’t put together in a way to get the best out of a HSC). As your HSC grows they will understand themselves better and be able to anticipate and meet their own needs better – but to reach that point they need our help.
There are more tips here to help you parent your HSC, and a free bucket printable activity here to help you understand your child’s (emotional) triggers and know when to build in downtime (or bucket emptying time).