Highly sensitive children (HSC) have a tendency to shut down when they face a hurdle. That hurdle may be something new or a task they are not certain they can do. Instead of thinking ‘how can I get over the hurdle?’ a HSC stands frozen in front of the hurdle. They may display this feeling of helplessness with a meltdown, anger or tears. Here’s how you can help them work out how to jump over the hurdles they face.
Why HSCs Block When They Face a Hurdle
Firstly, it helps to understand why a HSC blocks at the first sign of difficulty. Understanding why a HSC cannot even begin to work out how to jump over a hurdle will help you support them change how they tackle problems.
A common HS trait is perfectionism. A highly sensitive person desires to always do their best. The focus is on a perfect result and not necessarily the effort they have put into doing a task.
So, as an example, if a HSC looks at a maths question and decides they do not know how to solve it they will block and not even attempt an answer. They will just stop with their work.
Fear of Failure
Fear of failure is closely linked to perfectionism. It’s an issue that many HSCs face, some to such an extent that they cannot even get started with a task.
Highly sensitives get rattled by time pressure. Having to complete tasks in a limited time can cause so much stress that a HS blocks completely. A good example is working under exam conditions.
Being Highly Gifted
In many cases highly sensitive and highly gifted comes hand in hand. When a gifted child is so used to easily being able to tackle school work, as an example, they struggle immensely when they face a task they cannot fathom. It’s something they are just not used to facing so block instead.
How to Help Them Consider How to Jump Over a Hurdle
Visualise the Hurdle
Help them visualise the problem they face as a hurdle. Ask them to picture a hurdle on an athletic track in front of them. How big do they think the hurdle is?
Identify the Specific Issue
Identify the form of the hurdle they see before them: is it because it is a new situation they are in without a precedent? Is it a piece of school work? A talk they have to give in front of the class?
Then move to the specifics of the issue. Does your HSC lack the knowledge to tackle the school work? Is it a fear of failure? Is it not knowing where to begin? Is it a lack of confidence?
You are now looking for solutions that will act as a springboard to get them over the hurdle.
Use the Past
Have they ever faced a similar hurdle before? Are you able to share your experience of overcoming a similar hurdle? The fact that something similar has been successfully tackled in the past can help a child change their attitude to a ‘can do’ one.
Ask them to think about what they need to get over the hurdle.
If they are stuck on one particular maths question then they could skip it and return to it later. Go around the hurdle and move to the next one.
They could break a task down into small steps and tackle one at a time. Break one big hurdle down into a series of mini hurdles they know that can get over.
If their self confidence is blocking them, tackle a part of the task that they know they can do.
How to Help Them Retrain Their Brain So They Jump Over Future Hurdles
Growth Mindset v Fixed Mindset
Help your HSC recognise their mindset and how they are thinking when they are facing a hurdle. Help them recognise when their mindset is fixed, and when they are showing they are prepared to learn (a growth mindset).
A mantra such as: “It’s difficult but I’m going to do it anyway” or “I don’t know how to do this yet” can be helpful.
Help them understand that they learn from the mistakes they make, but learn nothing from not trying.
Praise and Compliment
Make sure you praise them for the process, and not the result. Don’t give sweeping general compliments, such as ‘You’re so clever. Look what you’ve achieved.” Instead, praise your HSC for the hard work they have put in, for the fact that they have faced a hurdle and put in the effort to get over it.
Give your HSC a compliment for coming up with a plan that could get them over the hurdle, even if it didn’t work as planned.
The process, not the result, is what is important in order to encourage hurdle jumping attempts in the future.