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Have a highly sensitive kid? Me too. Here’s what I learned about it. 

The tears. Oh, the tears… it happens so frequently you don’t know if you should scream, seek therapy or resort to old school ‘toughen up’ strategies. 

It’s hard to know what to do, how to react, how to best support your child when you have on one hand, a very emotionally intelligent child and on the other, the child that’s the first one to cry on every playdate.

Psychology Today describes highly sensitive  children as 

deeply affected by what others say to them, the images in their mind and their surroundings… come with deep talents but can be “trying” if you seek to raise them in the regular way…

My son cried at dinner the other night because his plate wasn’t ‘organized’ (shrimp, tortellini and Parmesan segregated in a linear pattern inside the bowl).

He cries at the moment anyone raises their voice in the family.

Getting dirty, sticky, or messy is not an option. I don’t even want to talk about sunscreen application.

But he’s also the first one to recognize when anyone is out of sorts, and ALWAYS manages to say or do exactly what that person needs to hear in order to have their spirits lifted. It’s an amazing gift, and one that cannot be taught. He touches the lives of everyone he interacts with in a positive and unique way because of his gift. So, I am choosing to celebrate his talents and not fall prey to the idea of pigeon holeing him into a mold that doesn’t fit. 

After reading Growing Happy Kids: How to Foster Inner Confidence, Success and Happiness by Maureen Healy, I learned some good parenting strategies to set me on a positive track that I hope benefit you as well. 

-Sensitivity is a strength. It can be very tempting to tell your child to toughen up and stop crying. Rather than taking this approach, Healy suggests embracing your child’s inherent sensitivity as a strength versus a problem. This is a critical point for most parents; it enables you to release the idea of pushing your son or daughter to be “more like the other kids” but appreciate him or her for who they are — deep feelings, sensitive responses, gifts, unique perspective and all.

Different is good. Not unlike adults, a lot of children naturally seek the approval of others and want to fit in. Allowing your child to see him or herself as an individual though, and appreciateing the talents that come from their uniqueness is liberating! They are no longer held captive to the judgement of others and can embrace what they offer the world. I found this advice something we could all learn from.

Self-Care and awareness is key. Consider a situation that could be upsetting to many kids – a classmate teasing the outfit, backpack, or choice of shoes. Rather than “shaking it off”, the highly sensitive child needs to learn how to recognize when to walk away, when he needs to care for himself, and how to re-enter a situation to handle it when he is feeling stronger and capable.

At the end of the day, Healy talks about teaching your kids a sense of confidence that allows them to look beyond external approval. The type of confidence that allows all of us to define accomplishment within ourselves. It’s this sense of self that allows kids, or anyone for that matter, to have the wherewithal to believe in themselves and not let the world around them affect them de-rail them from their goals and ambitions. It’s a great read, and I encourage you to check it out:

What other strategies have you learned that work for you and your kids? Please share! 

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