10 ways to help your highly sensitive child

By DR RICHARD C. WOOLFSON   — October 10, 2018
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    Children who are highly sensitive can crumble emotionally the minute something goes wrong. If your six-year-old is like that, it’s crucial that he learns to cope with the rough-and-tumble of life and build resistance to upsets, and maintain self-confidence. Here’s how you can help him.

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  • Learn from experience
    2 / 11 Learn from experience

    Encourage your child to think about previous incidents which have upset him and suggest other ways he could have responded.

    For instance, instead of crying because another kid made a rude remark about his running ability, he could simply say: “I think I run well.”

    Related: 4 ways to boost your child’s confidence

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  • Listen without ridicule
    3 / 11 Listen without ridicule

    You are probably fed up hearing once again that, for example, he is afraid of going to the party. Resist any temptation to ridicule him, no matter how trivial his reaction might appear.

    Instead, listen and then offer an alternative way that he could manage the experience without being so sensitive.

    Related: Julia Roberts: Let your kids know they can talk to you without judgement

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  • Give him tasks to do
    4 / 11 Give him tasks to do

    A highly sensitive child often has less control over his life, and frequently has little personal responsibility.

    Strengthen your child emotionally by giving him small tasks around the house, such as tidying the newspapers or putting his dishes in the sink after a meal. That makes him feel better about himself.

    Related: 6 reasons why your child won’t do his chores

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  • Emphasise his strengths
    5 / 11 Emphasise his strengths

    Your preschooler worries so much about what he thinks he can’t do, that he forgets all the things he can do.

    So, point out all his good points. For instance, he has a lovely nature, he has a gentle singing voice, he is kind to others, and so on. That takes his attention away from his perceived weaknesses.

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  • Encourage positive thinking
    6 / 11 Encourage positive thinking

    Your child’s sensitivity makes him think negatively. For instance, when he faces a new challenge, he expects to fail.

    Encourage him to have positive thoughts, by saying to himself, for example, “I can cope with this” or “The other children will like me.”

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  • Make him feel special
    7 / 11 Make him feel special

    There is no greater antidote than making your child feel loved, valued and special.

    He is much less affected by the upsets of everyday life when he knows that you think he is fantastic. Your belief in your child increases his self-belief, which in turn reduces his sensitivity.

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  • Explain the effect of his behaviour
    8 / 11 Explain the effect of his behaviour

    Explain to your child that people may take him less seriously because he is so sensitive.

    Tell him the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, emphasising the similarity between his behaviour and the that of the boy in the story. Your message will get through to him eventually.

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  • Encourage his resilience
    9 / 11 Encourage his resilience

    Ask him to make an effort to hold back his tears, no matter how stressed he feels. Point out that if he cries less, people will know that his tears are a sign of genuine distress and are not just an attempt to gain attention.

    Even if he makes strong claims that his tears are real and necessary, just repeat that you want him to react less sensitively.

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  • Plan ahead
    10 / 11 Plan ahead

    By now, you probably know the typical situations that trigger his sensitivity, for instance, losing in a game with his peers.

    Talk to him in advance, help him to prepare emotionally for what lies ahead, and then praise him when he copes more robustly.

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  • Consider your response
    11 / 11 Consider your response

    Think about your own behaviour when he is highly sensitive. Do you get annoyed with him? Do you tense up and go to soothe him? Do you quickly run over to him?

    If you over-react in any of these ways, you might reinforce the very behaviour you want to stop. Try to give a less intense response.

    (Photos: 123RF.com)

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