It is possible to toughen up highly sensitive children without causing them emotional harm.
There is no question that the slightest provocation can trigger irrational reactions in children with emotionally sensitive personalities.
Thus, it is frustrating to witness kids cry at the faintest hint of criticism. Dealing with them can be cumbersome as it feels like you’re walking on eggshells every time you engage with them.
As a parent, you wonder if they can cope with real-life challenges when they grow up as their emotions are too fragile to withstand anything that aggrieves them.
It is, therefore, crucial to nurture emotional resilience in children with high emotional vulnerability. By doing so, they will be better equipped to navigate the ebbs and flows of life, thriving and flourishing despite life’s daunting challenges when they become adults.
How To Parent A Highly Sensitive Child?
Assessing the sensitive behavior of your child in comparison with other kids would not be ideal.
Experts advise parents not to make undue comparisons when dealing with children’s inappropriate behavior. Comparing our children with other kids is tantamount to undermining their sense of self-worth, adversely impacting their emotional and mental well-being.
Susceptible children are often genetically predisposed to acute emotional vulnerability than other kids. Thus, they are more likely to cry, be agitated, or have difficulty adapting to stress or changes in their surroundings.
These children are at the mercy of their emotional outbursts. Comparing them with other kids who don’t exhibit the same level of emotional sensitivity is, therefore, unfair.
Hence, acknowledging their distinct personality and behavior is necessary to avoid comparing or severely criticizing them for being too sensitive.
When Toughening Up a Sensitive Child, Experts Advise Against Taking an Aggressive Approach
Some parents are sometimes compelled to adopt an aggressive approach toward making their kids more tolerant and resilient.
Nevertheless, such an approach is not ideal since ruthlessly forcing children to develop emotional resilience can be counterproductive.
For this reason, experts in the field oppose any drastic measures aimed at toughening children due to the long-term negative consequences on their mental well-being.
Should Parents Avoid Scolding Children with Sensitive Personalities?
It is possible to improve a child’s ability to handle emotional stress without resorting to aggressive parenting methods.
Kids need to be corrected for their inappropriate emotional responses in the right way. By doing so, our children will not perceive our reprimand as a personal attack on their character but see it as an opportunity to grow.
Hence, they will learn to accept criticism as a normal part of the learning process and not something to be overly sensitive about.
How to Toughen Up a Highly Sensitive Child?
Avoid being overprotective when dealing with sensitive children
Overprotecting emotionally reactive children can make them more anxious about minor matters. Thus, the faintest whiff of discomfort or the most subtle provocation can trigger a disproportionate emotional response.
As the saying goes, “Everything should be in moderation.” Adopt a moderate and balanced approach to discipline, avoiding both extremes on either end – not too rigid, and not too lenient either. We must be reminded that employing verbal and physical aggression should never be employed as methods for correcting children’s behavior.
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Providing children with clear explanations of expected behavior and the possible outcomes of not adhering to your instructions significantly boosts their capacity to measure up to those expectations.
For example: If he would play games with his peers, offer guidance on what is allowed and what is not in the game (the dos’and dont’s) Providing this information in advance will increase the likelihood of him following the game’s regulations.
A child should be encouraged to express feelings through words, not by throwing a fit.
Rather than resorting to tantrums or other acting-out behaviors, children should be taught how to use words to express their annoyance or frustration.
This can be accomplished by explaining to them that unpleasant emotions are normal and that they can relieve their discomfort and frustrations by sharing those feelings freely with you.
And regardless of whether we sympathize with their feelings or concerns, we must acknowledge them.
For example, if our child is having trouble with his schoolwork, we can validate his feelings by saying, “I understand how you feel about it. Back when I was your age, I had to do a similar task and didn’t like it at all, but I managed to accomplish it without feeling bad by doing something that made it easier for me.”
Get them involved in physical activities that will require them to follow rules
Playing basketball, for example, can help them learn team-building skills, as they will be obliged to follow the rules when playing games with friends. By engaging in sports activities, children will learn that they can’t always have things their way. There are certain rules that everyone needs to follow.
Moreover, aside from promoting social interaction, sports activities foster friendships by encouraging teamwork, loyalty, and respect among teammates.
Educate them on self-soothing techniques to cope with stressful situations
Self-soothing is an essential skill for emotionally fragile children. We can use soothing techniques to alleviate their anxiety and stress.
Helping them master these techniques will spare them from endless meltdowns and screaming fits as they learn how to use self-soothing strategies to cope with their emotions.
Note: in young children, self-soothing skill is not yet developed, thus, we must assist them until they can do it independently.
Encourage children to refrain from complaining excessively
There is a tendency for highly emotional children to complain at the slightest inconvenience.
We need to be calm and acknowledge their feelings, but we need to explain that they have nothing to fret about. Our goal is to make them realize that they are fussing over small things. Hence, the next time they encounter the same situation or discomfort, they are less likely to complain. We must consistently correct our children’s inappropriate grumblings to prevent excessive whining.
You can also give them their favorite toys to soothe their uncomfortable emotions, such as stuffed animals, favorite pillows or weighted blanket.
Teach patience and calmness to an emotionally reactive child by setting a good example
Often, as overprotective parents, we are anxious about insignificant matters and unwittingly pass our anxiety onto our children.
Setting a good example is then crucial. We must refrain from overreacting at small things to ensure our children react the same way when faced with a similar situation.
Our role as parents is vital for raising emotionally resilient children. It is our responsibility to model appropriate behavior.
However, should our children be predisposed to anxiety and heightened emotional sensitivity, it will still be challenging for them to remain calm despite our best efforts to demonstrate appropriate behavior.
Nonetheless, by so doing, we can at least alleviate their reactionary behavior, if not resolve it completely.
Provide emotionally fragile children with healthy outlets for expressing their feelings
Provide emotionally fragile children with healthy outlets for expressing their feelings
Expressing their feelings in a constructive manner can be highly therapeutic for sensitive children. Painting, writing, and art can all be used to combat stress and negative emotions.
Ensure children with reactive personalities receive plenty of love and support
When building our children’s emotional resilience, letting them know that we love and support them can be highly beneficial. Children feel more secure and less anxious when they feel loved and accepted.
When they show tolerance and calm under pressure, show your appreciation by giving them a reward.
Rewarding good behavior makes children more likely to behave well. Positive discipline techniques will empower them to do better next time. It is unnecessary to offer material rewards; hugs, smiles, and praise would be sufficient.
What Can Parents of Highly Sensitive Children Do To Cope?
Parents often feel overwhelmed when dealing with difficult children. Unmanaged stress can lead to physical and psychological exhaustion, burnout, and ill health. Consequently, this affects not only parents’ well-being but their children’s as well,
When we are stressed, we are often snappy, easily irritated, and anxious, which further aggravates the condition of our emotionally reactive kids.
Thus, managing stress effectively is crucial to keeping our mental and physical health in check. Here is a link to a helpful resource to help us manage parental stress.
Moreover, it’s vital to turn to other parents who understand what you’re going through. Many online communities and support groups are dedicated to helping parents of emotionally sensitive children. Here is a link to one of those support groups.
Lerner, C. (2021). Why is my child in charge?: A roadmap to end power struggles, increase cooperation, and find joy in parenting young children. Rowman & Littlefield.