As parents, we strive to raise children who are kind and compassionate. We want our children to help make the world a better place. It is our hope that we are raising good little people who will grow to do good things. Sometimes, these traits come naturally to a child.
However, parenting a child with a sensitive heart can come with its own set of challenges. As a teacher, I have had years of experience with students who were a bit more sensitive than the rest. I treated them with “kid gloves,” so to speak. It was important to nurture their sensitive side in order to ensure that they could learn to their fullest potential.
As a mom, I realized early on that my daughter is one of these sensitive children. She is inherently sweet, but she feels things deeply. There is a hyper-awareness of the feelings of others. This empathy can be great, but also painful at times. There are a few things you can do to nurture your child‘s compassion while protecting their fragile little hearts.
I am a big fan of the art of role play. It is a great way to talk through and act out situations that are difficult for your child to understand. This is a great strategy to use if you are trying to teach your child to have a bit more empathy as well. For the sensitive child, role-playing is a wonderful way to demonstrate that everything is going to be okay. Going to the doctor’s office, for example, is a great situation to role play. It is very helpful for all kids to know what to expect in a doctor’s office, but for the sensitive child, they may have a hard time seeing other kids who are sick.
My daughter will stop wherever she is if she hears a baby or child crying. She becomes worried or sometimes begins crying herself. To prepare her for situations like this, we act out babies crying with her doll. Then I explain to her that maybe the baby is hungry or tired, and we rock the doll or pretend to give it food. This way my daughter knows that the baby will be okay. It is important for sensitive children to see that people do, in fact, experience illness, sadness, or frustration because these emotions are a part of life. However, it is also important for these children to see that people will be okay and there are ways to heal if they are sick, injured, or hurt.
Use the Power of a Hug
Toddlers are notorious for their tantrums and meltdowns. However, I have recognized that my daughter has meltdowns when she is overstimulated or feeling overwhelmed by her emotions. And I’ve discovered a trick that really works. A hug — that’s right, I said “a hug”! Simply asking your toddler if they want a hug can have a wondrous calming effect.
For the sensitive child, if they sense your frustration at their behavior, it will only cause them to shut down further. Instead, offer a hug. The physical contact will provide the comfort your child really needs. This small act will also show your child that a hug can also be very effective in helping someone else who is hurt or upset. Part of what affects sensitive people so deeply is a feeling of helplessness. However, a hug is very healing. There is even scientific evidence that proves it.
Teach Your Child Problem Solve
The emotions of a sensitive child can become like a runaway freight train on track for disaster. Being sensitive and empathetic are positive qualities to possess, but they can have a negative impact if they are not properly managed.
Begin by talking about feelings. Even at a young age, it is important to keep the lines of communication open with your child. Toddlers may have difficulty articulating their feelings because they are still developing their vocabulary. This is when you grab your trusty picture book. Picture books are perfect for encouraging dialogue about how your child feels. The following are a few of my favorites:
The Way I Feel by Janan Cain
I love this book for the illustrations. Even toddlers can relate to the pictures. You could also take photographs or video of your toddler to compare. This book also covers a wide range of emotions which helps your sensitive child understand that all of their feelings are normal.
In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek
This book is ideal for the child who feels emotions deeply. It explains how the heart “feels” as happy and light, or heavy and dark. It addresses the feelings sensitive children experience in a very kid-friendly manner.
Don’t Feed the WorryBug by Andi Green
I actually think this book is equally as good for parents as it is for kids. It talks about what worries are and how to keep them from getting out of control. Worrying is definitely something sensitive children struggle with. Beginning the dialogue early about emotions and worries will help you find real solutions right from the start.
Then help your child find a positive outlet for their feelings. Feelings are a natural and normal part of life. It is important that your child feels safe in expressing both their positive and negative emotions. These emotions can seem so overwhelming when children are little, so offering a positive outlet can be very helpful. Here are some ways your little one can put all of those big emotions into something positive:
-Arts and crafts, like drawing and coloring
-Drama and acting
Let Your Child Help Out
One way I help my sensitive child is to allow her to help me or help others. This can be as simple as asking your little one to bring you a tissue if you have a cold or to help with household chores if you are feeling stressed. Interacting with a pet is a great way to teach empathy and compassion, and I have learned that helping with our family dog is a great way to channel my daughter’s sensitivity. My daughter is in charge of feeding our dog her meals, but also the simple act of petting our dog is very calming when she is feeling worked up.
In the classroom, I often ask my sensitive students to be my “teacher’s helper.” They love putting those feelings to work in a positive way. These are the same students who love to help a struggling peer or sibling, so put them to work. Just be sure to let them know how much you appreciate their compassion and willingness to help.
I love my daughter’s sweetness and sensitivity, but as a highly empathetic person myself, I know that there can be some struggles as she gets older. Right now, my daughter’s sensitivity means that she is full of hugs and kisses for anyone who needs them. She is careful to give her toys equal attention and is even happy to share her toys with friends. These are wonderful qualities to have, but these feelings can also manifest themselves into stress and anxiety.
So, parents, let’s be patient and gentle with these little sensitive souls. This does not mean you should avoid discipline. In fact, sensitive children may have an easier time if they know that there are structure and rules in place. Also, think positively. Instead of thinking of your child as the occasional drama queen or king, remind yourself that being caring and compassionate are wonderful qualities to have.