Now that I’m aware I have sensitive children (one HIGHLY sensitive), I can recognize it in other kids and want to share the tools that have really helped me to honor their sensitivities and see it as the gift that it is, rather than the disruptive force that it used to feel like. I used to wonder if my first-born was put on this earth to push my buttons ALL DAY, but now I know he is sensitive and was crying out for support.
What I’ve really learned, is that they respond to my behavior as much as I respond to theirs. I use the “go to” tools below so that I stay calm as a parent, and they are supported in whatever they are going through. Which is great because I used to think we were spending our days as adversaries and now I can really enjoy our time together and value how precious it is.
Here are some tips for what has really worked for us when I see my boys are getting anxious (high strung, whiny, acting out, falling apart, melting down for seemingly no reason):
- Make sure I cut out processed foods. Sometimes I am more lax than others, like when they get a goody bag at soccer, and those little snacks can creep up on us. I’ve noticed, having the cleanest diet possible supports their being able to communicate their needs better. Read Related: How My Son’s Sensitivity to Dyes Led Us to “Real Food.”
- Monitor screen time. I grew up in a home where we always had the TV on as background noise. I did not think anything of it to do the same when I had children. What I discovered though, is that having a “quiet home” really supports you if you are sensitive (me included!). Limiting the amount of sensory input from electronics and TV really allows our sensitives to decompress. So now, the majority of the time we are home, the TV is off and our house is quiet. This took some getting used to!!! But now I love it either quiet (which with kids I guess is never really quiet) or with music on. Limiting screen time has become increasingly challenging as more and more friends have iPads, so I don’t ban it which I feel will make them want it more, but I do set a timer so that time does not get away from us and they are reminded to go back to playing without electronics. The one exception is when they are making videos. To me that is not sensory input and is actively using their imaginations and I LOVE the laughter that comes from what they find funny with their videos, lol.
- Go back to the principles in 1-2-3 Magic, which is a book that reminds me how to be consistent and calm in my parenting. Since my kids pick up on my frustration, anger, stress, keeping myself calm in my expectations has been key! It has been the greatest tool for me and I recommend it to anyone who has a sensitive child – especially ones that will try for negative attention or take on annoying behaviors (like falling apart for a week!). An obvious behavior, like hitting, is much easier to address, but the button-pushing and annoying ones have been where this book has REALLY come in handy. I bought this audio version for my husband so that we could be on the same page.
- What can I cut out? I look at their schedule to see if it’s overwhelming and if there is anything I can cut out and I do just that. It won’t kill us to miss a soccer practice here and there, or to not play for a day with every kid in the neighborhood.
- Baths! I give them an Epson salt bath (love these dead sea salts!) or my new favorite CALM bath, and I add in the essential oil “Balance.” Lavender and Serenity are also great! They have now come to start asking for a bath when they seem to need it.
- I hug them extra. I sit with them on the couch, watch a favorite show with them and hug them, hug them, hug them!
- Offer choices and/or allow them to come up with a solution. We received this advice from a friend early on and I can’t tell you how helpful it’s been. He said offer two choices. So with my first son, I would put two shirts on the bed and he would choose one rather than argue for him to try to get dressed (he would fight it everyday!). Now, if my boys are fighting about something like handball, I will tell them they have to work it out or come inside and play something else. 98% percent of the time they come up with their own solution. If I offer the solution I’m sure it would be met with resistance.
- Do not force them to talk to people they do not want to and be places they don’t want to be in when possible. This is an interesting one. I’ve noticed there are people the boys instinctively shy away from and people they are very warm and loving to. In the past, if we were at the park or the community pool and I was talking to a neighbor, I used to feel they were being disrespectful if that person asked them a question and they tried to get away quickly or didn’t answer. Now, I have taught them it’s okay to give a polite yes or no and then move on and that behavior alerts me to pay attention. Something about certain people and places make them uncomfortable and I want them to honor that because there may be a reason! We will talk about it together later and I encourage them to trust their instincts (just not to be rude about it).
- Invoke a light shield. I’ve taught them to envision themselves in a light shield (like they are walking in a bubble of light) and I remind them to keep doing it. This helps keep them from taking on the energy of others. I invoke it for them when they leave the house and in public places too. It seems to really help, especially for school. Both my sons get anxious when other kids get in trouble at school and envisioning themselves in light seems to give them the comfort to know it’s okay and it’s not directed at them.
- Reiki. Now that I’ve taken Reiki, I take this final step which has been like the icing on the cake. I invoke Reiki as I sit with them and say that their “energy is cleansed and cleared. All energy that does not belong to them is transmuted to light. They are surrounded by Reiki energy and light, for the highest and greatest good, under the law of grace.” I will do Reiki as long as they can sit still and they LOVE it. Both my boys (and the dog) love it.
What inevitably happens, is that eventually they will tell me what the REAL problem is. They miss a friend, someone has been bothering them, they are stressed about a test, etc. In many cases they have built problems up in their minds and by telling me I’m able to let them know it is all okay. That for elementary school grades the most important thing is that you try. Their teachers say they are doing fine and they are relieved. Or if it’s another kid that said something we role play how to respond so they feel confident in doing that. The chance to discuss it is my ultimate goal and I’m so grateful when we can get to the root of a problem and they discover it’s not the big deal they thought it was. Or if it is a big deal, they are comforted by taking a bath or being held on the couch.
What about you? Do you have a sensitive child? Do you have any tips? I would love to hear them in the comments.