It can be hard finding the best way to discipline a sensitive child. It takes careful thought and patience in order to correct without yelling, but it’s important.
I wrote this a few years ago, but I still follow these guidelines and I hope that they help you, as well.
Our daughter is very sensitive. I can remember when she was about four years old. I asked her to “sit down” when I saw her standing on her chair. The tears started spilling down her cheeks. She was so upset that she got into trouble, even though in my mind, I was just asking so she wouldn’t get hurt.
If she wasn’t being nice or had said something unkind to her brother and I reminded her “Do not talk that way. It is not nice.”… well, you can imagine how upset she was. She felt terrible for hurting their feelings and upsetting me.
We have learned a thing or two over the years to curb the meltdowns that come with disciplining a sensitive child… boys and girls.
To the outside world, it looks like these kids are “wimpy” or dramatic (I hear parents describing their children this way), but I am a child therapist and I have had the chance to study these types of children, as many of my clients are overly sensitive, as well.
They aren’t wimpy.
They aren’t simply dramatic.
They are sensitive.
A sensitive child will often be the kindest person you’ll meet. Yes, they come with a few challenges for the parents, like perfectionism, being easily overwhelmed, or having their minds set on specific things. However, it is important to find ways to overcome our challenges, so we can help them overcome their challenges… all without breaking their spirit.
Having a sensitive child is more common than we think. Some of the kids just feel their emotions more strongly than others. Usually, they can learn to control it by age six, but they will always feel this way and be more emotional than others.
They are the “wear your heart on their sleeve” type of kids. It is up to us to learn how to teach and discipline these kids, without breaking their spirit.
NOTE: This is different than the Highly Sensitive Child…
“A highly sensitive child is one of the fifteen to twenty percent of children born with a nervous system that is highly aware and quick to react to everything.
This makes them quick to grasp subtle changes, prefer to reflect deeply before acting, and generally behave conscientiously. They are also easily overwhelmed by high levels of stimulation, sudden changes, and the emotional distress of others.
Few parents and teachers understand this trait [Highly Sensitive]–and as a result, Highly Sensitive Children are often mislabeled as “problem children” (and in some cases, misdiagnosed with disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder). ” – read more in the book The Highly Sensitive Child
How to discipline a sensitive child (without breaking their spirit)
1. SET LIMITS:
“Although it might be tempting to bend the rules to avoid upsetting a sensitive child, constant exceptions to the rules won’t be helpful in the long run. Be flexible, but make sure you’re teaching your child how to be a responsible adult. If you’re too easy on your child, he won’t be prepared to deal with the real world.”
~ Amy Morwin, discipline expert
2. AVOID SHAMING
“Sensitive children are particularly sensitive to shaming. “You naughty child” or “why can’t you get it right” may seem like mild correction, but to sensitive children, these words can be devastating.”
~Rebecca Eanes, Author
3. SHOW, DON’T TELL.
“When your sensitive child acts badly, show him the behavior that you expect. As calmly as possible, tell him to stop and watch. Then start doing exactly what he was doing.
He may even think you are being silly and realize how out of order his behavior was. Next, show him the correct behavior. The act of seeing what you expect rather than listening to a lecture will make a stronger and more memorable impact.” ~Amy Kaminsky, Programming producer
4. PARTNER TOGETHER.
“Sensitive children respond far better to being requested to do something and partnering with the adults in their life versus harsh discipline.
Harsh discipline can elicit the exact behavior you are trying to avoid emotional meltdowns and outbursts of energy (i.e. temper tantrums, crying, yelling).
Partnering with your child includes learning their triggers like crowds, avoiding them and also giving them tools when they feel overwhelmed like breathing exercises. Professionals like myself can also be helpful in this process.”
~Maureen Healy, speaker
5. BE EMPATHETIC
“When your child bawls after an elbow scrape that didn’t even break the skin, your first instinct may be to tell her to calm down or to get over it. Experts say that just makes matters worse, especially if she hears anger or frustration in your voice. ”
–Don’t correct (“That is the reason that we don’t ….”) because they already figured this out on their own.
When you try to talk your kid out of what she’s feeling, it causes her to hold on to that feeling more tightly and get even more upset,” says Elinor Bashe, Psy.D., a child psychologist in Highland Park, New Jersey. “It’s important to listen to and accept your child’s emotions even if they don’t seem logical.”
Though you shouldn’t reinforce the crying by giving too much attention, you can say something like, “I know it hurts” or “You must have been surprised when you fell down.” Then help your kid focus her energy on problem-solving: “Do you think we should wash it off or put some ice on it? Get a bandage or just rest it?”‘ ~ Michele Crouch
If you found this post to be helpful, I want to encourage you to sign up for my free weekly e-mails. I share tips & stories like these, once a week. You can sign up here.