Responding to Children Who Are Sensitive

Information compiled by Linda N. Stuhlman for Best Beginnings workshops.

All children exhibit sensitive type behavior when tired, hungry, sick, or stressed.

Some characteristics are hereditary like turning red with embarrassment or crying easily. Some characteristics are actually given to children because of assumptions by parents or care givers!

Children learn what they live: they emulate what they see their parents doing and how they see their parents responding to the environment. Model appropriate reactions for your child.

Teach your child emotional vocabulary.  When you are angry, say, “I feel angry because…” and model appropriate behaviors to go with those emotions.

Label your child’s emotions:  “I can see that you’re sad because you’re crying.”

Teach your child strategies for managing emotions, including taking deep breaths, thinking positive thoughts, or counting slowly.

Bringing too much attention to a child’s personality may result in characteristics being used as excuses for behavior. Sometimes children use these traits to control situations.

Stress in children many times is a result of parent stress or of over expectations.

Sensory diets are essential in helping sensitive children cope.

For young children, “floor time” play is a way to help children communicate.

Schedule, Routine, Preparation: All are invaluable for adults and children alike.

Helping a Child who has Difficulty Controlling Emotions:

  • Teach your child emotional vocabulary. When you are angry, say “I feel angry because….”and model appropriate behaviors to go with those emotions.
  • Label your child’s emotions: “I can see that you’re sad because you’re crying”.
  • Teach your child strategies for managing emotions, including taking deep breaths, thinking positive thoughts, or counting slowly.
  • Books about feelings
  • Feelings wheel with faces to identify issues
  • Social stories: recording situations and planning how to deal with them
  • Helping a child move on may mean “talking time about that is over!”

Encouraging the Quiet, Hesitant Child

  • Give your child ample time to adjust to a new situation. Be careful not to “play up” something new or different but tell a simple story about what is going to happen.
  • Allow others to gently nudge your child along in situations where you are not present.
  • Arrange short play times with more outgoing children where the play is the choice of the children.
  • Avoid micromanaging! Children mature as a result of disappointment.

Toning Down the Busy Child

  • Recognize that it is typical for 3 through 5 year olds to switch activities quickly
  • Plenty of outdoor play, monitor media time and especially superhero type programs
  • Sensory play is helpful (water, playdough, gloop, etc.)
  • Roughhousing is not all bad!
  • Monitor sleep as lack of quality sleep may cause attention issues.
  • Symbols and signs in the environment (keeps parents from always using their voice)

How Parents Can Tell When Behavior is a Problem and Help is Needed

  • Behavior has been observed over time
  • Behavior is seen across settings
  • Behavior does not lessen with maturation, experience, and parent and school help
  • Behavior could cause injury to self or others (lack of self control)
  • Behavior could cause damage to the environment (physical and emotional outbursts)
  • Behavior interferes with learning new skills (undue anxiety)
  • Behavior socially isolates the child making it difficult for the child to be part of a group

Where Can Parents Get Help for Their Child?

  • Best Beginnings Early Education and Care consultant, call 860-669-7246, Linda N. Stuhlman
  • www.bestbeginnings.us Send questions to contact best beginnings.
  • Best Beginnings School Psychologist consulting, call 860-664-6501 and ask for Kim Brown
  • Clinton Public Schools Preschool Screening, call 860-664-6505 for an appointment
  • Developmental milestones websites, www.cdc.gov/actearly, www.parentingcounts.org
  • Early Childhood Consultation Project, 203-235-2815 and ask for Sara Schmidt, MSW
  • Kidsteps, Birth to Three Program, www.sarah-inc.org or 203-318-3692
  • Pediatricians (take a list of questions with you!)

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