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How to Help Your Sensitive Child Cope with Strong Emotion

Updated on January 5, 2016

Your Highly Sensitive Child (HSC)

A "highly sensitive person" is a person who has a sensitive nervous system, making every day occurrences, like loud noises and bright lights difficult to tolerate.

You might find that your child is sensitive to everything, including emotions. If you feel your child is highly empathic, easily identifies with other people's emotions, is easily upset, including easily upset by other people's emotional state, or is easily overwhelmed with stress or any strong emotion, your highly sensitive child (HSC) is very sensitive to emotions.

On the upside, when your child is happy, she's really, really happy, and it's pure joy to watch. However, you might be challenged in helping your HSC manage his or her emotions which can result in sending them into what other people inaccurately label as "tantrums."

Since strong emotions can cause HSC to become overwhelmed, they need their parents' help how to deal with these emotions. Over time, highly sensitive kids can learn to cope with their strong emotions.

How to Help Your Sensitive Child Cope with Emotions

It's one thing to be an empath and very sensitive. However, parents can be troubled when kids cry a lot, or even more troubling behavior surfaces such as speaking to parents with a disrespectful tone.

All children have their strengths and challenges. For highly sensitive children, handling strong emotions or high stress can be their challenge, and you can help them rise to their challenge.

Prevent Outbursts and Meltdowns

If your child has these, you'll know from a very early age.

HSC can be more prone to "losing it." If they truly are highly sensitive, they have a difficult time with high stimuli of any type. This includes anything that can make them physically uncomfortable, such as hunger and being tired. Since HSC already have a low stress threshold, allowing them to become too hungry or tired is asking for trouble.

You might find keeping your child well-fed and rested will cut down on a majority of the outbursts your child experiences.

Other strategies that might stave off outbursts are:

  • Telling your child how special he is to you. HSC thrive off of extra attention. Providing them with extra TLC can help provide your child with the extra comfort he needs.
  • Keeping your child occupied. If your child is highly sensitive, she might even have difficulty tolerating boredom, which can cause behavioral problems. Keep your child happy throughout the day by doing lots of activities with her. This will also help bolster her self-esteem through the extra attention you're providing to her.
  • Help your child by minimizing anything that will overwhelm your child's senses, like loud noises, strong smells, or bright lights.
  • Keep your promises. If you state that you will play with your child at a certain time, keep your promise to him whenever it's possible. HSC find sudden, unexpected changes very upsetting.
  • Give your child lots of warning. For instance, if you have to go to the doctor for a painful shot, prepare her as best as you can. A good way to do this is to watch a television show that features a doctor's appointment with a child. Also, let your child know that shots can feel like a big pinch, but the pain goes away. Promising a toy for being a brave girl or boy always helps.

Your HSC might need extra attention and prevention.

Coping with Strong Emotion

Despite your best efforts, sometimes your child melting into a pool of tears can't be helped. Here are some tips to help your child sort out overwhelming emotions.

Keep Calm

It's so hard to be unflappable, but it's really important you deal with your child's emotions in a manner that will not affect her self-esteem. If you lash out in anger, your child will learn that lashing out in anger is an okay thing to do, and this will not help either of you.

In order to calm down, give yourself a minute to go into another room and promise to remain calm. This might not be possible with younger children. Take a few deep breaths yourself so you can help your child.

Help Your Child Calm Down

When your child is overwhelmed, his extra-sensitive system is on high alert, which means that his stress response has been activated.

Simply taking some deep breaths will help activate the body's calming response. Plus, if you are not in a situation where you can calm yourself down, doing deep breathing as a regular part of your routine when emotions flare and tears flow is good for the both of you.

Allow Your Child Some Time Alone

If your child is overwhelmed, another way to help her is to cut down on the amount of stimuli in her environment. Have her go into her bedroom to calm down, until she's ready to talk.

Make it clear that this isn't a punishment, but that she does need to calm down so you can help her.

Offer to be there to talk with her when she's ready. Also, it's very helpful to reiterate that you are not angry, because some sensitive kids might find the idea of you being mad with them unbearable.

Resolve the Situation Quickly

After ten minutes or so, check on your little one. Don't let it drag out too long, because prolonged crying can be stressful for kids.

When kids are younger, ten minutes might seem like an eternity, and it can feel like they'll be upset for forever, so five or ten minutes is appropriate for letting your kid calm down.

Not all kids will benefit from going into their room alone to calm themselves down. If your child will not benefit from this and would rather sit and hug and cry, this is what you should do until your child has calmed down.

See if your child calms down better after spending some time alone or with you. If she does better spending time on her own to calm herself down, cutting down stimuli and giving her alone time is a good move.

Communicate Effectively

Your child's extreme reaction might not match what's going on, but remember, your child feels emotions on a deeper level, so even if you can't relate to her, be there to comfort her.

Listen to what your child is feeling if she can state it. Make sure you listen without judgment. Don't minimize her feelings. Tell her it's okay.

Remind Your Child that Emotions Don't Last Forever and Work to Solve the Problem

Tell your child that being sad is difficult, but feeling sad, angry, or frustrated doesn't last forever.

Offer your help in resolving the issue. Shifting your child's focus to problem solving will empower your child to take charge and solve issues instead of ruminating on what's wrong.

Move on Quickly, Forgive Quickly, and Forget Quickly

When your child has calmed down, put it behind you. Forgive instantly and don't let it drag out or drag on.

If the incident brought up any issues for you, it's up to you to do your own work on your issues. For instance, if your child was upset, and you feel his behavior was disrespectful, perhaps if you work through your issue with people being disrepectful, it will help you see that your child being upset really doesn't have anything to do with disrespect at all. It has more to do with the fact that your child needs more work on calming himself down when he's upset.

Your sensitive child might cry more often.

Teaching Skills Takes Time

Teaching skills to your sensitive child can take an entire childhood. It does get easier with consistent parenting.

Highly sensitive children can be a handful, but the rewards are great. HSC can be extremely intelligent, have great powers of observation, a great memory, and delightful when they are really enjoying themselves.

You might want to consider meditation, the martial arts, or yoga to help your child. These often help children learn to regulate their own emotions. Moreover, meditation can help people with emotional processing. Since your child's senses are always on high alert, shifting the focus from fight-or-flight to other parts of the brain will help your child learn to remain calm.

Every child has a challenge. Over time, you can help your highly sensitive child cope with his own emotions. It takes daily prevention, enforcement of skills, and honoring your child for who he is.

Meditation or yoga could be a useful way to help your child learn to regulate their own emotions.

Sum It Up

  • Highly sensitive children might have a difficult time handling their own emotions, and can sometimes have volatile reactions.
  • Take steps to prevent outbursts.
  • If your child does have an outburst, help your child calm down with deep breathing.
  • Give your child time alone if necessary to reduce stimuli. (HSC can be overwhelmed easily with too much stimuli.)
  • Focus on problem solving with your child.
  • Forgive and move on.
  • Reinforce coping skills (self-soothing techniques, acknowledging feelings, and using problem solving) daily if necessary.
  • Revel in milestones big and small.

How to You Help Your HSC?

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