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Dealing with a Sensitive Child

Sad Child Looking Down

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I wrote earlier this week about my teenage daughter's insecurity, and it got me thinking a bit about how, as parents, one of our jobs is to steer our children into a healthy sense of identity, based on who they are in God, and who they were made to be.

That's easier said than done, though, for children with certain personality traits. And as some of you commented, many of you have children who are very sensitive. That, in and of itself, isn't a bad thing. It means they are likely more open to the things that touch God's heart, and they're more compassionate. But like many personality traits, it can become a hindrance if it's not steered in a positive direction.

1. Encourage Compassion

So what could you do? First, encourage your child in a positive way to cultivate his or her sensitivity in productive ways. Help her organize a letter writing campaign for child labourers somewhere, or help him collect items for the homeless, or start a penny drive at school to give to African orphans. Help her channel her compassionate nature somewhere positive, so that it's not something you're constantly in conflict with. Praise him for caring about other people's feelings.

2. Teach Truth

But at the same time, teach your child that truth is also important, and if he or she is too sensitive, then he or she is also denying truth. For instance, if she can't tell anyone what she really thinks because she doesn't want to hurt people's feelings, or because she's afraid of being rejected, then she's also denying truth and she's cutting off an important relationship. When we can't share what we think, we're really saying, "I don't want you to know me that well". Tell her that, and then ask her what she wants out of friendships, etc. And show her how to be a good friend.

3. Avoid Passive/Aggressive Behaviour

I'd also be careful that your child's sensitivity isn't really passive/agressive behaviour. Many people claim they're just sensitive when really what they're doing is trying to manipulate people. They become hurt very easily as a way to try to force people to do things that they want to do, or to get all the attention. They won't voice what they want; they'll just make people feel guilty for doing the wrong thing. That's not a healthy dynamic at all. It's one that is often learned in a family environment, though, when children realize that if they act in a certain way, their parents tend to give them what they want. So don't feed into this!

Sometimes when parents exhibit that kind of passive/aggressive dynamic among themselves, kids pick up on it. So if your child is sensitive, really look at how you relate to your spouse. Do you speak the truth, and ask directly for what you want, or do you try to manipulate? And how do you respond to your husband? If you start doing things before you're asked simply because you don't want to feel guilty, then you could be feeding into this dynamic, too.

So give your child a positive outlet for her compassion, but then also make it a policy that you don't do anything in your house without someone making an explicit request. You don't respond to tears or to pouts or to silence; if she wants something, she has to voice it. That way she won't develop into a passive/aggressive person.

The best way to deal with it is to talk openly and set an example of the kind of interactions you want. Speak openly and plainly to your child about what you're feeling and what you expect, and ask him or her to do the same for you. And reward your child with hugs and praise when he or she is open and doesn't just sulk or look scared.

Those are my thoughts on raising sensitive kids. Do any of you have problems with other personality traits? Or experience with this kind of thing? Let me know in the comments, and maybe I'll tackle something else next!

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At 12:03 PM , Blogger Mary R. said…

This comment has been removed by the author.


At 12:14 PM , Blogger Mary R. said…

We also moved a lot when our children were young. They hated being "the new kids," so they were always careful to be kind to other new kids, inviting them to sit at the lunch table with them and so on. You can teach basic kindness to children through experiences like this.


At 4:09 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

really appreciated this, Sheila. I don't have 'sensitive' kids, but I do know many. Not being sensitive myself, it helps to understand where they are coming from! I totally agree with your observations too :-)

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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