Note: This is a guest post by Erica Johnson of Inner Parents.
Being a parent, it is your job to guide your children in becoming well rounded adults in society. But while you’re doing the best that you can, your children still have minds of their own. Sometimes the way you think your child will grow up being, isn’t quite what you expected. The Inner Parents site has many articles pertaining to just about anything under the sun you have questions about when it comes to parenting or children. But what if your child, or someone’s child you know, grows up being highly sensitive? There is protocol as to things you should never say to a parent of a highly sensitive child.
“You’re enabling their sensitivity.”
No, they modified their behavior towards their child when they realized their child is different than how they expected they would be. If the parent acted as if their child’s feelings didn’t matter, it could in fact make things worse, for the child especially. The child may interpret that as their parent doesn’t care about their feelings and either start acting out, shutting down, or becoming even more sensitive.
“One day they’ll toughen up.”
Not according to science research. These “highly sensitive” people are hardwired to be sensitive, and to change that is like trying to change a human’s need for oxygen. In science, this is called SPS, or sensory processing sensitivity. Sometimes the older sensitive children get, they develop a hard exterior persona, but deep down they are still hardwired for sensitivity.
“You’re being manipulated by your own child.”
This goes hand in hand with enabling their sensitivity. Heysigmund mentions that a child expressing a need means they’re feeling a little vulnerable and turning to their, sort of safety blanket; meaning you. Deborah MacNamara is not only an educator and writer, but also a clinical counselor. According to her, these highly sensitive children need more attention prior to their emotional needs being completely met. This is not them trying to manipulate the parent. If you have two children, one who wants a drink in the middle of the night every so often while the other doesn’t; would you think the one who wants the drink is being manipulative for being thirsty? Would you consider there being a dark hidden agenda in them wanting a drink?
“Who’s the parent here, you or the kid? Sometimes they have to do things they don’t want to do.”
While yes, it is true that it should be clear who has the parent role and who has the child role; sometimes you can’t force your child to do something that they don’t want to do. Obviously this doesn’t apply to getting them to try a new food or eat their vegetables. But a highly sensitive child (HSC) sometimes isn’t ready to engage in a new social situation or experience something completely new. Sometimes parents do need to gently introduce these things, but not full force push them in to it. This doesn’t necessarily mean parents should coddle or baby their children. It just means they should take little steps towards achieving something greater. Whether it’s trying a new food or going to a different park for the first time, even if it’s just walking around it. Progress comes in many forms, and parents know how far to push their child without going overboard with it.
“When do you plan on cutting the cord?”
HSC can sometimes be compared to introverts. Sometimes they take longer than others to warm up in a situation, especially with new people. They feel comfort in knowing there is someone who is “safe” there, almost as if their parent is their safety blanket. Once they warm up in a situation they will start taking small steps away from their safety blanket but if forced to do it all at once, they could go backwards in their progress all together. HSC should have their sensitivity looked at as a gift. They are able to connect easier on an emotional and empathetic level than others. This is how Dr. Elaine N. Aron, a psychologist and author, encourages people to look at sensitivity in this light and claims these children will give a huge contribution to the world when they are adults.
All in all, while these five phrases aren’t the only things you shouldn’t say to a parent of a child that’s a HSC, you should try to avoid these phrases. While you can tell them what you would do in their situation, keep in mind their child is hardwired this way, so there is no changing that aspect of the situation. Just try to be understanding and considerate of both the situation as well as the parent’s and child’s feelings.
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