By Lisa Swinburn
Parenting is a profound responsibility that requires adaptability and understanding, particularly when raising a highly sensitive child. It is estimated that about 30% of the population has high sensitivity. Emotional support benefits highly sensitive kids as it creates a safe and nurturing environment that acknowledges their unique needs.
Highly sensitive children have a unique temperament, characterised by increased sensitivity to various stimuli, including emotions, sounds, and physical sensations. They tend to feel emotions intensely, are acutely aware of subtleties in their environment and are more prone to becoming overwhelmed. It is crucial for parents to recognise and understand these inherent traits to support their child’s development effectively.
Highly sensitive children have a unique temperament, characterised by increased sensitivity to various stimuli, including emotions, sounds, and physical sensations.
As a parent coach, I often teach parents the Gottman’s 5 steps of Emotion Coaching. As an Emotion Coach, you want to not only help your children to navigate the world of emotions and the different situations that trigger those emotions, you also want to show up for them in a way that gives them confidence that they can turn to you when they need you.
To provide your sensitive kids with emotional support, you need to be aware of their emotions. To do this, first practise slowing down, being fully present, and tuning in to your child’s verbal and non-verbal communication. What is your child’s facial expression telling you? What is their body posture signalling? What are they saying? Once you have become aware of your child’s emotions, you are then in a position to support them.
Learn and recognise the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching
Once you are aware of what your child is feeling, it can be helpful to recognise this moment as an opportunity for emotional connection and guidance. If you dismiss the emotion or try to shut it down, the opportunity for intimacy and teaching will be lost and your child may learn that they cannot trust you to be there for them when they experience big feelings. They may learn to turn away from you rather than towards you when they are having a hard time. Instead, when you become aware of your child’s emotion, say to yourself, “This is an opportunity for me to show up and be present for my child”.
Listen empathically and validate your child’s feelings
Once you become aware of your child’s emotions, it is important to listen-really listen-to your child’s experience. When your child is sharing their thoughts and feelings with you, practise giving them your undivided attention. You can show them you are listening deeply to what they are saying by reflecting back (paraphrasing) what they have said to you. You might say things like, “OK, it sounds like you are feeling angry because I have been working all week and not spending time with you”. Once you have listened deeply, it is helpful to validate your child’s experience. “I understand. It can feel unfair and make you angry when we don’t get as much time together as you need”.