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The Highly Sensitive Child

The highly sensitive child (HSC) needs to be corrected and disciplined, but unless a parent know how to do it properly, a child is likely to take corrections as global messages about his worth. Sensitive children tend to be very self-critical, so parental criticism is an especially hard blow, though truthfully criticism isn’t good for any child and is one of four behaviors parents should avoid.

HSCs process their mistakes so thoroughly, they punish themselves and tend to internalize negative messages.

Discipline to Avoid

1. Avoid shaming.

Sensitive children are particularly sensitive to shaming. “You naughty child” or “why can’t you get it right” may seem like mild correction, but to sensitive children, these words can be devastating.

2. Avoid teasing.

Some families use teasing as lighthearted fun, but the sarcastic messages which are almost always embedded in the teasing will not be lost on a sensitive child. “Uh-oh, Emma is baking cookies. Hold your ears! The smoke detector will be going off any minute!”

4. Avoid isolating or withdrawing warmth and love.

Time-out is a popular discipline tactic where a child is sent to a chair or specific spot away from everyone else until he is “ready to behave.” Educators now believe that time-out is not the most effect way to teach any child, but again, HSCs are particularly sensitive to the harm it does.

5. Avoid being permissive.

Don’t avoid correcting your sensitive child out of fear of hurting her feelings. Loving correction that is not harsh or shaming will not damage her but will help her to reach her fullest potential.

Discipline to Favor

1. Change your tone of voice for correction.

For sensitive children, a correction given in a serious tone of voice is often enough to deter the behavior. Because they want to please their caregivers, knowing they stepped out of line is distressing and will cause them to correct their behavior.

2. Connect before your correct

A good rule of thumb for all children but is especially important for the sensitive child because if they perceive a threat, they will shut down quickly. Reassure her that you are on her side and will help her solve the problem.

3. Replace time-out for time-in.

Because it is best to avoid isolating sensitive children to a time-out chair, time-in is a good alternative whereby you take the child to a calming area, help him to calm down if needed (calm brains absorb lessons) and then discuss why the behavior was unacceptable and what he can do instead.

4. Use consequences sparingly, and make sure they are related to the offense.

Again, reminders and a change of tone is often enough to correct a sensitive child. In the case that they repeatedly break a rule when you’ve given them clear limits and instructions, a mild logical consequence may be useful, but watch for a shame reaction and adjust accordingly. More importantly, of course, is to find out why she is repeatedly breaking the rule.

5. Restore connection, security, and self-esteem after disciplining a sensitive child.

Positive affirmations, encouraging words, and play time or focused attention will help your HSC to know he is still loved and delighted in.

You may have noticed that these tips are not much different from how I recommend disciplining every child, and that is because, while some children are more emotionally and physically sensitive than others, all children have sensitive hearts that deserve to be treated gently.


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