Thursday, January 23, 2014

Toughen Up, Kid! (part 2 in the sensitive child series)

Last week, I wrote about overly sensitive children, and how this can actually be a gift!  A sensitive person is the one that empathizes, reaches out to others, and loves other people in a way no one else can.  This week, we'll talk about helping the sensitive child "toughen up", at least a bit, while still maintaining those positive aspects that will someday change the world.

Teach them to "toughen up": Other parents might see your overly sensitive child and look at you critically.  You'll likely get a lot of unhelpful advice about making that child "toughen up".  Most likely, discipline will enter that conversation.  A good spankin', or time-out, or whatever it is they (in their infinite all-knowing wisdom) recommend will be given to you, in a very condescending way.

Sigh.  You've probably experimented between hugging your emotionally hurt child and saying, "buck up and deal with it".  You probably already know that the "pull up your big girl panties" approach doesn't work so well.  So, let's take another tack, shall we?


When someone has a severe allergy, depending on what that allergy is, they can be given tiny doses of the trigger, which helps their body build up a resistance to it.  A person with a dust allergy will get allergic symptoms as they meet with dust in every day life.  However, when the body meets with a tiny dose, gradually over time, the body says, "hey, this isn't so life threatening after all.  I can relax.  I don't have to fight this one."  The body becomes immune to the trigger, and lives a healthier, happier life because of it.

We CAN teach our children to toughen up, but there is a huge element of love and patience, while exposing them to tiny, manageable doses of emotional triggers.  Don't throw them into a pool they can't swim in. DO put them in a little kiddy pool that they can grow comfortable with, and then get bigger.  This is a nice, middle of the road approach to the two listed above.  You aren't expecting them to grow a thick skin over night, but you aren't coddling and walking on eggshells for them, either.  You are exposing them to the mean stuff, but in ways they can conquer and overcome.

Some ways you might desensitize:

  • Teasing.  Nice teasing.  Silly teasing.  This seems to be a natural thing in families, but you'll notice the sensitive child gets upset and feels unloved.  We naturally joke around with each other about our personalities, past experiences, maybe even some past mistakes or failings.  For example, I always seem to drop something on my shirt during a meal.  It becomes the family joke, since I'm famous for this.  Help your sensitive child to see this type of joking as ways they are loved and appreciated, not as a personal insult.  We had to spend a lot of time with our sensitive child by pointing out other members getting teased, and how the member responded.  I don't go into a closet and cry every time the family brings up the new stain on my shirt.  I smile and laugh with them.

  • Life situations that are mild enough that they can be turned into a success!  In other words, don't instantly put your child in a bullying situation, or something that will increase their fears and sensitivities.  But do allow them to have some life experiences that gently stretch them and give them opportunities to handle it successfully.  Be there to prepare, assist, and coach them through it.  Encourage them.

  • Discipline.  It's easy to fear disciplining a sensitive child when they misbehave, because the emotional reaction is so intense.  They still need to face consequences, and cannot be saved from turmoil simply because they're sensitive.  But approach it differently.  A sensitive child won't need your stern face, and a harsh punishment.  They are going to struggle big-time with a loss of privileges, or even from just knowing that you are displeased.  These are the times to pull out the good old talk: "I still love you.  Whenever we make mistakes, we still have the face the consequences of our actions." yada yada.

  • Find and make good use of the adult that can do this better. Sometimes there is one person that can help them to toughen up, and teach them where they went wrong, without inflicting more emotional hurt.  In our own family, my husband has this unique ability of dealing with situations head on and with brutal honesty; however, he somehow has a very positive affect on our emotionally sensitive child.  When my own efforts cause a meltdown and have an epic fail, I turn to him to do the disciplining and teaching in that situation. This brings me to my next point: Find positive mentors for your child.

Next in the series: Positive Mentoring

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