How to help your highly sensitive child

If your emotional child cries over everything, you have ways to help them to cope with their intense feelings.

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Engineer Gail Tan, 34, was at work when she received a phone call from her distraught helper. She was told that her 4-year-old-son, Ian, was crying uncontrollably, hiding in the wardrobe and refusing to come out.

Tan recalls, “Ian had come home from nursery and was very excited to feed his pet rabbit. But the rabbit was not hungry and refused to eat the carrot Ian was holding. When Ian persisted, the rabbit hoped to the corner. Ian was hurt and felt rejected. He reacted because he did not understand why the rabbit ignored him.”

Ian was still inconsolable when mummy returned home. It took her almost two hours before she could convince him to emerge from the wardrobe.

Tan explains, “To others, Ian may seem to be bad-tempered or is throwing a tantrum, but that is not true. Ian is a highly sensitive child, so we have learnt to be more patient and understanding about his moods and reactions. We are teaching him how to cope with his emotions.”

“Highly sensitive children have traits of being very sensitive to their senses like sights and sounds, are easily overstimulated and react very quickly to these stimulations.”

A sweet child, Ian’s teachers describe him as well-mannered, polite and hardworking. Tan notes, “Because of his sensitive nature, Ian is also more compassionate and empathic towards others. We have learnt to embrace his sensitivity and celebrate the benefits of having a highly sensitive child.”

Is my child highly sensitive?

If your child is easily affected by his surroundings, cries more easily than usual and is extra sensitive to the moods and emotions of other people, then you may be raising a highly sensitive child.  

“Highly sensitive children have traits of being very sensitive to their senses like sights and sounds, are easily overstimulated and react very quickly to these stimulations. It is likely a personality construct and does not constitute an actual clinical diagnosis,” explains psychiatrist Dr Lim Boon Leng of Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness.

He adds that sensitivity and irritability when their senses are overwhelmed are obvious even when the child is only few months old.

“As children grow older, they are likely to learn to deal with it and become more desensitised. Most of the time, the child may have heightened sensitivity but not to the extent of causing difficulties in life. If so, acceptance and helping the child gradually cope with difficult sensorium* is the best way forward. If the sensitivity is severe, it is best to seek help with mental health professionals.”

* The parts of the brain or the mind concerned with the reception and interpretation of sensory stimuli.