Uncovering the ‘shy’ child

14 Feb


If your child is often labeled as ‘shy’ or even ‘fussy’ chances are they constitute one of the 15-20 percent of the population more accurately described as ‘highly sensitive’.

To understand more fully what it is like to live life as a highly sensitive person, watch the film ‘what women want’ and pay particular attention to the part where Mel Gibson is walking down the street and able to hear very woman’s thoughts who he passes without being able to shut the voices out of his head.

Much like this, a highly sensitive child is intensely aware of their environment and energies surrounding them to the point of  being overwhelmed and sometimes afraid. Such a child has a heightened awareness of all stimuli and has difficulty in filtering out the information that doesn’t serve them.

If your child ticks at least half of these 21 attributes chances are they come under this category;

1. Startles easily

2. Dislikes scratchy clothing, labels against the skin and/or seems in socks

3. Dislikes big surprises

4. Easily disturbed by punishment, prefers gentle correction

5. Intuitive, seems to be good at reading minds of people close to them

6. Uses big words for their age

7. Notices subtle unusual smells

8. Has a clever sense of humour

9. Has difficulty sleeping after an exciting day

10. Does not cope well with big changes

11. Wants wet, sandy or dirty clothes changed immediately

12. Highly inquisitive, always asking questions, deep and thought-provoking ones especially

13. Is a perfectionist

14. Notices and is easily disturbed by others distress/negative energies

15. Often prefers quiet play

16. is very sensitive to pain

17. Dislikes overly crowded or noisy environments

18. Notices subtleties e.g an object out-of-place or a change in your appearance

19. Has a high consideration of safety, looks before they leap

20. Performs best when strangers are not present

21. Can be very emotional, feeling things deeply

(adapted from the book ‘The highly sensitive child’ by Elaine Aron)

So you think your child is highly sensitive? Great, now lets concentrate on more amazing qualities they are likely to have as a result of being highly sensitive;

  • Trustworthy and mature
  • Empathetic, kind and considerate
  • Talented student with great perseverance
  • Can make a great leader and innovative adult one day

If like me you are blessed and challenged with a highly sensitive child, expect a bumpy ride with amazing views. There are many sub-categories of highly sensitive people. After checking the tick points above, I managed to get nearly a full set which means we have not only been challenged on an emotional and psychological  level but also physically as well. For the first 12-15 months of life we were plagued with allergies, colic, asthma and non-stop crying, resulting in no sleep at nights and many thousands of walks outside with the sling to find a sense of calm and peace.

For us, large social gatherings are about as much fun as sitting an exam. Well meaning relatives, friends and strangers cause feelings of discomfort and uneasiness as they cross personal boundaries and pass judgements on your ‘difficult child’.

As with every challenge in life, the solution lies not in trying to change others behaviour but to change the way you, as the parent reacts.

To help your child learn to thrive in a low-sensitive society, here are a few tips:

  1. Make sure your child is always well rested and feeling strong before confronting any new, potentially uncomfortable situations. Avoid entering the ‘lions den’ whilst hungry, unwell or generally weak.
  2. As the child’s guardian and role model, be strong and assertive with friends, relatives and strangers alike. Do not allow others to pressurize or force your child into anything they are not comfortable with, be it a hug or simply holding another’s hand.
  3. Combat negative criticism with positive language. Observant instead of shy, cautious instead of scared and selective instead of fussy.
  4. Do not give in to societal pressure to separate the child from its primary caregiver before both parent and child feel confident and comfortable enough, even if this means waiting until the child is old enough to tell you themselves to be sure. A child care setting before at least age 3 years may be too distressful for many highly sensitive children.
  5. Keep social gatherings small and in familiar environments if possible. Sometimes you may need to allow the child to explore the new environment before new people arrive into the mix. Avoid noisy situations with many unfamiliar faces all at once
  6. No matter where or how far you are going, always bring your survival bag which should comprise warm clothes/change of clothes in case the child becomes wet or dirty. Also, include snacks and a hydrating drink along with a pack of tissues/wipes and nappies if required. Finally, a comfort item, perhaps a favourite teddy or toy or maybe just mum if the child is breastfeeding.
  7. Be patient above all else and trust the child’s innate intelligence. You may need to allow your child much more time to adjust and feel ready to tackle something new.. Use natural consequences rather than punishment and ‘I told you so’ which create guilt and shame, a negative and useless pair of emotions for motivating behaviour changes.

Do remember, parenting a highly sensitive child will get easier with time. Nothing worth doing is ever easy they say. Take time to show your child kind acceptance and understanding and allow them to be unique in their own very special way.

A well written book ‘The highly sensitive child’ by Elaine Aron sums up the journey very nicely. “In order to have an exceptional child, you must be willing to have an exceptional child.”

One Response to “Uncovering the ‘shy’ child”

  1. Ruth and Rosie's February 21, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    I am blessed with a highly sensitive child who is now six and growing in confidence daily, sometimes it was challenging when she was smaller because she needed Mummy so much and it was a real need it’s hard to explain but we are reaping the benefits now she is exceptionally bright and kind and empathetic with her younger sibling and friends, she is highly sensitive but her intuition is really useful she used to know how her you her sister was feeling before she could speak and we were able to respond, it definitely gets easier as they become older though.

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