I began to suspect my first child was highly sensitive when he was a toddler. He would startle easily, hated surprises, didn’t want to be in crowds, had a slight aversion to scratchy material and tags, and was highly intuitive for his age. He also noticed subtle changes around him. For example, when we visited grandparents, he would immediately point out what had been moved since he was last there. His sensitivity caused me to change how I disciplined him, and ultimately my entire parenting philosophy evolved as a result. It turns out that parenting a HSC (highly sensitive child) was a blessing I never expected.
What Is A Highly Sensitive Child
According to Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Child, about 15 to 20 percent of children are born with a nervous system that is highly aware, causing them to become easily overwhelmed by high levels of stimulation, sudden changes, and the emotional distress of others.
A HSC is extremely sensitive to their emotional and physical environment and often reflects deeply before reacting. Your child may be a HSC if they startle easily, seem very intuitive, use big words for their age, notice slight odors, struggle with big changes, prefer quiet play, display a high sensitivity to pain, feel things deeply, notice the distress of others and dislike crowds or loud noises. If this sounds like your child, take this questionnaire to learn more.
Raising a highly sensitive child does present its challenges, but they have many positive traits including compassion, gentleness, a sense of responsibility, concern about the humane treatment of animals, the ability to act as a peacemaker, creativity, and an awareness of unity with all beings. If we can nurture a child’s sensitivity, I believe they will go on to do beautiful things in our world.
Using A Time-In With A Highly Sensitive Child
One of the biggest challenges I faced when raising my sensitive toddler was how to discipline him. Punitive discipline created a lot of anxiety in him, and I quickly found that the typical discipline tactics would not work. Because my son was highly attuned to his emotions and sensitive to his environment, he found time-outs very distressing, so when he was three-years-old, I began using time-ins as a way to help him understand and manage his deep emotional world. Together, we created a calming space for him at home where he could reset his nervous system and process his emotions when he was feeling overwhelmed.
Using tools such as the Time-In ToolKit worked great at home, and I quickly realized I needed those same tools when we were out and about, so I created a portable ToolKit. This ToolKit helped my son in stores, restaurants, or in the vehicle when he began to feel overloaded or cranky.
This portable ToolKit is a great way to reinforce what you are teaching at home and provides the consistency your child needs. In addition, it will help you respond gently and intentionally in public situations when it can sometimes be difficult to do so.
Why Emotional Intelligence Matters
Before you create your portable ToolKit, it’s important to know why emotional regulation is important and how this ToolKit can help. In An Age-by-Age Guide to Helping Kids Manage Emotions, The Parent Co discussed the example that a child who has been ridiculed for expressing fear may feel shame the next time she feels scared. The way that we as parents react to our kids’ emotions has an impact on their emotional development. This is why time-ins are such an important positive parenting tool. During a time-in, we are able to validate our children’s emotions, teach them how to identify and explain what they are feeling, and this provides the framework for helping them process and deal with those emotions.
Learning emotional regulation is important for all children as studies show that it can promote positive relationships, nurture empathy and bolster a child’s ability to regulate their behavior. A HSC, in particular, will benefit greatly as this is commonly a struggle for them. Because a HSC is more affected by negative experiences and feels more negative emotions than their less sensitive counterparts, regulation skills are crucial for good emotional health.
Creating Your Portable ToolKit
By using the Time-In ToolKit at home and this portable ToolKit, you are laying the foundation for your child to experience greater emotional well-being throughout life.
It is a good idea for your ToolKit to hold some of the same familiar items that your calming area at home has. Here are eight ideas:
- SnuggleBuddies - Dealing with whining, meltdowns, and tantrums? SnuggleBuddies to the rescue! This plush toy collection with a purpose is helping children around the world learn to name and regulate their feelings. SnuggleBuddies are great to keep in the car for on-the-go feelings regulation!
- A stress relief ball is a great addition for both calming and sensory needs. I made my own by filling balloons with playdough. I drew emotive faces on our balloons so my child could choose what he was feeling in the moment.
- Travel Time-In ToolKit - Now you can have a travel version of the Time-In ToolKit you use at home! This handy laminated version will fit in your purse or child’s backpack.
- Heart’s Treasure Hunt - This beautiful book ties in all seven of the PeaceMakers animal friends as Heart meets them along his journey to discover where love lives.
- Small notepad and pencil - Doodling and drawing are calming activities that your child can focus on in a busy supermarket or in a waiting room to reduce anxiety.
- PeaceMakers mantra cards - PeaceMakers mantra cards help children and adults connect and share their thoughts, ideas, and feelings in daily, playful ways.
- I Spy Jar - You can purchase these pre-made or create your own for just a few dollars. I bought a small glass jar from the dollar store and filled it with colored rice. I then added in a few small items to “spy.”
- Sensory toys such as fidget spinners, stretch tubes and chew necklaces are good additions to your travel ToolKit as they help children relax and focus.
There are so many opportunities throughout our day to teach our children social-emotional skills. With the tools mentioned in this article, learning will be fun both at home and on the go. We would love to see your portable ToolKits in action! Please share on social media and tag us @generationmindful on IG or @genmindful on FB!
- Brackett, M.A., & S.E. Rivers. 2014. “Transforming Students’ Lives With Social and Emotional Learning.” In International Handbook of Emotions in Education, eds. R. Pekrun & L. Linnenbrink-Garcia, 368–88. New York: Taylor & Francis.
- Eggum, N.D., N. Eisenberg, K. Kao, T.L. Spinrad, R. Bolnick, C. Hofer, A.S. Kupfer, & W.V. Fabricius. 2011. “Emotion Understanding, Theory of Mind, and Prosocial Orientation: Relations Over Time in Early Childhood.” The Journal of Positive Psychology 6 (1): 4–16.