12 May 2024

How to build confidence in a sensitive child

Highly sensitive children can easily become overwhelmed and overstimulated as they feel their emotions deeply and are also hyper-aware of the emotions of others. Our …

Highly sensitive children can easily become overwhelmed and overstimulated as they feel their emotions deeply and are also hyper-aware of the emotions of others. Our guide will explore how to build confidence in a sensitive child as well as explore some of the reasons why your child might be more sensitive than others.

What is a Highly Sensitive Child?

According to psychologist Elaine Aron, 15-20% of children are thought to be highly sensitive. However, it is not a developmental condition and is not recognised as a diagnosis in the DSM-V. It manifests in several different ways, impacting your child’s relationships with their peers, as well as their personal development. Some of the signs of a highly sensitive child include:

  • Emotional sensitivity: Highly sensitive children are characterised by their intense emotions. They might cry easily or be prone to getting overwhelmed. They might also set themselves impossibly high standards and be disappointed if they don’t meet the standards they set themselves.
  • Empathetic: Highly sensitive children are more likely to be aware of others’ emotions and be more likely to be impacted by other people’s moods.
  • Deep thinking: Highly sensitive children might surprise you with profound questions and can often be highly reflective which can cause anxiety and excessive worry.
  • Sensory overload: Highly sensitive children are also more likely to react strongly to sensory stimuli, such as bright lights and loud noises. This can lead to overstimulation in chaotic environments.

How to Help Your Child Cope With Sensitivity?

Children who are highly sensitive might need a little more help than other children to help work their way through their big feelings and intense emotions. Often children who are highly sensitive are told to “grow up” or “stop being so sensitive” which can be damaging to their self-esteem. Supporting your child to develop confidence can help them build resilience.

Acceptance and Validation

Help to remove the negative connotations associated with being sensitive by acknowledging your child’s feelings. Make sure they know they’re allowed to feel their feelings, whether that is sadness, anger, happiness or overwhelm. You should understand that being sensitive is not something that they can change overnight.

Build Security and Stability

Developing a routine can help your child feel more secure and stable which helps develop their confidence. By establishing a level of predictability your child will be better able to deal with sensory stimuli as they will be more prepared. Allowing them some quiet time in their room away from bright lights and loud noises will ground them when they are feeling overwhelmed.

Emotional Resilience and Coping Mechanisms

Allowing your child a creative outlet to express themselves can help them process their emotions healthily. Children often learn by example and modelling effective coping strategies and verbalising your feelings can allow your child to learn through observation. You could also teach them relaxation techniques like mindfulness to help your child reduce feelings of stress or anxiety.

Some of the other ways you can help your child to develop emotional resilience is by empowering them by celebrating when they overcome challenges. You should encourage them to develop a positive inner dialogue by replacing worries and negative thoughts with positive affirmations.

What Causes Sensitivity in Children?

Sensitivity in children can be caused by nature or nurture. This can vary from individual to individual. Being a highly sensitive child isn’t a developmental condition like autism or ADHD, it is a different way of responding to sensory and emotional stimuli.

Sensitivity can be a hereditary trait passed down from generation to generation or could be simply how their nervous system has developed. Sensitivity could be related to external factors that have impacted your child’s early childhood. Exposure to trauma can have an impact on how sensitive your child is as can different parenting styles.

Highly Sensitive Vs Autism

While there is some crossover between being highly sensitive and having Autism or ADHD, if you have a highly sensitive child, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are neurodivergent. In the past, it was common for Autism in girls to go undiagnosed as it had been wrongly interpreted as hypersensitivity.

Social Interaction

Highly sensitive children are likely to feel overwhelmed by social interactions and are easily upset by misunderstandings or differences but they won’t typically have any issues understanding social cues, whereas autistic children will have significant challenges in social communication and interaction.

Interests and Repetitive Behaviours

Unlike children with autism, highly sensitive children won’t exhibit repetitive behaviours or “stims” and won’t have specialist interests. Apart from sensory sensitivity, they won’t display specific behavioural patterns associated with autism.

Sensory Processing

Both highly sensitive children and autistic children will have sensory processing issues. Children with autism will either have heightened or reduced sensitivity to sensory stimuli, while sensitivity to sensory stimuli is a defining feature of highly sensitive children.

Emotional Regulation

One of the key characteristics of highly sensitive children is high emotional intensity, with a good understanding of emotions. Autistic children may also have high emotional intensity but they may have trouble with understanding and expressing their emotions.

How can The Autism Service Help?

Autism is a highly complex condition which is not just characterised by emotional and sensory sensitivity. If you find your child has issues with sensory and emotional sensitivity, and also has other traits associated with autism including:

  • difficulty understanding social cues
  • taking things people say literally
  • displaying repetitive behaviours such as rocking back and forth or hand flapping
  • extremely narrow interests that are at a higher intensity than others

If this impacts their quality of life, it could be worth exploring the possibility of an autism diagnosis. Here at The Autism Service we offer specialist face-to-face assessments, without lengthy waiting lists. Benefit from peace of mind so you can access the support your child needs to thrive. Find out more about child autism assessments here, and find your nearest clinic today.

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