Emotions

Helping Sensitive Children Navigate Big Feelings

Yesterday I was watching the animated film “Boss Baby” with my four year old daughter. In one emotional scene, the baby is caught at the top of a tower about to fall. The older brother pleads with the baby to jump, but the little one is too scared. In a touching moment, the brother begins to sing “Blackbird” by the Beatles, which soothes the baby and gives him the courage to leap into his brother’s waiting arms.

As the scene unfolded, my daughter became very emotional and began to cry uncontrollably, pleading with the baby to jump. Even when the baby was finally safe, she continued to sob, clinging to me tightly.sad child

I wrapped her in my arms and rocked her gently, letting her know that the baby in the story was safe and sound, that all was well. I held her like that for a long time.

And I had two thoughts.

  1. (oh no) She’s just like me. She feels all the things. All the time.

    and

  2. How do I protect her sensitive soul in this world we live in?

The “oh no” was there but the truth is I love my daughter’s sensitivity in a way I have never been able to love it in myself. I just about burst with pride last week when her childcare providers reported that she had stood up to a bully and protected a smaller child. Her capacity for empathy and compassion at such a young age fills my heart and is beautiful to witness.

And.

I know first hand that sensitivity can hurt. It’s hard to feel everything.

Approximately 20% of children are considered highly sensitive. These children are emotionally attuned to everything that happens around them. Their nervous systems may struggle to filter out unnecessary input causing them to become easily overwhelmed.

I’m not certain that my daughter is a Highly Sensitive Child, though all signs point to it. In any case, I know enough to know she needs focused support to regulate her emotions.

As much as I’d like to, I can’t make the world a kinder, gentler place for my daughter.

What I can do is:

Hold Her

“I’ve got you.” I say this to my sweet girl a million times a day. When she has a bad dream or a heartbreak, when it’s all just too much, I can wrap my arms around her and contain her in my love. I can comfort her and remind her she is never alone.

Validate Her

I never tell her she’s fine when she says she’s not. I never diminish the intensity of what she’s feeling. What might seem small to me is big to her and I honour that.

Ground Her

Grounding exercises have always helped me calm my very active nervous system. When overwhelm hits for my little girl, we face it together. We breathe, we point out sounds we hear around us, we feel our feet rooted on the ground. Little by little I teach her to come back to now.

Know Her

My close relationship with my daughter is one I have worked very hard to nurture. It means I can often anticipate the situations that might cause her anxiety or overwhelm and I can prepare accordingly.

I worry sometimes about my daughter’s sensitivity in a world that can be so unkind. At the same time I am grateful to have a child who feels so deeply, who will perhaps bring more compassion and love into a world that so desperately needs it. And I will be there helping her do that, every step of the way.

Do you have sensitive children or teenagers? What are the tools you use to help them cope with big feelings? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.