oversensitive 5-year-old

How to Help a Sensitive Child

We asked our Instagram followers for their parenting questions, a few of which centered on helping kids navigate and talk about big feelings. Here is one of those questions, followed by insight from Uplift team members Amanda Suarez, school psychologist and certified conscious parenting coach, and Jon Ogden, curriculum designer and writer.

How do I help my oversensitive 5-year-old? We’ve tried all the gentle parenting stuff and boundaries.

First, we empathize. That’s such a difficult situation — especially when you’ve been trying solutions that haven’t worked. We’re under no delusion that what we’ll offer here will work, given that everyone’s situation is so different, but we hope it sparks something that helps.

We recommend a consistent practice of attunement, which is when we’re aware of both our child’s internal experience and our own internal experience. Start with what you’re feeling and being honest about whether it’s contributing to the tension. If you act from a place of frustration and stress, it can compound the problem. This means that a lot of the work will center on taking care of your own emotions and well-being (admittedly a tricky thing to do when tensions run high).

The more you practice being completely present before an emotional outburst, the more your child will feel felt and seen. You’ll be better able to pick up on the subtle clues that indicate your child is heading toward a meltdown. From there, you can help your child understand the clues as well.

At this point you’ll want to look for what’s beneath the words and behavior and ask, “What is the underlying need? What need are they trying to articulate?”

As you likely know, sensitive children can become overstimulated easily, so intense noise, temperatures, activity, touch, or lots of visual input can overwhelm them. Provide your sensitive child opportunities to rest and recharge in calm, regulated environments. Pay close attention to subtleties in your environment that might be contributing to the problem. On this note, it’s important that highly sensitive children have caregivers, teachers, and adults that sense the emotional subtleties of each situation. Sitting in a space with your eyes closed and doing an awareness meditation where you note what you see, hear, and feel can help you attune to subtle stimulation.

Sensitive children thrive in regular routines and predictable environments. If there’s going to be a disruption to their expected schedule, try to give a heads up and provide some extra reassurance. For example, if they are going to have a substitute teacher or someone new will be coming to babysit.

One final question to consider: Is the behavior asking for connection or correction? Sometimes a big reaction is fundamentally a plea to connect.


Photo Credit: Victoria Akvarel on Pexels