Does your child seem to overreact to sounds or tags on his shirt? Does your child have an incredible memory, recalling details you never even noticed? Does your child seem to have out of proportion emotional reactions to seemingly small things? Is your child most comfortable being at home in her familiar environment? These are signs of a child that may be extra sensitive to some types of sensory information.
The truth is that we all have individual differences and some children are extra sensory sensitive, which can be both a gift as well as a challenge! The biggest thing to remember about parenting a sensitive child is that they need to feel safe and this leads the sensitive child to seek control. Here are some tips to make things go more smoothly:
• Try to keep predictable daily routines
• Make sure they get a regular sleep and eating regimen
• Let your child know what is coming up in advance
• Let your child have time to ‘warm up’ to new environments and people
• Let your child stay close to you until he feels safe
• Allow your child to bring a ‘comfort item’ with her when you are going in the community or visiting friends
• If your child gets overwhelmed easily, shorten your excursions
• Avoid too many activities in one day
• Make sure your child gets daily ‘quiet time’ at home to regroup
• Give your child choices of two to avoid power struggles: “Do you want to use the green toothbrush or the blue toothbrush?”
• Anticipate potential challenges and problem solve them in advance: “I know you don’t like that loud public bathroom… do you want to bring a headset or go to a different bathroom?”
• Encourage your child to talk about what she is expecting or feeling
Sensitive kids tend to notice details we don’t even register. Small changes can feel jarring to them, and so establishing consistency and predictability in daily routines is key. Sensitive kids can also seem to have more fears and find things more ‘scary’. One of the most important things you can do is facilitate your child to verbalize what they are feeling and what they are expecting. From here, you can build problem-solving skills and overcome the multitude of daily experiences that can feel overwhelming or scary. As much as possible, listen to your child–she will give you clues as to what she needs to feel comfortable.
By Kiegan Blake, O.T.
(This article was originally published in Maui Family Magazine)