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Parenting The Highly Sensitive Child, Over Sensitive Child

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Parenting help for the highly sensitive child, over sensitive child, who reacts with tears and tantrums and takes things too personally.

A parent writes: Our daughter reacts with tears and tantrums to many things that other kids take in stride. She often takes things too personally, yet may be the first to insult others. When we tell her, she feels blamed and gets even angrier. Why does this happen and what can we do about it?

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Causes of a Highly Sensitive Child

Children who are beset by over reactions to negative life experiences are often referred to as over sensitive or highly sensitive. Mistakes on the part of parents or peers, such as oversights, accidents or hurtful comments, can trigger a dramatic torrent of hurt feelings. Narrow misinterpretations of events, related to an inflated view of themselves, can pose problems within peer relationships and in adapting to new people and places. If the child doesn't adopt the personality skills to manage such ego wounds, girls may grow up to be seen as prima donnas and boys as narcissists.

Parenting a Highly Sensitive Child

Parents who wish to help over sensitive or highly sensitive children turn life's bumps and bruises into opportunities for personality growth are offered the following coaching tips:

Ask yourself, "How may I be contributing to the trouble?" It is not uncommon for parents to plant the seeds for this problem by treating children in an overly indulgent and ego gratifying manner. The failure to set appropriate limits, subsequent consequences when those limits are violated, and provide constructive feedback may contribute to the child's unrealistic view of themselves. This self-centered bubble is easily popped by life events that challenge their sense of self-importance, stirring up self-righteous anger and protest.

Pick a quiet time and private place to provide a description of how they can benefit from more emotional inoculation. Inoculation refers to the process of purposefully building up a child's healthy defenses to let them contend with hurtful or unfortunate events. "Just like when you get your shots that hurt but protect you from bad illnesses, you can also be inoculated from feelings hurting too much by learning how to deal with life's difficulties," is one way to introduce the topic.

Explain how misinterpretations and emotional outbursts set them up to look touchy and hot-headed, even though it's not how they want to come across. Children (and adults) with these narcissistic tendencies are often the first to feel wronged by others, but unable to receive any negative feedback themselves. It leaves the impression of being the first to "dish it out but unable to take it." Explain and point out how this pattern is evident in others, and how your child can overcome it before it becomes too embedded in them.

Review key events from the past when your child overreacted. The passage of time allows you to point out how disproportionate their reactions were now that their feelings have subsided. Explain how the intensity of their hurt feelings blinded them to realizing all the factors involved in the situation. Be sure to point out the inconsistencies between how they perceived things then and how they really turned out to be. Often times, oversensitive children perceive events in an overly personal and intentional manner that hindsight can reveal as distorted and flawed interpretations.

Offer alternate interpretations to take the place of the personalized ones arrived at by your child. During discussions about past and present events see if your child can come up with more general explanations for why things happened as they did. For example, emphasize how easy it is for friends to forget to call back because of things going on at home and it's necessarily due to their wish to make your child feel bad.

About Dr. Steven Richfield: Known as "The Parent Coach," Dr. Richfield is a child psychologist, parent/teacher trainer, author of "The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Today's Society" and creator of the Parent Coaching Cards.

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