Creative Child

How to Parent with Sensitivity

by Brittany Ferrell on Jul 27th, 2016

I would like to think of myself as compassionate and empathetic. Perhaps maybe too much so. I am the type of person who says “yes” too readily and “no” too rarely. In my professional and personal life, this is my downfall. As a parent, being sensitive to my child’s feelings and toddler behavior is probably my greatest achievement.

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“Responding with sensitivity” is one of the eight principles of Attachment Parenting. During infancy, you pick your baby up when she cries. You meet their physical needs and spend most of your time holding your baby close. Your physical proximity helps to develop and strengthen your emotional bond. This, to me, was easy. I cherished every second of holding my little darling close.

The more challenging aspect of this parenting philosophy begins as your child enters into toddlerhood and begins exhibiting those troublesome toddler behaviors. Now, you are beyond meeting only your child’s biological needs. Toddlers have a whole long list of other stuff they simply want, with no apparent rhyme or reason. And if they do not get it, you will hear about it. As a parent, it is hard to be empathetic when you watch your child dissolve into a fit of tears over, what appears to be, completely nonsensical. However, this is exactly the time to demonstrate just how sensitive you can be.

Acknowledge the Emotion

What seems irrational to you is a very real emotion to your toddler, and it will manifest itself in those toddler behaviors that make parents lose their cool. These are their first experiences with feelings of anger, frustration, and sadness. These feelings can be overwhelming to an adult, let alone a toddler. It is important to give your child’s feelings a name, thus acknowledging your toddler’s emotions and allowing you to empathize.

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For example, your toddler is having a meltdown because you are failing to understand what she is trying to communicate. You can say, “I know you are feeling frustrated because I am not understanding you. Can you try taking a deep breath and telling me again?” Or, “I know you are feeling angry because I won’t let you climb on the furniture, but I want to make sure you are safe and do not get hurt.”

I experimented with ignoring my daughter’s tantrums (the quintessential toddler behavior we all know and love) and providing positive reinforcement for desired toddler behaviors. I think the term “epic fail” might be the understatement of the century. I put myself in my daughter’s shoes. Who likes being ignored when they are feeling upset? As soon as I began acknowledging her feelings, she began to realize and trust that I was trying to help her.

Be Patient to Teach Patience

Have you every referred to your child as your “mini me”? This is because your child loves to mimic everything you do. You are the center of your toddler’s universe and the model for which your child learns how to interact with the world. How can your child learn to be patient if you do not show them what patience looks like and sounds like?

When you are in the middle of cooking dinner or worse… in the middle of eating dinner in a restaurant, and your toddler has a tantrum, it is very easy to lose your cool. It is much more difficult to remain calm and to keep your voice level. The idea is to model a calm demeanor for your child to emulate, not get into a contest of who can exhibit the loudest, most insensitive toddler behavior.

More sensitive solutions for toddler behavior on page 2...

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