Creative Child

Disciplining the Sensitive Child

by Rebecca Eanes

My firstborn is a highly sensitive child. I didn’t realize this fact until he was three, and I didn’t fully understand it until he was four and a half when I read Ted Zeff’s book, The Strong, Sensitive Boy. Without the knowledge and understanding of my son’s sensitivity, I disciplined him in ways that damaged his self-esteem and our bond.

This is, in fact, the very reason I began to research parenting philosophies and landed, eventually, on positive parenting. It was because I could see pain and sadness in his eyes during time-out that I eventually rejected traditional discipline tactics and chose gentle discipline instead.

In her book, The Highly Sensitive Child, Elaine Aron, Ph.D. says, “HSCs need to be corrected and disciplined, but unless you know how to do it properly, your child is likely to take your correction as global messages about his worth.” Sensitive children tend to be very self-critical, so parental criticism is an especially hard blow, though truthfully criticism isn’t good for any child and is one of four behaviors parents should avoid.

Aron says, “HSCs process their mistakes so thoroughly, they punish themselves” and this is what I noticed when my son, then three years old, was corrected with a typical reprimand such as “don’t do that, I said no” and a traditional time-out. Because sitting there hurt him too much emotionally, he often tried to get up and reconnect, which I viewed as defiance and put him back in the chair. When he did sit still, he cried huge tears and the expression on his face was heartbreaking. Thankfully after a short time of this, I listened to my intuition and found better solutions for my sensitive child.

Discipline to Avoid

1. Avoid shaming.

Sensitive children are particularly sensitive to shaming. “You naughty child” or “why can’t you get it right” may seem like mild correction, but to sensitive children, these words can be devastating.

2. Avoid teasing.

Some families use teasing as lighthearted fun, but the sarcastic messages which are almost always imbedded in the teasing will not be lost on a sensitive child. “Uh-oh, Emma is baking cookies. Hold your ears! The smoke detector will be going off any minute!”

3. Avoid physical discipline.

For every child, and especially HSCs.

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