How To Discipline A Highly Sensitive Child
Parents need to take a cautious and measured approach when discipling any child instead of just reacting to the situation. Research shows that aversive disciplinary strategies, like criticizing, shouting & shaming kids or even physical punishment “are minimally effective in the short-term and not effective in the long-term.” This is why when you are dealing with a sensitive kid, you need to be gentle with them. One 2020 study has found that “strategies that constitute a highly sensitive parenting style” work best when raising sensitive & emotional children. However, as a parent you should realize that being highly sensitive is not a weakness, disorder or disability. It is simply a personality trait that makes your child unique.
Here are a few effective strategies that can help you to discipline for your HSC with love and care –
1. Practice acceptance
“Embracing your child as a highly sensitive child is step one,” says author Maureen Healy. According to a 2019 study, parental acceptance or rejection as perceived by children and adolescents can lead to emotional instability. Hence, it is crucial that you not only become aware and understand the sensitive personality of your child, but you should also accept them unconditionally. As a parent, you should support them in their journey for self-realization and help them understand that their sensitive nature is a positive aspect of themselves. So if your child seems withdrawn or dramatic, ask them about their thoughts and feelings instead of avoiding them. Acknowledge their emotional needs and pay attention.
2. Establish boundaries
It is of utmost importance that you set clear and well-established boundaries when trying to discipline a highly sensitive child. Research shows that parent to parent, parent to child and child to parent hostility are associated with both parent-child and interparental boundary problems. This is why you need to set up clear and helpful boundaries based on your child’s age. Common rules to establish for your child may involve –
- Eating their food properly without wasting any
- Bedtime rules must be followed and not negotiated
- Cleaning up their toys and books once done
- Not misbehaving with others
- Not touching or playing with certain items that are off-limits
“Being able to give your child gentle structure and clear limits with respect goes a long way,” adds Maureen. You should also make your child understand that in case they fail to follow these rules, there will be consequences for them.
3. Implement practical consequences
One 2000 study found that physical punishment or aggression from parents is associated with aggressive child behavior in a “cumulative manner,” as aggressive parenting leads to higher severity of problems. The study explains “children who experienced punitive discipline, spanking, and physical aggression showed a pattern of increasing severity in the problems they displayed.” Hence, when you are planning out the consequences for not following the set boundaries, make sure these are natural and logical. You should also help your highly sensitive child understand the importance of such consequences. Psychotherapist Amy Morin, LCSW believes that you should not avoid discipline simply because the child is sensitive. Instead you need to focus on logical consequences that teach them crucial life lessons. “Consequences should focus on discipline, rather than punishment. Also, be sure that you are gentle in handing down the consequences,” suggests Amy.
4. Appreciate & reward good behavior
Appreciating and praising your child can also be a form of positive discipline. Research shows that positive reinforcement can help with behavior modification when supported with rewards. When you want your child to exhibit desired behaviors then giving them something they seek, like a new toy or candy, after the behavior occurs can be highly effective. Praising your child’s efforts and rewarding them can motivate a highly sensitive child to put in more effort to improve themselves. It can also help to build their self-esteem. Moreover, rewarding them and celebrating small achievements can help to build positive memories which will reinforce positive behavior. One 2012 study explains “Positive behavior recognition is especially important to adolescent development because it promotes identity formation as well as cultivates moral reasoning and social perspective thinking from various social systems.”