Understanding a highly sensitive child is not always easy. However, it's important to remember that there are reasons for their behaviour, even if this isn’t immediately obvious. Children with special needs, such as autism often find it difficult to express, understand and control their emotions. In this blog, SpecialKids Company will provide some strategies that you can use or adapt when parenting a highly sensitive child.
As always, if your child finds it difficult to communicate and their behaviour has changed, it's important to rule out medical issues, particularly if the behaviour has changed ‘out of the blue’. It could be that they are unwell, have a dental problem or are in pain and discomfort. When you visit your GP it is sometimes a good idea to bring notes with you so that you don't forget anything. For example, perhaps your child has been hitting their ear, which could be a sign of ear ache.
Keeping a diary might help you to establish any triggers for your child's emotional behaviour. Looking at the day of the week, time as well as before, during and after the event might enable you to find a pattern. If your child is highly emotional at school, it may be worthwhile sharing this with their teacher and asking if they can keep a diary too.
It sounds very obvious, but making sure that you respond to your child's emotions is important. Praise and, at times, reward can be helpful when your child is using a coping strategy as it might help them to feel positive about their behaviour and the strategy that they are using.
PECs and emotion cards can be used to help your child identify how they are feeling and share this with others.
Ensuring that your child knows how to express their emotions in the correct way is important. Make sure they know that behaviors such as screaming loudly in public, or throwing tantrums at school isn’t ok and that this is bad behaviour not coping with feelings.
At the same time, make it clear that they have a choice in how they respond to those uncomfortable feelings. So even though they feel angry, it’s not OK to hit. Or just because they feel sad, doesn’t mean they can roll around on the floor crying when it disrupts other people. From this it is important to discipline their behavior but not their emotions.
Talking to other parents and professionals who understand can be very helpful. Not only will it help you to feel less isolated with your concerns but you can share ideas and strategies. Sometimes the best advice is from others who are walking a similar path.
A social story can help a child to understand how to behave and respond to situations. They can be used as part of a behavioural strategy and to help your child to cope with change or events that they find difficult. Social stories are also helpful in enabling others to understand why your child behaves the way that they do, which can be key in preventing highly emotional behaviour.
It's a good idea to look at things that help to keep your child calm and which may be useful when they are feeling sensitive. This could be anything from a quiet space, ear defenders, a toy that they find comforting, a drive in the car or bouncing on a trampoline.
For some children, deep pressure stimulation can be comforting and calming when they are feeling stressed or overloaded. This can be provided by hand, for example gentle squeezing hugs or by putting your hands on their shoulders, or by other methods such as a weighted blanket or weighted clothing. If your child has an Occupational Therapist you should seek their opinion on what methods of deep pressure stimulation might help your child.
We hope that you have found these strategies helpful. Do you have any alternative strategies that you would like to share?
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Children with special educational needs are more likely to need support and help to learn at school. This help should be provided by your local authority.
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