Excerpts from: Craniosacral therapy & sensitivity.
What do Sensitive Children Need?
Being taken more seriously, faster responses to their emotional needs… more time and space to recover from activity and figure things out for themselves… soothing…
Sensitivity is not just an inconvenience or something that you can make disappear if it doesn’t suit you. One if five people seems to have a much more sensitive nervous system than other people. This means that their experience is heightened – things are louder, brighter, faster and much deeper for these kind of people. They are more easily overwhelmed and take longer to recover than others. They feel things more intensely, need to process events more thoroughly and tend to be very careful about making decisions to do things… only acting when they are absolutely sure… Such people also respond extremely well to craniosacral therapy because it is sensitive and does not overwhelm their delicate nervous systems. This is true for adults as well as children. However if parents can acknowledge and support their child’s sensitivity, such a child can grow up healthy with their figts in tact, rather than being heavily traumatised and having little confidence – so it’s well worth the effort.
How are their requirements different from those of other children?
They need more sensitive parenting! In practise, that means that attuned attention or precise emotional empathy is vital. Imagine a child with a highly magnified bubble around them full of their own experiences and thoughts and observations. Their nervous system picks up every nuance and change in the surroundings. Their life is rich with things they want to share with you. Showing you a sesame seed on their finger tip for example. A caterpillar on a leaf. Chalk dust under the blackboard. If you don’t make the effort to tune into their world as a parent, you will miss out on connecting with them, and they are left with the sense of being totally alone, unconnected and ignored. They will try to make sense of this by assuming they are wrong and will think their needs are not relevant, which can be really crippling for such sensitive children.. The cycle of self-criticism and self-denial begins, and often leads to later depression and relational problems.
Importance of Attuned Attention and Emotional Regulation
More than other children, they really can’t exist without daily quality attention and feedback on their states. They require a more immediate response to their emotional needs than other children because their sensitivity means they don’t have as much tolerance. A small change in their internal environment may feel huge and very frightenting, and if left unattended leads to shock and then trauma as the nervous system overloads and shuts down. Highly sensitive children react more intensely when their blood sugar falls and they get hungry. A highly senstitive child can’t be asked to wait to eat when they are hungry, or the internal storm of sensation and emotion becomes so intense that the rest of the day is a wipe-out. This is not a dysfunction in the child, but rather the result of a highly sensitive nervous system with less slack or tolerance of extremes.
They also tend to appear to be “shy” in that they pull away from new people and observe. Its not actually the case that they are shy, but rather that they perceive a lot more than other kids, and take longer to process the information. They also test people carefully to see whether they are respectful of their needs and boundaries or not, and physically run away from adults who unknowlingly try to overwhelm them. This is a very healthy trait and should be respected and encouraged. Such children know what they can and can’t handle, and even at age 12 months are taking active care of themselves.
So as the parent of such a child, you need to be present and connected with your feelings and sensations, rather than lost in thought. This will allow you to perceive what is going on with your child, and to respond instinctively through the connection you build up with them.
More rest and quiet time
Highly sensitive children also need more down time to rest between activities. In general it is not that they are anti-social, but they tend to enjoy their own company, and need solitary time every day because other people are so “loud” energetically and emotionally that they smother and squash them so they can’t feel themselves. Once their nervous systems get aroused they take longer to calm back down to a comfortable state, and they are also more affected by eg. A visit to the swings, or a friend coming to play. They take longer to recover and come back to themselves. Similarly, if you give them strong or sugary foods, they may react more than a less sensitive child. This doesn’t mean they need to be sheltered from life, but rather shown more tolerance in handling their experience, and space to work out what they need for themselves without interference.
Above all they need to be taken seriously. When a boy says he wants to play football for 5 minutes in the garage, then he really does want that, and out in the patio is not the same. A sensitive child will feel denial of his wishes as an extreme hurt and rejection of his self, whereas a more robust child might be able to brush it off.
Relating to sensitive children effectively
Parents of sensitive children need to be careful not to dominate them with their own emotions, and to leave plenty of space and time in conversations for these children to form their own opinions and responses. This can be agonisingly slow and frustrating, especially when there are other children in the family who are not like this. However if you don’t make these allowances you give the child the message that they should be different. Not only does this destroy their self-worth, but it is an impossible demand on their nervous system, which can only process things at the speed and volume that it does, and it can create physiological problems, nervous system distrubances and eventually extreme trauma.
What does not dominating your children mean in practice? In practical terms it means asking questions without expecting a particular answer. It means listening openly without thinking, and experiencing the answers without reacting. It means not forcing them to do what you want, but letting them be and negotiating a course of action. In energetic terms it means speaking only after you can feel your feet, are calm and with yourself, and to check that you can feel yourself, and feel the child when you communicate. If you take the time to sense yourself, you will feel where the edge of your being or energy meets your child, and whether you are meeting them at the right distance and intensity to make them feel comfortable and able to respond. If this is something that is unfamiliar to you or you would like to know more, you can take the transformational parenting course by skype or in person, and learn the details of how to increase your awareness and ability to relate empathetically to your children.