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Published on April 22, 2015

Understanding Your Child’s Temperament: Sensitivity

There’s probably nothing more frustrating to a parent than to be in a hurry to get somewhere (and aren’t we always in a hurry to get somewhere?!) only to have a child who melts down because his socks feel wrong. Seriously, how wrong could socks possibly feel? And how important is that compared to wherever we need to go? This is a difficult situation not only for parents, but for the child as well.

She’s not trying to make you late for work; her socks feel icky!

This little one would probably score high on the sensitivity temperament trait. Just knowing that doesn’t solve the problem, but it’s a good starting place for finding a solution.

Ideas for the highly sensitive child

When purchasing clothing for a highly sensitive child, learn what textures, colors, level of warmth, etc., your sensitive child prefers and only purchase those things for her. Encourage others who purchase things for her to consider this as well. You can always donate unwanted items to a local charity or shelter. Observe your child’s growth carefully. Things that worked last week may be getting too small this week. Making this small accommodation can make the “morning shuffle” a great deal easier to manage. Lay out your child’s clothing the night before to avoid making decisions in the morning.

Another difficult circumstance for highly sensitive children may be shopping. Shopping areas are loaded with sensory input. Stores want to capture our attention and our dollars. They do that with bright lights, lots of colors, invigorating music, tempting smells, interesting textures, etc. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring your sensitive child shopping with you, but that you need to be aware it will get difficult for her. Limit her time in those circumstances.

So how do you do that?

  • Know your child’s limit and keep shopping expeditions within that limit.
  • If you need (or want) to exceed that limit, have someone else take care of your child while you go shopping.
  • Plan these shopping trips at a time when your child is at her best — not hungry, tired, sick or upset about something else.

These changes can make shopping more fun for you and your child — and for the other mall or grocery shoppers!

Children who are not at all sensitive

Some kids are not very sensitive at all. They rarely notice things going on around them, such as bright lights and loud noises. Wow! That would be a fun kid to go shopping with!

Yes, but there are other considerations with these children. Often, these kiddos don’t notice when a difficult situation is around them. They might not notice when their words or actions have hurt the feelings of a friend.

Fortunately, parents can help them learn about this:

  • When something she has done has hurt someone’s feelings, you can gently remind her of a time when her feelings got hurt and how badly she felt. Explain to her that is probably how her friend feels now. Have her look at her friend’s face and notice the sad look that is there and connect that to what she has done. Teach her how to apologize and encourage (not force) her to do that.
  • Have a "feelings chart" that has lots of faces with many different expressions. Give your child the words to describe the feelings on those faces. Have your child point to the face that looks closest to how she’s feeling. Also have her point to the face that she thinks is how you’re feeling. Repeat this game often to help your child learn how to recognize feelings.
  • Frequently point out to your child interesting things that are going on around her. "Look, there’s a horse over there!" Encourage her to notice things as well, and acknowledge it when she does. This reinforces her observational skills.
  • Limit screen time as this tends to diminish observation of the real world.

If you’d like to find out what your child’s temperament scores are like, email the child’s date of birth and your mailing address to temperament@avera.org.

Live Better. Live Balanced. Avera.

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