How to help a highly sensitive child In pre-school adaptation

What is highly sensitivity

The highly sensitive child is one of the 15-20% of children born with a nervous system that is highly aware and quick to react to everything. Such children are incredibly responsive to the environment, whether it is the lighting, sounds, smells or overload mood of the people in their situations.

These kids are often gifted intellectually, creatively and emotionally demonstrating genuine compassion at early ages. The downside is that these intensely perceptive kids also get overwhelmed easily by crowds, noises, new situations, sudden changes and the emotional distress of others. These kids need extra care and feeding so they can learn how to see their sensitivity as a strength and being empowering themselves with tools to tap into their sensitivity, such as insight, creativity and empathy, while simultaneously learning how to manage their rich emotional lives.

According to Dr. Aron, in most cases High Sensitivity is inherited. However, it is also true that sensitivity can be impacted through certain life experiences. Traumas at an early age may push a child with mild sensitivity to demonstrate traits of High Sensitivity, while exposure to certain stimuli over a long time can decrease someone’s sensitivity to that stimuli.

What is highly sensitivity NOT

High sensitivity is NOT a psychological disorder. It is not being shy or neurotic, nor does it necessarily indicate introversion. To clarify the differences, let’s look at these conditions more closely:

  • Shyness is a feeling of timidity, apprehension, or discomfort in at least some social situations. Shyness is a learned behavior. Because HSPs prefer to look before entering new situations, they are often incorrectly labeled as “shy.” It is natural for an HSP to “hang back” and observe new situations. It is not aversion; it is simply time to deeply process new sensory data.
  • Neurosis is a functional behavior disorder with no apparent underlying cause for the feelings of ill-health it engenders. Neuroses include a number of affective disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and obsessive states. When an HSP approaches stimuli overload (more on this state later), their shutdown behaviors, which may include anxiety, depression, or anger, may appear to others to have no apparent underlying cause and thus be a neurosis. Rather, the state has a very real and physiological cause to the HSP.
  • Introverts are deeply concerned with the inner world of the mind. They enjoy thinking, exploring their thoughts and feelings. Being around people drains the energy of an introvert, while time spent alone re-energizes them. About 25-40% of the general population is introverted, while about 70% of HSPs are introverts. So while there is a high correlation between being Highly Sensitive and being introverted, they are not the same thing.

Highly sensitivity is a normal, natural and healthy condition of nervous system. There is nothing wrong being highly sensitive. There is only something uncommon about being highly sensitive.

Highly sensitive children-traits:

  • Processes things deeply. Thinks long and hard about things. Very conscientious and can be slow to answer questions. Generally responds with accurate, unusual, or creative ideas.
  • Overstimulated very easily. Doesn’t handle time pressure or deadlines well.  Don’t rush them!  Group work is unpleasant for them; they prefer a quiet space to think.  Noise is distracting, and chaotic situations are a nightmare.  Needs lots of personal space and downtime.
  • Reacts emotionally. Takes criticism very personally.  Cries easily, even if feedback is kind and positive.  Has tremendous empathy for others, and tends to worry how others are doing.  Will make a point to give direct and positive feedback to others.
  • Aware of subtleties. Notices very small differences in surroundings, including minor rearranging, changes to lighting or smells.  Reads people in a similar way; almost seems to be a mind-reader.

The task of building confidence is trickier with an HSC because is likely to be uncomfortable and to fail when over aroused, and for HSCs at this age especially, new situations are often very new exciting, stimulating, strange and therefore over arousing. Before helping your child feel secure and supported, which you do with any child, when your HSC goes out into the world we have additional task of making an experience a good one doing all you can to keep things within her optimal level of arousal.

All research on preventing shyness at later ages make the same point: help a socially hesitant child join in at this age, when not doing so is less of a stigma. At later ages being a longer will create real reason for shyness. A small dose of sociability, or at least the ability to turn it on what needed, is invaluable it gives you choices. It is important to remember that we are all social beings. All children are calmer and more secure in the presence of the right others, even if it is just one person they play quietly beside. And even if one’s preference is to have a few close friends one still has to meet a larger number of people in order to select out those special few. The first social experience are important, but social hesitancy at these age its normal and not at all a sign of trouble unless it is allowed to continue and develop at a latter age into persistent, active withdrawal.

The importance of preschool experience

Preschool is an excellent way to help a child enter the social world outside the home and prepare for the major transition of going to kindergarten. The teachers find HSCs going every day, even if for a short time, so that they have a routine and do not have the transition between whole days at home and at school, loosing some of the advantage of habit and familiarity

After a considering the environment and resources mention your child’s sensitivity to the teachers. Some will think your child must be a problem, others will think: “Yeah,yeah, all parents think their kid is special an different. Watch for the teachers who gets it or at least seems willing to listen. Ne sure at this point that almost everything you say about the trait is positive. Especially if your child Is socially hesitant, ask how the teachers would handle a child who does not join structured group or does not play with other children. You should letting the child take some time, then initiating small steps to help the child join as he feels ready. Perhaps he will be allowed to play first only with the teachers or with one child, then the teachers adds another. Perhaps a groups of two can be formed, then of three, then of four. Observe for the first thirty minutes to two hours, and do this for several days. If you enroll your child you may still want to stay somewhere nearby for few days, so the teachers can find you if she is not adjusting well.

Separating at preschool

  1. Talk about separation, so it does not comes as a surprise. But match your emotional tone to your child’s, being matter of fact unless she express sadness or dismay.
  2. Talk about what you will be doing while you are separated, and what you will do when you will back together, so your child can experience your continuing existence and relationship
  3. Let your child take something from home as comfort, maybe something of your picture of you to keep in his pocket or toy.
  4. Came back early the first time, keep the time short, point out often that you will be back.
  5. Say exactly when you will be back in terms or shedule, after your rest time.
  6. Have a special good-bye routine or ritual, maybe invent a special handshake or hug.
  7. Check to see if your child is crying more than five minutes after you leave, if the crying continues for more than fifteen minutes or happens through the days for several weeks it may be too soon for your child to be left. Follow your instincts.
  8. Once your child is used to your leaving keep your departures firm, cheerful and short
  9. Do not rush a separation either. A well-paced departure from home and departure by you at school keeps the arousal low and leaves enough time for the adjustment
  10. Remember, returning home is a another transition. Make coming home enjoyable. Have your child use the toilet before leaving. Talk in the car about what happened at preschool. Have a snack waiting if your child could be hungry or thirsty.
  11. Spend some time at the kindergarten now and then, letting your child show what she does there so that both of you can talk about it at home.

Tips for the teachers

  1. Expect that every class will have a wide range of biologically based temperaments and about 15 to 20 percent will be highly sensitive children. HSCs are born with a nervous system that causes them to prefer to observe all the subtitles in a situation and to process all the information deeply before acting. So HSCs tend to be highly reflective, intuitive and creative, conscientious, concerned about others feelings, aware of subtle changes, They are also easily overwhelmed and hurt both physically and emotionally. Do not be misled by their holding back- they offer you an opportunity to develop unusual gifts.
  2. Work closely with the parents of your HSCs. They offer useful insights and strategies for working with their children. They also need reassurance from you.
  3. Be creative with HSCs, because they are. Select curriculum for them with the visual and performing arts, offer creative writing exercise or clever problems to solve. Choose the literature that deals with complex moral issues or emotional themes, because HCSs often have adult’s minds. They have close ties with nature, they may thrive with the projects involving plants, gardening, pets.
  4. Balance punishing and protecting. Studies find that for secure HSCs, small doses of overarousing situations at the start of the school year can leave them less prone to overarousal in the same situations later in the year. But HSCs already highly stressed will be hurt from such pushing. Try to sense when a child is ready to be pushed and when you need to back off. Try to avoid having to completely exempt HSCs from what is difficult for them. Watch for the right time to ask them to perform, or find an equivalent alternative. See the each step is successful enough and praised enough by you that they will be eager to try the next one.
  5. Help your HSCs form close friendships. HSCs thrive in one-on-one relationships and usually need only one good friend for their social and emotional well-being, but that one is essential. Try to have their best friend from last year or from their neighborhood added to your class, seat together, pair them for tasks so they can get to know each other.
  6. Help HSCs with any social difficulties they may have. Give them time to solve things on their own, but if an HSC seems to be suffering for several days, or consistently withdrawn, isolated, rejected, teased or bullied, consider intervening and also warning parents counselors. they also may act in ways that other children can misunderstand. Further they can be favorite targets for teasing or bullying because they are so easy to upset.
  7. Look at the classroom, environment from an HSC’s perspective. If it is crowded, noisy, hot cold, stuffy, dusty, glaringly lit, or cluttered, all of this will impact HSCs more. Make whatever improvements you can, because they are warning you of conditions that are affecting all of your students to some degree.
  8. Break tasks into a small steps. With HSCs it will save you time in the long run. If an HS is becoming anxious, back off and make the task smaller and easier For example, when preparing a young HSC to go home do not ask HSCs to “get ready to go home”, but to “please find your jacket in the coat room”.

References

  • “Checklist of traits in highly sensitive children” by Catherine Wilson

https://focusonthefamily.ca/content/checklist-of-traits-in-highly-sensitive-children

  • “The highly Sensitive Person: Introduction guide” by Colleen O`Rourke, MBA, CPCC and Elizabeth Walsh, MA, CMT

https://plumturtle.com/PlumTurtleCoaching/Home_files/HSP_intro_Handbook

  • Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. The highly sensitive child: Helping our chlidren thrive when the world overwhelms them

Author

Marija Vasilevska

Marija Vasilevska

Works as a kindergarten teacher according to the MOZAIK-model for integrated multicultural education, and Early Learning and Development program with the children from 3-6 years old. She works as a trainer by MOZAIK model to preschool and school teachers. More than a year she a mentor and peer support teacher in the project for Socio-emotional development of preschool children supported by UNICEF and Ministry of Labor and social policy.

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