There are many things parents can do to nurture and encourage highly sensitive kids, but I think the most important task is to love and accept them as they are. There is unspoken pressure on parents to coax sensitive, quiet or cautious kids into being more assertive, outgoing or bold at a very young age. Sometimes the pressure is put on the parents by themselves. They know how outgoing and funny their child can be at home and they are eager for the wider world to know her as well. Or they fear that if their child isn’t speaking up and joining in now, then they will be left behind in life.
But this hurry-up-and-be-braver-louder-friendlier approach will simply backfire if it feels like criticism to the child. A child who feels comfortable about who she is right now even if that means a little scared, a lot cautious or simply reflective and observant in certain situations, will grow to be confident and kind.
The best essay I’ve ever read on this subject Stop Worrying About Your Sensitive Child was written by Janet Lansbury, author of No Bad Kids. Having been a sensitive child herself, Lansbury remembers what attitudes did her more harm than good. Spoiler: Having parents who saw her sensitivity as a flaw that made her fragile was not helpful.
By not worrying about your sensitive child, Lansbury is not suggesting throwing them to the wolves, so to speak. Sensitive kids often need extra time, encouragement and warmth, and those who receive that can turn into the most amazing adults. What she is suggesting is to remember that your child’s temperament may be his greatest gift; even if the world is yelling too loudly to notice this, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. When your child knows in his heart that you trust that he is exactly who he is meant to be, he will blossom beyond your wildest predictions.