Disciplining the Sensitive Child

Tuesday, March 1, 2016 No comments


My firstborn is a highly sensitive child. I didn’t realize this fact until he was three, and I didn’t fully understand it until he was four and a half when I read Ted Zeff’s book, The Strong, Sensitive Boy. Without the knowledge and understanding of my son’s sensitivity, I disciplined him in ways that damaged his self-esteem and our bond.

This is, in fact, the very reason I began to research parenting philosophies and landed, eventually, on positive parenting. It was because I could see pain and sadness in his eyes during time-out that I eventually rejected traditional discipline tactics and chose gentle discipline instead.

In her book, The Highly Sensitive Child, Elaine Aron, Ph.D. says, “HSCs need to be corrected and disciplined, but unless you know how to do it properly, your child is likely to take your correction as global messages about his worth.” Sensitive children tend to be very self-critical, so parental criticism is an especially hard blow, though truthfully criticism isn’t good for any child and is one of four behaviors parents should avoid.

Aron says, “HSCs process their mistakes so thoroughly, they punish themselves” and this is what I noticed when my son, then three years old, was corrected with a typical reprimand such as “don’t do that, I said no” and a traditional time-out. Because sitting there hurt him too much emotionally, he often tried to get up and reconnect, which I viewed as defiance and put him back in the chair. When he did sit still, he cried huge tears and the expression on his face was heartbreaking. Thankfully after a short time of this, I listened to my intuition and found better solutions for my sensitive child.

Discipline to Avoid


1. Avoid shaming.
Sensitive children are particularly sensitive to shaming. “You naughty child” or “why can’t you get it right” may seem like mild correction, but to sensitive children, these words can be devastating.

2. Avoid teasing.
Some families use teasing as lighthearted fun, but the sarcastic messages which are almost always imbedded in the teasing will not be lost on a sensitive child. “Uh-oh, Emma is baking cookies. Hold your ears! The smoke detector will be going off any minute!”

For every child, and especially HSCs. 

4. Avoid isolating or withdrawing warmth and love.
Time-out is a popular discipline tactic where a child is sent to a chair or specific spot away from everyone else until he is “ready to behave.” We now know that time-out is not the most effective way to teach any child, but again, HSCs are particularly sensitive to the harm it does.

5. Avoid being permissive.
Don’t avoid correcting your sensitive child out of fear of hurting her feelings. Loving correction that is not harsh or shaming will not damage her but will help her to reach her fullest potential.

Discipline to Favor


1. Change your tone of voice for correction.
For sensitive children, a correction given in a serious tone of voice is often enough to deter the behavior. Because they want to please their caregivers, knowing they stepped out of line is distressing and will cause them to correct their behavior.

2. Connect before your correct
A good rule of thumb for all children but is especially important for the sensitive child because if they perceive a threat, they will shut down quickly. Reassure her that you are on her side and will help her solve the problem.

3. Replace time-out for time-in.
Because it is best to avoid isolating sensitive children to a time-out chair, time-in is a good alternative whereby you take the child to a calming area, help him to calm down if needed (calm brains absorb lessons) and then discuss why the behavior was unacceptable and what he can do instead.       

4. Use consequences sparingly, and make sure they are related to the offense.
Again, reminders and a change of tone is often enough to correct a sensitive child. In the case that they repeatedly break a rule when you’ve given them clear limits and instructions, a mild logical consequence may be useful, but watch for a shame reaction and adjust accordingly. More importantly, of course, is to find out why she is repeatedly breaking the rule.

5. Restore connection, security, and self-esteem after disciplining a sensitive child.
Positive affirmations, encouraging words, and play time or focused attention will help your HSC to know he is still loved and delighted in.

You may have noticed that these tips are not much different from how I recommend disciplining every child, and that is because, while some children are more emotionally and physically sensitive than others, all children have sensitive hearts that deserve to be treated gently.
Interestingly, I have since had a non-HSC child and have found that, while traditional discipline may “work” for him and not my HSC, gentle, positive discipline actually works well for both of them. I believe all children respond well to reasonable limits enforced with loving guidance.

**This article was originally published at Creative Child Magazine.



Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide



Positive Parenting is more than a parenting book. It's a guide to human connection. Rebecca provides a roadmap for creating happy, deeply connected families where children and parents alike are able to rise to their fullest potential.”  --Amy McCready, author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic


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Rebecca Eanes, is the founder of positive-parents.org and creator of Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond. She is the author of 3 books. Her newest book, Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, will be released on June 7, 2016 and is available for pre-order now. The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parenting and a co-authored book, Positive Parenting in Action: The How-To Guide to Putting Positive Parenting Principles in Action in Early Childhood are both best-sellers in their categories on Amazon. She is the grateful mother to 2 boys. 

Staying Close in the Digital Age


                   Photo Credit: Creative Child Magazine


It is the age of being superficially known by hundreds and deeply known by no one, or by very few. We are virtually connected for much of the day, but our heart-to-heart connections are suffering - yet being known and accepted as we are, not as what we portray on social media, being seen and loved and valued at home, not seen and liked and noticed online, being connected to real people – these are what sustain us.

I understand the struggle of staying close when everything is pulling at our attention. My sons have iPads and Kindle Fires and X-Box systems. I have an online business. The pull is ever present, seeking to draw us into the online world and away from the blessings right in front of us.

I was struck by a passage in the book The Life-Giving Home by Sally and Sarah Clarkson.
It says this, “If my awareness of space is concentrated on a screen, my home will reflect the absence of my attention, my creativity, and ultimately, my love.”

I think the conversation about screen time has been had many times already. How much screen time should children be allowed? Are parents too addicted to their phones? Just as we have become accustomed to doing, we scan these articles quickly, throw in our two cents in a depthless online conversation with strangers, comment about how ironic it is that we read such a piece on our phones, and move on to the next bit of information grappling for our attention.

For many, I see defenses swiftly raised, quick to defend the right to take a short break from the constant demands of parenthood. For others, pangs of guilt are expressed and then forgotten. But do we give careful, deep consideration to how this digital age is affecting our intimate relationships at home? Those who express a desire to change often feel hopeless to be able to effect it. The problem feels too big for us, too ingrained, and with so little control over the allure of the world wide web, we accept that this is the age we are living in.

But hope remains. If you haven’t heard of the Facebook page, The Hands Free Revolution, do visit it. Rachel, and her two beautiful books, are a beacon of hope for “letting go of distraction to grasp what truly matters.” Together, Rachel, Sally, and Sarah have inspired me to make the following changes in my own home.

These are not necessarily the changes you need to make, but rather this is an invitation to ponder deeply about the effects this digital age is having on you, personally, on your children individually, on your partner, on your relationships, and on your heart-to-heart connections. This is an invitation to make the changes that lead to your own best life.

1. Designate device-free times throughout the day.
I used to grab my phone and check social media before I got out of bed. Now I reach for it only to turn on instrumental music to start my day to. This is a discipline, and there are still times I must occasionally check it early for my business, but I can tell a big difference in my peace of mind and mood when I begin my day scouring the endless feeds versus listening to music, tasting my coffee, and doodling in my journal. There is also no devices during dinner or during school work (unless we are using them for educational purposes).

2. Limit the time you and your family spend on the internet.
My sons have things they like to watch online, but I only allow this between such and such times each day. Before I made this a rule, they’d want to be on it from afternoon to bedtime, and I can tell a difference in their moods as well when they’ve had too much screen time.

3. Fill up the empty spaces with connecting activities.
If you just say, “No devices after 6 pm!” and don’t give them anything to do, children will become extremely bored and push against your limit. The goal isn’t just less screen time, but more time to connect heart-to-heart, so fill those spaces with reading books aloud as a family, board games, cards, making art, dancing, making music, playing ball, etc.

4. Do things online together.
You can make screen time a connecting time if you spend it having fun with your child. Play a video game together or watch something online with your child. You should see the Minecraft castle I built. My kids were impressed.

5. Educate your children.
Not only about the dangers of being online, but also how it affects their relationships, emotions, and brains. This video from BrainPopJr is about internet safety.

6. Talk to your kids.
I think every parent should read this post, called Words We Cannot Afford to Keep From Our Children and have this conversation with your children.

7. Check out this summit.
Join this free online telesummit about parenting in the digital age with such respected names as Susan Stiffelman, author of Presence Parenting, and Dr. Dan Siegel, author of No-Drama Discipline.

8. Be a good role model.
The most important thing that you’ll “tell” your children about the importance of the online world is what you live.

*This article was originally published at Creative Child Magazine


Rebecca Eanes, is the founder of positive-parents.org and creator of Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond. She is the author of 3 books. Her newest book, Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, will be released on June 7, 2016 and is available for pre-order now. The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parenting and a co-authored book, Positive Parenting in Action: The How-To Guide to Putting Positive Parenting Principles in Action in Early Childhood are both best-sellers in their categories on Amazon. She is the grateful mother to 2 boys. 

7 Tips for Transitioning to Positive Parenting


             Photo Credit: Creative Child Magazine

So, you’re tired of the disconnection and power struggles that traditional parenting techniques bring and you’re ready to give positive parenting an honest go, like this mother did. But you’re not sure where to start. If you’re a newbie to positive parenting, these tips should help ease the transition.

Tip #1: Reframe Parenting Goals and Roles

It’s really helpful to get out of the mindset that you must control your child’s behavior. That’s an exhausting endeavor, and a feat you’ll never accomplish because, in the end, the only person you can ever really control is yourself. The goal of positive parenting is to raise thoughtful children with a strong sense of what is good and right and the inspiration and self-discipline to reach their highest potential.

That means your role is model, encourager, and mentor. I like to say I went from punisher to healer. Rather than punishing my child when his behavior got off track, I looked for the inner hurt that was causing his bad behavior and did my best to heal that hurt, whether it was disconnection, tiredness, hunger, or frustration.

Tip #2: Reframe Discipline

I’ve come to think of discipline in a different way. As I was trying to set a daily rhythm for our homeschool, my plans kept failing. I’d start the school year off with a bang, but several weeks in, our routine would slip, I would be less consistent with sticking to my predetermined schedule, and frustration would creep in. I realized I needed more discipline to keep a tight, consistent routine for the long haul. Did this mean I needed someone to come and sit me in a corner when I got off schedule? Of course not!

What I needed was inner motivation and better time management skills, not punishment. I think of discipline in the same way now for my children. My goal is always to teach them how to govern themselves – their emotions, spaces, time, behavior, etc. Therefore, I ask “what does he need right now to build self-discipline?” The answer has never been an arbitrary punishment.

Tip #3: Get Ahold of Yourself
This is probably the most challenging aspect of positive parenting, controlling your own thoughts, words, and actions. Old patterns are difficult to break, and you may find that you slip back into negative thinking, yelling, or a desire to punish often.

Like everything, practice makes you better. The more you choose a helpful or positive thought over a toxic thought or to step away and take a deep breath when you’re angry, the easier it will become for your brain to take that new pathway.

Tip #4: Get Your Partner On Board
This is such a huge subject that I wrote a whole book about it. (Go ahead and pre-order it!) You can’t control your partner either, but you can inspire and influence him/her. Explain the brain science behind your change of parenting, your goals, and your new plan. Make sure your partner understands that this is not permissive parenting (a common worry I hear). Start by having a discussion to answer the following questions (taken from my book,Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide).
  1. I feel that my partner is a good parent because____.
  2. I feel that my role as a parent is to ___.
  3. My parents were ___ and I feel that was ___.
  4. It’s most important to me for my child to be ___.
These questions provide a good jumping off point to find your common ground. I recommend posing the question and taking turns answering each one and then letting the conversation flow.    ...Continue reading tips 5-7 at Creative Child