If you are the parent of a sensitive child you may be familiar with the frustration and mystery of trying to work out what your child needs, what they are trying to communicate and what to do to help them develop. Craniosacral therapy can be a useful tool both for treating parents of sensitive children to help them to learn to feel and relate to their child, and for the child also. Sensitive children often need help calming their nervous systems, processing emotion, and learning to name and express the wealth of sensations and emotions they are experiencing. Since the craniosacral practitioner is trained to focus on perceiving at a very sensitive level, s/he can be of great assistance in translating the child’s world and experience to the parents, and facilitating a satisfactory relationship between parents and child… S/he may be able to help the parents adjust to their child’s needs and show them how to make the more empathetic contact that will support the child’s healthy development.
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. Craniosacral treatments can be a huge support for you in helping you to learn to feel, to connect with yourself, and to be able to connect with your child.
How Craniosacral Therapy can help deal with Sensitivity
Craniosacral therapy also opens up blocks in your core energy, and can enable you to be more present and freer with expressing your instincts. This will probably help you more than any parenting “technique” in accessing your instinctual response to your child, to give them the stimulus they need developmentally, soothe them when distressed etc. Even if you feel you don’t know how to parent, the thousands of years of human parenting are stored in your body and will naturally come out at the appropriate time if you allow yourself to set aside you thinking, your fear of getting it wrong, and the ideas you’ve been told. Everyone can parent, its literally, natural! Craniosacral therapy can help you get back in touch with that embodied nature…
Highly sensitive children are ususally very sensitive to sound and smell, and easily disturbed by abrupt movments, loud aggressive people, and hysterical or frightened behaviour. These are kids who really need adults to calm down before they approach them because their systems are to sensitive that they pick up and resonate with the slightest hint of emotion or nervous energy, and they don’t have the capacity to get themselves calm whilst the stimulous is still around.
If you as the parent are a highly strung or nervous, then they are likely to suffer constantly… which is why working on your own calm as a priority is even more important for these children. Again, learning to regulate your own nervous system or self soothe through craniosacral sessions can be highly beneficial.
And your child can benefit immensely from having the chance to learn to feel sensation in their own body during a quiet, safe craniosacral session when they will not be overwhelmed or too frightened to cope. Craniosacral sessions can also help them to begin to learn to name emotions, allow anger and express their inner states and needs. In a normal family environment this can be very hard for sensitive children because they just cant seem to find enough space or quiet to get connect with themselves, and parents may simly not know be able to tell what they need. They tend to end up rather quiet, lost and ghost-like which is a shame given the huge amount of felt experience and imagination they have to contribute to life. By paying proper attention as the parent you can help them connect with life more fully.
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 senstivie 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. Having craniosacral therapy will support this process by helping you to learn to feel your own body and experience your own emotions. These are simple but essential steps in being able to relate effectively to a highly sensitive child.