Compassion: The Heart of Parenting the Highly Sensitive Child?

love-826936_640As Valentine’s Day approaches and our thoughts are directed to the topic of love, I feel it is a great time to remind ourselves about how important it is that we not only tell our Highly Sensitive Children how much we care for and love them, but that we demonstrate it in every connection and interaction that we have with them.

This is, of course, especially true for our Highly Sensitive Children who are so quick to pick up on and absorb subtle cues (and therefore any incongruence between what we say and what we do) and who are so quick to feel hurt or ashamed by unintentionally harsh words or stern expressions.

But it sometimes seems so very impossible in the face of the tears and tantrums of meltdowns, and in the face of the obstinate and stubborn refusals to do even the simplest thing that leads us to take an hour to finally achieve something that should take 5 minutes (cleaning teeth, putting socks and shoes on, getting dressed, eating breakfast…).

I admit that I too often end up huffing, using terse words, yelling, and then feeling terrible about it afterwards because I know that there is no malice behind the behaviour, It is simply an expression of big feelings and a need not being met.

There are many hints and tips out there for how to stop yelling and be calmer with your children, but for me at the root of it is Compassion.

Compassion is at the Heart

Compassion is the feeling we have when we empathise with someone, sharing their suffering, and want to do something to help.

It is perhaps too common that in our busy lives we react to the difficult behaviours from our children as an inconvenience and our response is often one of frustration as we seek to ‘deal with it’ as quickly as possible so we can get on with our day and all the things we need to do and feel pressured by.

mom-940771_640What we forget in these moments,though, is that behind the frustrating or inappropriate behaviour is a child who is still learning about life, and who is looking to us to help them understand how to cope: how to deal with the overwhelm when everything just gets ‘too much’, or the disappointment when something doesn’t work out the way they want, or the frustration at not being able to do something, or the hurt when their best friend doesn’t want to play.

Jennifer Kolari (Connected Parenting) points out that children find it difficult to distinguish feelings and emotions from behaviours and themselves as a person.  This means that when we get angry with them, and yell, threaten or lecture them about their behaviour, they automatically internalise this as us being mad at them for their thoughts and feelings as much as their behaviour. This then leads to to the child feeling unheard, misunderstood, threatened, even insecure because they think we are telling them it is wrong to be feeling what they are feeling.  This in turn leads to more feelings; of defensiveness, humiliation and shame, often expressed as anger, and often resulting in an escalation of the very behaviour that we are trying to stop!

Is Yelling ever well received, by anyone?

I agree with Jennifer Kolari that I can’t think of a single time when someone yelled at me, or screamed at me, where I responded by sincerely saying “You are so right….I don’t know what I was thinking!”   A child’s reaction to the humiliation or fear from being shouted at will be the same as yours: an inability to see the other person’s perspective, an overwhelming urge to blame, and an impulse to retaliate.  Yet we (the Experts), seem to somehow expect shouting, and ‘time-out’s’ and punishments to work miracles with our children (the ones with the ‘L’ plates!).  What we should really be saying and doing at these times is giving them a hug, listening and gently guiding them so they get the message “I love you, I understand and I want to help you learn how to deal with your big emotions.”

Generate a Compassionate Mindset

So, if we approach our interactions with our children with a compassionate heart we are more likely to be able to respond to them in a nurturing way that is helpful to them, and in the long run helpful to us. It is all about assuming the best intentions from our children, rather than the worst, and modelling our own Emotional Intelligence and Mindful behaviour through kind words and gentle guidance.

I’d like to share with you 3 quotes and 3 questions that have really made me stop and think about how I deal with my HSC in the difficult moments and how I can do it better.

3 Quotes & 3 Questions to Inspire Compassion

Manage Emotions


Children learn from what we do, not what we say, so we need to model the behaviours that we want to see in our children.  When we accept that we don’t always get it right, and remember that in their eyes we are the ‘experts’, it is easier to respond with kindness towards our children when they get it wrong, which they will – they are the ones who are learning!

Compassionate Parenting

When we look at things objectively the ridiculousness of expecting children to understand their emotions and to deal with them on their own is abundantly clear – we just need to remember it when we are in the thick of it, and on the receiving end of that BIG emotion.  Showing compassion helps them to feel safe and supported, and that is surely how we want them to feel?

Respond with Love

This is the one that really resonates with me and keeps going round in my mind, because it’s when they are being at their most difficult, that signals they are finding things hardest, and that is when they are needing connection with us the most. Being compassionate towards our children at these times enables them to feel safe, secure, supported and loved.

And finally… Three Questions…

Kim John Payne (Simplicity Parenting) suggests that when you are on the brink of ‘reacting’ (by yelling, or lecturing, or threatening) ask yourself these three questions about what you are about to say or do:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it kind?
  3. Is it necessary?

If you answer these honestly, I believe you will be well on the way to giving a compassionate response to your HSC, and I am trying to do this everyday!

How compassionate are you? Do you find it tricky to show this kindness when in the heat of the moment? We’d love to hear any quotes that inspire you, please Get in Touch!

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