Parenting highly sensitive children

imageLast week I blogged on my other blog, Unlocking the Gold (www.unlockingthegold.com) which is a blog about the prophetic and supernatural, on the topic of highly sensitive people. I had a huge response with a number of readers contacting me for further information and to share their stories. Thus, I have decided to include what I wrote on to this blog. I have since added the second part which is more practical and which will be included on this week’s Unlocking the Gold blog. My apologies to those readers who subscribe to both blogs! Beware – this is a long post. If you do subscribe to both blogs, you can skip down to the *** that marks the end of last week’s blog on Unlocking the Gold. You may be highly sensitive yourself or you may have a child who is highly sensitive and my prayer is that you will benefit from these thoughts.

***This year I have been amazed at the number of ‘highly sensitive’ or ‘highly spiritually sensitive’ people who have come into my life and asked to meet with me and receive some mentoring, coaching, just spend some time asking questions etc. Often, these people flourish when they realise that what they are feeling is validated. Sometimes all that is needed is affirmation and a confidence that what they are sensing is accurate. God is obviously up to something as there are no co-incidences with God. A beautiful friend whom I have tracked with for several years is highly sensitive and has often helped me understand more about these people, especially as I have a child who is one. Sometimes I will explain a difficulty I am having with my child, and my friend will give me insight into how that child would be feeling and what would be occurring within them. My friend encouraged me to read Carol Brown’s book “The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity“ several years ago which I flipped through then, but these last few weeks I have been going through the book and really trying to get a grasp on how these folk see and experience life, themselves, God, and others differently.

Highly sensitive people make up about 20% of the population and they tend to easily become overwhelmed by the continual flow of sensory data surrounding them. There is nothing wrong with them. Their central nervous system processes sensory data differently to the rest of the population. They are often the people who are told to “stop being so sensitive”, “Toughen up” etc. Often these people are termed ‘burden bearers’ for carrying other people’s burdens – willingly or unwillingly! They can easily sense and feel what other people are feeling. These people may well be prophetic but their prophetic gifting may also be that they are sensing what the other person is feeling and they name it. They have an unusually high ability to empathise. They are natural burden bearers in that they have a natural high level of sensitivity that enables them to see, hear, taste, feel, smell the intensity of what the other person is experiencing. For them, it is like being in the other person’s skin.

From my understanding, it is like having every sense on full alert. These folk may well walk into church and pick up the atmosphere within the place. For example, if there is an overwhelming sense of grief, they may well immediately feel it and then feel something is wrong with them, not grasping the fact that they are ‘picking up’ the reigning spirit in the atmosphere. If there is conflict within the pastoral team, they will feel uneasy but may not be able to identify what they are sensing, other than they don’t feel comfortable being there. Strong noise, smells, many lights etc may overwhelm them. Often these people find it hard to stay in church the full service if it is noisy, overwhelming, or some undercurrents occurring with members of the congregation that don’t even involve them. Often these folk will want to leave the building immediately after the service and not hang around in a noisy foyer catching up with folk. They would prefer a small intimate gathering than a noisy large gathering any day.

I am a member of our church’s Healing Rooms and have helped a highly sensitive team member realise that what they are sensing about the people who come for prayer is accurate. Previously, this team member would see a person approach for healing and pick up immediately something about that person eg that they were blaming themselves. After the initial stuff was dealt with, this team member may well ask the person, “I’m just wondering if you may be blaming yourself for your accident?” If the person said “No”, then the highly sensitive team member previously would feel like she had got it all wrong and then would go down the track of feeling that perhaps she was blaming herself for that and she couldn’t separate the feeling. The team member then would begin to doubt herself and felt she could no longer trust her instincts. On the other hand, I would be standing there silently going “Yes, you nailed it. That is exactly right. Fair enough, the person either doesn’t want to admit it or doesn’t even realise it, but that is o’kay, we can work with that and try a different approach.”

There are several books around on Highly sensitive people and helping them understand themselves. Ted Zeff has a book ‘The Strong Sensitive Boy’. Carol Brown also has another book which has more practical outworkings, “Highly Sensitive”. Dr. Elaine Aron has a website www.hsperson.com which can also help throw some light on the issue.

In “The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity” by Carol Brown, there is a chapter on parenting a highly sensitive child. This has been helpful in my trying to help my child. Sometimes in a stressful situation, my voice may take on a tone, without being raised, that screams ‘high alert’ to my highly sensitive child. They pick up nuances easily and can become easily offended if it is not handled appropriately. As parents of highly sensitive children, we can easily become frustrated with their sensitivity and teach them to compartmentalise their feelings and not to trust themselves or their own feelings.

Highly sensitive people can easily become performance orientated or step up to ‘fill in the gap’ with what is needed in their family, putting everyone’s needs first so as to reduce the family stress and meet needs. They are adept at ‘fading into the background’ so as to not cause additional problems and stress. As children, they can easily become chameleon’s, reflecting the behaviour of the person they have just been with. One of the most helpful things for the highly sensitive person to learn is to be able to identify the emotion and feelings, and determine if it is theirs or not. They must learn to gain the information of an emotion but not allow it to rule them and to learn what their responsibility is in relation to what they are feeling. Help these folk to have an emotional vocabulary and the ability to distinguish their own spiritual, emotional, physical and psychological load from that of others.

An extremely helpful practice that our family uses after every time we have been involved in public ministry whether healing or prophetic ministry, is to use our hands to physically brush off our shoulders and head (and thus, spiritually and emotionally brush off) anything that has attached itself to us from that time that doesn’t belong to Jesus. We just say out aloud “We brush off anything that has attached itself to us during this time that doesn’t belong to us and that isn’t from Jesus”. Our family finds it extremely helpful and effective to do this. This practice commenced in our family when our other child, not the highly spiritually sensitive one, was involved in praying for over 100 people one day in church, came home and immediately felt sick. Nothing could remove that feeling of nausea and wanting to vomit and uncomfortable feeling in their stomach for the next 24 hours despite prayer, medication etc. 24 hours later I was getting frustrated and asked more questions and realised that it had commenced immediately after the praying for others. I just ‘brushed’ everything off that child and immediately that child sat up in bed and declared that they were feeling fine and no longer sick.

My encouragement to you is to help you and your family members/children understand whether or not they are highly sensitive as soon as possible and help them understand how to successfully manoeuver through life with this gift of sensitivity and to be able to use it to its fullest as God intended. (end of blog 1)***

This last week after my blog post on www.unlockingthegold.com, I had several highly sensitive friends ring and chat with me to thank me for the information and to also shed some more light on how they deal with being highly sensitive. I hope the following is helpful to you as you navigate this field if you or your child is highly sensitive.

The world is not geared towards highly sensitive people. It is keyed towards extroverts. Going into a shopping centre where there is loud music, lots of fluorescent lights, bright colours all vying for your attention can be stressful to these people. The highly sensitive person does not have the energy to continually push on. They pull energy reserves from elsewhere and can easily ‘crash’ physically, mentally, or emotionally. It is really important that they understand who they are and how they are ‘wired’ so as to draw out the best in them. They need how they feel to be validated, not ridiculed. It is important that they work out what is their own emotional stuff and what is someone else’s. Don’t take on others issues. A friend was sharing how she would meet with another friend (A) and this other friend (A) would pour out their heart about an issue they were going through. My friend would spend all the following week agonising over friend A’s issue and praying about a solution. When they reconnected, it would no longer be an issue for friend A yet my friend would have spent a lot of time and energy taking that issue on board.

Conflict for highly sensitive people is exhausting. They process so much more. They tend to have a constant internal conversation where they are analysing and sifting information before they speak. They will weigh up ‘what have I done wrong?’, how I see it, how they may see it etc. Other folk can tend to speak what is on their heart without much time spent in analysing it. We need to help highly sensitive people have a voice and help them to be able to voice their thoughts and feelings. We need to help them not to always go to their default setting of “I must be wrong”.

Highly sensitive folk need to find ‘safe’ people and ‘safe’ places for them where they can have a voice, can take their time where they don’t have expectations to meet.

I encourage highly sensitive people to have something in their world that engages their heart and brings fulfilment. Something that will help fuel them. For each person it will be something different but without that engagement of the heart, life can be empty and difficult.

Soaking can be life giving for them but they don’t always have to be still. They may love walking without the stimulus of another voice and that may re-energise them.

Usually these folk have a high internal justice meter and hate seeing others wronged. They also hate being accused of something that they didn’t do.

A few suggestions that I have found from having a highly sensitive child are:

  1. Try and determine as early as possible if your child is highly sensitive.
  2. Be careful what they see and hear eg tv, DVD’s with scary scenes and also too much stimulus.
  3. Home schooling can be a fantastic option for these children as there is not the added stimulus of learning in a high sense environment and you can protect their sensitive hearts from criticism and condemnation.
  4. Regularly call forth their spirits and bless them eg “Spirit of Jane, I call forth your spirit and I bless you with knowing that you are loved, important, accepted and valued by your Heavenly Father and by us, your parents” etc It is great to bless their identity, design and destiny.
  5. Be wise with discipline. Try to understand what is their bad attitude and what it that of the person they have just been playing with that they have ‘picked up’. Also, words can be deemed to be spoken harshly by the tone in your voice, nuances etc rather than the volume. The harshness can hurt their spirit.
  6. Encourage them to have life-giving people around them.
  7. During stressful times eg Christmas season, many love going on holidays for a week before Christmas to get away from the high anxiety and the extra stimuluses in shopping centres and all around.
  8. Set boundaries to protect.
  9. Be proactive re hunger and tiredness. Highly sensitive people don’t cope as well when hungry and tired and try to be on the proactive side rather than reactive. When my children were younger, we used to have dinner at 4pm in the afternoon. Everyone else seemed to think I was crazy but I can tell you – we never had the temper trantrums from tired and hungry kids. They were fed, bathed and ready for bed at 6pm and we had a great late afternoon and evening without tears.
  10. Help your child identify their feelings and give them words to use. Don’t teach them to compartmentalise their feelings by not listening and reacting to their emotions and ‘shutting down’ their feelings.
  11. If your child ‘sees’ demonic things or things in the spirit, validate them. Please never dismiss them. Help them focus on Jesus and what He is doing.
  12. Don’t label your child eg ‘they are shy’. Also, please don’t push children to interact with adults when they don’t want to.
  13. Help your child to recognise what is their emotion and when it belongs to someone else that they are taking on or burden bearing. A great question to ask is “were you feeling like that before you came into this room or met this person etc?” If not, then they are taking on that person’s or that atmosphere which isn’t theirs.
  14. Exaggeration and over-reaction may be a reflection of them being very stressed and over stimulated. Deal with the hunger and tiredness and stressors first.
  15. Help them with how to handle strong emotions and how to bring them down below the panic mark and give them to Jesus. When they are calm, it is easier to look for the reasoning behind their strong reaction.
  16. Be careful of creating performance orientated children, which they can easily do to help reduce the perceived stress in the family. Try to speak in ways that do not tie performance to value. Even down to eg “Good boy for eating that.”
  17. No name calling, labelling, minimising feelings or dismissing the child. Not only is this wrong but it strikes at their identity and gives them an incorrect picture of themselves.
  18. Don’t make an issue out of things that are not an issue. Also, choose your battles.
  19. Ask for forgiveness often.
  20. Be prepared for inconvenience often eg you finally get to bed and your child has a bad dream or sees a demon in their room. Or you are late for an appointment and your child is becoming stressed and you realise that you need to stop and spend a few moments listening to your child’s heart at the expense of your appointment.
  21. I encourage you to regularly eg annually or every second year for both you and your child to have some prayer ministry eg sozo. Just like you take care of your car by regularly servicing, take care of yourself and your child through regular prayer ministry. This can help deal with stuff before it becomes a huge issue or too ingrained as a default setting.

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