Coping With Emotions: Helping An SPD Child's Highly Sensitive Emotional Needs

A reader asks about coping with emotions in SPD. Carly from Pennsylvania asks:

"My 4 1/2 year old daughter, who tends to be on the hypersensitive end of SPD symptoms, seems to feel her feelings and other people's feelings very intensely.

She gets very upset and sympathetic when other children get hurt or cry. Often you will think that she is the one who got hurt.

She will feel angry or head toward a meltdown if the other child is being too loud. She also gets upset when another child gets disciplined.

How can I help her deal with her feelings and guide her to appropriate reactions when others are experiencing feelings?" 

Can I share with you a related personal story? When I was little my mom said that I use to cry and cry when an ambulance went by. For years she thought it was because the noise was too loud for me. However, she later discovered that the REAL reason I was crying was "because I was afraid for the people IN the ambulance. I was concerned for THEM... I was feeling their pain." This is called empathy... and it can be a curse and a blessing.

My point is... I DO indeed know what your daughter is feeling! It is related to her SPD in the sense that she feels EVERYTHING more intensely, including emotions. Many who have written and studied this called it a "highly sensitive person" (HSP). Whatever we choose to call it, it is all the same. One of my favorite authors on this subject, particularly relating to kids is Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, author of "Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic". It is a GREAT book for parents of highly sensitive children. (Her resource and other particularly relevant resources will be linked to below.)

Now, how do you help your daughter today? The biggest thing you can do for her is understand and validate her feelings. Will this in itself change the reaction... not right away. But it IS important. Your daughter has a GIFT of empathy, but at a young age it can often be seen as a "curse". It is definitely harder to function when you feel all of your own feelings AS WELL AS others. It certainly can be overwhelming.

So... after recognizing and validating these feelings she has, letting her know and helping her label her feelings, then calming techniques need to be in place. The best calming techniques will include deep pressure hugs, firm touch, quiet, relaxing music, low lights, aromatherapy, linear movement (swinging in one plane, or glider rockers, etc.), soothing hard candy or thick drink through a straw, gentle rocking back and forth, a deep pressure "hug" from a bean bag chair, and helping her understand her feelings and that she has a gift that will one day help other people.

Soothe and validate. Help her understand her feelings and let her know what a gift she has. Teach HER how to do these soothing activities on her own. So, you can eventually say, "I know that hurts you when..., now what can you do to make yourself feel better?"

Here are some resources that you should find helpful. Some are geared for kids, some for adolescents and adults. Start with the ones for kids, then move on to the other ones as they will help you continue to understand and help her.

One day, your daughter will indeed be a blessing to so many. Her empathy will make her a GREAT and loving woman to those in her life. Her life's work and career will probably be focused on helping other people... what a GIFT! We will be blessed.


Reader Comments About Coping With Emotions: Helping An
SPD Child's Highly Sensitive Emotional Needs

by: Jennifer

My son will have meltdowns at the sound and he doesn't have the empathy of the other getting in trouble (he's also gifted and always right, even when he's

The meltdowns are extremely embarrassing, humiliating and extremely loud in itself. It's difficult to explain to people that he's sensitive to sound and yet he's louder than the group of 30 children...

What I found helps, is emotional awareness therapy. I have no idea if that's a real name for something real, that's just what we call

What we did was, made a chart of smiley faces (if you have microsoft word, click on insert clip art and search for smiley, you'll get almost every emotion) I put it on the fridge, in fact sometimes I carry a copy of it with me when we go out. When he has a meltdown, I pull it out. He just needs help saying, I feel upset because it rings in my ears or I was hitting because they wouldn't stop talking. Which usually means, he couldn't process the information as fast as it was coming at him. You know how kids go "but you but you but you" really fast. He needs a space after the talking to formulate how to respond. If he doesn't get that moment, he'll lash out.

He can point at the angry smiley or the sick smiley (sometimes it's just because he's catching a cold and everyone is going to know about
The smileys are also good for explaining how the other child feels, or pointing out how the other child is looking at him. "Your friend thinks you're angry because you're screaming, you hurt his feelings. Maybe we can show him how you're feeling with your chart?"

Giving time to process what's going on, and words to help them say how they are feeling, may help with the meltdowns. Or at least help explain them.
I think it scares him when he loses control like that and he wants to be reassured. Reassurance and validation of emotions (like the other poster said) is very important. They need someone who's in control because they lost some of their own control. It makes them feel safer.


by: Jessi

I still, fairly often, cry because I hear an ambulance, or see an animal on the road that has been either abandoned or run over. I can understand how your daughter feels. Along with any other suggestions you receive, I would like to add a technique that I use. You can modify it any way you need to for it to work for your daughter.

When I am really upset over something and have a difficult time getting over it, I visualize something such as this: putting the "problem" into a box, putting the box on a conveyor belt, and watching it go away from me. The box may be going to God, or just into a black hole, or wherever it can go that makes it go away. And any time the bad thought (or feeling) comes back, I just put it back on the conveyor belt.

Another technique I use is to be proactive. This is something that your child may be unable to do until she gets older. For me though, calling an animal shelter when I see a stranded animal makes me feel better. Even though I know that the animal may be put down, at least I know it will not be a long prolonged horrible death and this makes me feel better. Any way to gain control over the feelings will help.

Hope this helps you some. It can be frustrating, even as an adult, to be super sensitive, because people in general don't always understand me, and I often feel that I am not treated with the empathy and concern that I show others. However, I know that I am a better person for it.

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Related Resources

Chapter Eleven of the book "The Out-of-Sync Child" is entitled "Coping With Your Childs Emotions"




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