How Do I Best Handle My Sensitive Child?
As my daughter just turned 3 years old she is starting to cry about more and more, her shoe is bothering her, she doesn’t like this dress, it’s any and all types of clothes. This just seems to be a trigger for the majority of her tantrums. Other triggers include fixing her hair and sometimes food. What should I keep in my mind to stay sensitive to her big emotions and everything else she is going through? How should I handle this situation? Do you think she is just at a sensitive age?
Emotions and Sensory Issues
Many kids struggle with sensory issues to a greater or lesser degree. Most kids outgrow them over time while others struggle more severely. First, it’s important to remember that a three-year-old struggling like you describe is very normal. While I hope that brings a little comfort to you, I remember how frustrating and draining that stage can be. Here are some ways we navigated the situation and her sensitivities.
1. Give Options
As much as possible, allow her to choose what she wants to wear. If that means wearing rain boots on a sunny day to the grocery store or mismatch shorts and top, just go with it. You may receive some curious or disapproving looks but believe me, most parents have been there.
Decide what is most important to you and make some very simple rules around it. For example: “You have to be safe and appropriate”. Meaning she can pick out anything she wants to wear as long as it’s safe and appropriate. So, it would not be OK to wear a bathing suit to church or run around barefoot on a dirty street.
If you feel like she is a little too young for this you can start out with giving her three choices of what to wear, all of which you approve. Sometimes simply allowing THEM to choose can calm the anxiety that is often associated with getting dressed at the age of 3.
2. Identify and Be Aware of the Sensitivities
Notice which kind of clothes she mostly gravitates towards as a clue to her specific sensitivities. For example, over time I realized my daughter only wanted to wear a natural fabric like cotton. She was very sensitive to anything synthetic and her reaction to having to put it on was quite severe. She also was sensitive to any clothes being too tight or clingy. So most of what she wore for a couple of years looked a little big on her. Bonus is that she was able to wear her clothes longer.
The biggest battles we experienced was over wearing socks. It seems like socks were her nemesis and it was exhausting battling with her over this. So, for the most part, she wore sandals or other shoes that did not require socks. The times she did have to wear socks it helped to turn them inside out so that the seam edges didn’t bother her. We also bought special seamless socks that seemed to help.
3. Curious and Creative Approach
You being curious and creative is one of the best ways to get through, what for her might be a stage or a struggle, that will take more time and patience to work through. Seeing you being curious and creative about her sensitivities instead of impatient or disapproving can keep from adding fuel to the fire.
Likely, the most difficult part of handling her sensitivities is staying calm yourself. As you mentioned, she’s experiencing many big feelings that she does not understand or know how to manage yet. While this is easier said than done, it will help her immensely and will also strengthen the bond you have with your daughter. This may mean you leaving the room at times, or being a little late to things so you can give her the time she needs, or saying “no” to doing certain things because it’s just not worth it. I remember we had to give up ballet class for a couple of years because the leotard and tights were just too uncomfortable for her.
4. Don’t Skimp on Self-care
First and foremost, practice treating yourself with grace and compassion so that you have that to offer your daughter. Being the mother of a three-year-old is no joke and deserves plenty of self-care. Be sure you are taking time to do things that are just for you, that fill your tank and bring you joy. A joyful, calm mother is what a child needs most.
Written by: Hayden Sears