Kids often experience emotional upset, but some highly sensitive children are prone to frequent, intense overreactions to seemingly benign everyday problems. This can lead to serious behavioral problems and emotional dysregulation that can be hard to manage.
The parent of a highly sensitive child is at greater risk of stress because of the emotional rollercoaster of their child. It is best to address this issue early to prevent negative emotional sensitivity from being a long-term issue affecting your child's mind or body.
Although not a mental health problem in and of itself, parents and all family members should work closely with a qualified clinical psychologist to manage this personality trait and the child's extreme emotional responses. However, extended periods of emotional dysregulation can be a sign of a clinical issue such as a mood disorder, anxiety, OCD, autism, etc. So, it is important to get some guidance, and a parent group might just be the place to start. Getting group parent coaching helps parents manage the behavior of sensitive and reactive kids
The effects of suppressed emotional pain or discomfort can be felt physically and mentally and can easily be re-triggered. A child's emotions can sneak into the brain and affect the body without them knowing it since these don't need memories or context. Some physical symptoms may indicate that your child is overly emotional.
I recently worked with a 12-year-old girl named Lydia. Lydia had a bunch of clinical diagnoses, and her parents felt she just didn't have the root cause of her issues. They were trying to label her bipolar because she would have these big emotional overreactions, and at that point, her parents said, “We have to figure out what is going on.”
She would get overly worked up about things that were upsetting and everyday stuff. For example, if she dropped something in the kitchen or she realized she still had 10 minutes' worth of homework left undone, or her mother asked her to get in the car and get ready for school.
Those were all things that made Lydia explode. She had a big reaction to everything, and that is hard to parent. Her mom came to us after her friend successfully used neurofeedback to support her child with a mood disorder and ADHD. These mental health conditions can and often do get in the way of self calming and regulation. When we look at the different parts of the brain, we can see that overly emotional children tend to have a reactive limbic system.
Very quickly, her daughter started self-regulating to the point where the mom said, “I almost didn't know what to do with myself in the morning because our mornings were filled with upset disorganization, constant reminders, and nagging.” There's always a lot of friction between them that just went away after neurofeedback For the first time in Lydia's life, she could self-regulate her emotions.
How to Recognize if Your Child is Overly Emotional
Children who are excessively sensitive or are deeply feeling kids tend to experience intense emotions, and to deal with these big emotions impacts their lives and activities in many ways. When a young children tantrums, we tend not to worry as much. But when overly emotional reactions occur in a child of any age with intensity and frequency for a long duration, we need to worry and give our kids a lifeline.
You may be feeling overhlemed and perplexed in how to deal with a child that cries over everything and how to help an emotional child. Crying kids or cyring teens always available for learning. Managing a child's emotions of a deeply feeling child is a challenge but who raise mentally strong kids help their child develop self regulation skills.
Remember, behavior is the language of children (and teens), and it gives us a clue that something is going on. These signs will help to indentify the behavioral and emotional strengths of a child. Whether a developmental phase or a sign of a clinical issue, digging deeper and focusing on calming their brain is how to address this head-on so your child can thrive.
Below are some of the signs and habits of highly sensitive children. If your child has any of them, they may require emotional support.
Overly Emotional Child Symptoms:
1. Depression or Mood
Overly emotional children often feel sad or moody because the innate part of their temperament is so vibrant, but their external world isn't. The root cause of their depression is their intense processing of strong emotions and thoughts and over-reactivity to everything in their environment. In addition, their deep understanding of the world makes them more susceptible to overwhelm. Sensory processing difficulties are also common for those with a mood disorder.
2. Anxiety and Stress
A highly sensitive person is easily overstimulated and overwhelmed. As a result, they are more likely to experience anxiety. They feel even the subtlest changes to their environment and can have big feelings of fear and experience worry. Their sensitivity causes their nervous system to experience stress and stay activated more easily. That means they are more prone to go into a fight, flight, or freeze state.
3. Oppositional Defiant Disorder
A child with ODD can be defiant, hostile, and uncooperative toward their parents, teachers, and peers. As a result, other people find them troublesome. Children with ODD are frequently irritable and angry. Their behavior can be off-putting and make people afraid if they are aggressive.
Asking the child or teen to do something or not getting their way is typically the trigger. ODD is often part of another clinical condition such as mood disorder, anxiety, or PANS/PANDAS.
4. Muscle tension, headaches, and stomach discomfort
An overly emotional child often experiences headaches, muscle tension, and body pain. They experience sleep issues as well that amplify their physical or somatic issues. Oversensitive children are very familiar with these pains as their condition causes them stress and anxiety, which leads to these physical symptoms.
5. Sensitive to light, sound, and smell
Highly sensitive kids have a keen sense of hearing and seeing, quickly noticing other people's voices and facial expressions. Unfortunately, they commonly experience significant problems when perceiving familiar sights, smells, and sounds. For example, loud noises can become unbearably intense for them due to difficulties with sensory processing.
6. Fear of social situations, groups, and crowds
Overly emotional kids are more likely to be stressed in social situations. In addition, having a high level of sensitivity can exacerbate social anxiety. They don't like social interactions because they are physically uncomfortable and, for some, are overly concerned about what others think about them.
They avoid social gatherings because dealing with too many people and all the bright lights or loud sounds around them is a burden. These deeply feeling kids would rather stay home to avoid overstimulation and the intense stress of social interactions. Sadly, avoiding other people exacerbates the condition and can lead to an extreme form of social anxiety called selective mutism.
Overly emotional people can also be shy. One study examined sensory processing sensitivity among people with social anxiety disorder. According to the results, the construct is distinct from social anxiety but highly correlated with harm avoidance and agoraphobia (Hofmann & Bitran, 2007).
7. Constantly taking things personally
An overly emotional child often empathizes deeply with other people's feelings and moods. But, unfortunately, it causes them to assume that everything they see, feel, or experience has something to do with them or is caused by them. As a result, they may have low self-esteem and are overly sensitive to their environment and communication.
8. Unreceptive to critical feedback
Everyone finds hearing criticism challenging. However, it can be particularly distressing and devastating for overly emotional kids. Criticisms tend to affect sensitive kids more intensely than their non-sensitive peers.
They may struggle to accept real or perceived criticism. They may experience rejection-sensitive dysphoria, a condition many people with ADHD experience. To avoid criticism, they often use tactics like people-pleasing or criticizing themselves before others have the chance to respond. But commonly, they will prevent the source of the complaint.
9. Having empathy toward others
Overly emotional children tend to show empathy. It's why they tend to be caregivers for their friends and families. Then, later on, they are likely to pursue professions related to therapy and education. They often exhibit empathy that goes beyond what is commonly understood as such by regular people. Their bodies feel what other people feel rather than simply observing it.
Children with high emotional intelligence dislike conflict and care about other people's needs and feelings, primarily if it is caused by societal injustice or inequality. Compared to neurotypical peers, they are more reactive to injustice and wrongdoing around them. They perceive it more frequently and feel it more acutely.
10. Increasing self-awareness
Overly sensitive children have a richer inner life, which means they spend a lot of time thinking. They are more self-aware, insightful, and creative than most. It encourages them to explore spiritual paths and engage in contemplative practices like meditation. Additionally, they deeply appreciate literature, art, dance, music, and painting.
11. Appreciates pleasant sensations
As overemotional kids feel everything deeply and more intensely, they appreciate pleasant things such as smells and can benefit from essential oils. Due to their high sensitivity, they may gravitate toward certain items or activities that help them self-regulate.
12. Refuses to watch violent movies or read tense fiction
It is painful and not thrilling for oversensitive kids to watch horror movies or sad movies. Although they can be convinced to watch, usually by peer pressure, it doesn't necessarily mean they enjoy the activity. In contrast, they can produce a lot of discomfort and emotional upset that leads to dysregulation. Even the background noises of these movies can aggravate them.
13. Requires a quiet, relaxed environment
Overly sensitive kids function more in a quiet and relaxing environment. Vacations may help them feel rested and refreshed, although the traveling involved may counter that effect. They like predictability because it gives them comfort.
The things that can genuinely help sensitive kids are daily meditations, mindfulness practices, nature time, and silence. These are all important for over-emotional kids who constantly analyze their environment to regulate their nervous system better and be more effective in their daily lives.
Support for Overly Emotional Children
Just how to help an emotional child requires patience and persistsence in daily life. It isn't easy when your kiddo is super emotional. Nor is it easy when you are unsure of what to say or do. How to help a highly senstive child starts with developing your own co-regulation.
All children and teens benefit from good emotional regulation and coping skills. There are different ways to improve your child's behavior, but it all begins with their perception of stress and how they deal with or recover from stressful situations. Having a low-stress tolerance with good coping skills can help a sensitive person manage their reactiveness.
Instead of wondering how to comfort at child, instead focus on building self regulation skills through self-regulation activities.
Building resilience, which provides lifelong benefits to their physical and neurological health, takes time, and every parent can foster it. Calming the brain and teaching your child how to manage stress are important.
On top of seeking professional help from a qualified child psychologist or mental health professional, using our CALM PEMF™ portable device, neurofeedback, and nutritional supplements like magnesium is helpful. These natural solutions can improve brain functions by relieving sensory and emotional reactiveness.
As a result of using these nervous system calmers, your child is more likely to have a calmer brain, regulated behavior, and improved mental health.
Returning to Lydia's story, after several neurofeedback sessions, her mom noticed that her daughter's overreactions calmed down. She even communicated when upset. She could use her words to explain why she was agitated, which she had been unable to do before.
Even though she was constantly there reminding and reinforcing the right behaviors, she actually really never had seen these behaviors in her child until after the neurofeedback calmed her brain. She realized that the information was not getting to her. Lydia couldn't access that information because she was always activated. Her brain quickly went into fight, flight or freeze mode too often.
After neurofeedback, she understood through our work that her daughter could not pay attention, think things through, and take appropriate action despite her being in the game to parent. She was trying hard, being consistent, supportive, and positive, but to no avail.
She realized that her dysregulated nervous system was holding her back. After seeing the positive changes in Lydia, her mom was happy that she helped her daughter to regulate her brain. But she also regretted waiting too long because she had called us four years before, which is common. After all, most parents think their child will outgrow the behaviors.
She didn't think her daughter's issues were as significant as they were until they reached a crisis point. As I always say, it's important to immediately take action when you see behavioral issues in your child, even if you think they're young and may outgrow them. That way, you shape the desired behaviors and reduce the chance of a clinical issue developing.
Whether their behaviors are developmental or clinical, we have to calm their brain and teach our kids the skills to manage stress and uncomfortable feelings and sensations. Good parenting can move kids forward in a positive way.
Heatherton, T. F., & Wagner, D. D. (2011). Cognitive neuroscience of self-regulation failure. Trends in cognitive sciences, 15(3), 132–139. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2010.12.005
Hofmann, S. G., & Bitran, S. (2007). Sensory-processing sensitivity in social anxiety disorder: Relationship to harm avoidance and diagnostic subtypes. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 21(7), 944–954. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2006.12.003
Surman, C. B., Biederman, J., Spencer, T., Miller, C. A., McDermott, K. M., & Faraone, S. V. (2013). Understanding deficient emotional self-regulation in adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a controlled study. Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, 5(3), 273–281. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12402-012-0100-8
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