Highly Sensitive Children tend to be very, well, sensitive. They are very observant, perceptive, and empathic. They are usually creative and artistic. They feel things deeply and are concerned about others. And to even out all this awesomeness, they can also be very difficult.
They complain about many sensory issues, including temperature, textures (of clothes, food, anything), get their feelings hurt a lot, and can be very anxious.
My 5-year-old is a Highly Sensitive Child, and has always been plagued by a fear of dogs. She was terrified of dogs she would see outside or at other people’s houses, no matter how my husband and I tried to convince her that the dogs were nice and friendly. When she started going on drop-off playdates that were marred by her fear of pet dogs at her friends’ houses, I felt that it was time to work on her phobia so that she wasn’t limited socially by it.
We went to the Humane Society and found an 8-year-old deaf dog who was small and friendly. The first time Natalia met her, she was terrified and hysterically crying because the dog jumped on her and licked her. But after an hour, she was already petting her and loving her. She loves having a dog and tells everyone about her new pet. Best of all, she’s not as scared of other dogs in the park or on the street.
Aside from buying a dog as a way to help a dog-phobic child, I have realized that there are many positives of pet ownership for all kids, but especially Highly Sensitive ones:
Your Highly Sensitive Child can sometimes have a hard time socially. Their issues with frustration tolerance can manifest in ways that make them seem difficult or weird to other kids. A pet doesn’t judge you for crying when you got struck out during T-ball. This unconditional acceptance can be very affirming for a child that sometimes feels like an outsider during peer interactions.
Highly Sensitive Children may become very hurt and distressed when a friend prefers to play with someone else during recess. They may scan your facial expressions and ask why you smiled more when their sibling told a joke but not when they told one (true story; sometimes one knock-knock joke is just funnier). A pet is loyal and loving no matter what. Particularly if you have a treat, a toy, or time to cuddle or play.
3. Problem solving
Highly Sensitive Children worry a lot, and when this worry is focused on things outside of their control, like worrying about whether they will have friends in school or whether they will need a shot at their doctor’s appointment, and this worry can be very hard to control. However, a child can worry about a pet in a productive way. Is the dog bored? Play with her! Is she hungry? Feed her! Will people remember to knock instead of ring the bell if that disturbs her? Then hang a sign on the door. These sorts of issues can show a worry-prone child that there are easy and proactive ways to solve problems, rather than just ruminating about them. This can also increase a child’s confidence and self-esteem.
Kids love to talk about their pets and show them to other kids. And other kids love to see them and play with them. For a shy child, bringing a pet to the park or walking her around the neighborhood can be a great way to meet other people. People come out of the woodwork to pet a cute dog, and this gives your child an easy conversation starter.
Highly Sensitive Children often do not deal well with frustration or having to wait. But most kids will understand that a pet being taken on a walk or being fed is necessary and should take priority over the child’s own desires in that moment. Kids can learn this when a new baby joins the family too, but there is a lot less potential resentment when the needy party is a pet and not a new little human.
All of these reasons make pet ownership an excellent decision if you have a Highly Sensitive Child at home. Share some more of your own ideas about how pets help kids thrive!
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