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Updated on Sep 3, 2009

Gilbert and Aron both agree, however, that sensitivity can sometimes lead to anxiety in children. And they both agree that managing anxiety is an important skill for children to learn. “Anxiety is absolutely normal,” Gilbert says. She explains that one of the best ways parents can help their children manage anxiety is by modeling appropriate behaviors. “Sensitive children can be very aware of their failures,” Gilbert says. “It’s absolutely critical for parents to take the stress off the kids at home—make it okay to make mistakes.” She suggests that parents laugh at their own mistakes and, in general, frame failure as feedback. “Parents should reward the effort,” Gilbert says, “not the outcome.”

Though sensitivity and anxiety are often thought of in negative terms, they can also be looked at in a positive light. “Who knows who’s too anxious until something bad happens,” Aron says. “Being anxious is situational, and whether it’s appropriate or inappropriate is all a matter of odds.”

Which leads Aron to her most important piece of advice for parents of sensitive children: Don’t pathologize sensitivity too much. She points out that sensitivity can, in fact, be an advantage in certain situations. “Sensitive children usually don’t get into trouble, they listen to cautions—people focus on the negative and they don’t realize that temperament is a package deal,” Aron says. “‘He’s such a good boy, but he’s a coward.’ Well, that’s the same thing!”

What can you do to help your sensitive child prepare for the new school year? Here are a few tips from Aron and Gilbert:

Help your child feel comfortable in the environment.

Visit the classroom in the weeks before school. Have your child meet the teacher and see that the environment is warm and friendly. See if your child can spend some time in the classroom helping out—bonding with the teacher and the space.

Provide and enlist support for your child.

Ask you child’s teacher from last year to suggest the teacher who would be best match for your child this year. Aron says principals will often accommodate a child with an unusually strong temperament. Even though it’s late in the game now, trust your instinct if you think you could enlist better or more support for your child.

Set the stage so your child will fit in.

Gilbert says you want to be careful not to take away your child’s individuality, but you also want to make sure she’s more alike than different than other kids in the class. Talk to the teacher from last year to find out what skills your child should have, what games other kids played on the playground, what kinds of book bags they carried. You can use these last few weeks of summer to practice skills and to stock up on a few items that will make your child feel a part of the group.

Educate the teacher and other adults in your child’s life.

Gilbert says it can be helpful to let the teacher know that your child is sensitive and often takes time to observe before getting involved. Just be sure to paint your child’s sensitivity in a positive light. And offer to help in any way you can.

Help your child understand his/her sensitivity and practice joining groups.

Aron says that because sensitivity is innate, it is well worth helping a sensitive child understand this about himself. For example, you might say, “I know that you were a little hesitant to join groups of kids at school last year, so I was thinking we could practice how you can join in when you get to school in a few weeks. Sometimes when we practice things ahead of time, we feel a lot more comfortable.”

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