Parenting Kids With Slow-toWarm-Up Temperament

– by Karen Stephens, sourced from:


Within the first hours, days, and weeks of birth, a child’s unique style of responding to the world is revealed by his or her behavior. That style, called temperament, is genetically influenced as well as affected by parents’ and caregivers’ guidance.

Temperament is stable throughout life. How well children (and their parents) learn to cope with individual temperament can vary a lot. For simplicity, researchers and educators group temperament characteristics into three descriptive categories: easy, difficult’ and slow-to-warm-up. They aren’t meant to label, just describe general tendencies. Each temperament has its own strengths and challenges; one isn’t better than another. Working with temperament, rather than denying or ignoring it, is a constructive, respectful way to guide children’s development. It helps kids navigate their expanding social world with their self esteem intact.

This column examines the characteristics of slow-to-warm-up temperament. Slow to-warm-up children, about 20% of kids, are distinguished by their cautious nature and wait and see attitude. Given time to warm-up at their own pace, they gradually adjust to new circumstances or routines. When making decisions, they need more time as they pause and check out options. Slow-to-warm-up kids do adapt slower to newness and change, and they are less flexible adjusting to first encounters or new routines. But when well prepared for change, they do adapt.

These children tend to be very sensitive to external stimulation. In fact, research shows their brains literally take in more sensory information to process. And thus, they are more prone to becoming overwhelmed or over-stimulated by loud sounds, new textures, extreme temperatures, pain, and environments that are crowded, chaotic, disorganized. Slow-to-warm-up children are very sensitive to their own emotions and the emotions of others. What they feel, they feel intensely. With wise guidance, they become people of great compassion and empathy. These traits help them establish close friendships with peers and adults. They prefer to establish a few loyal friendships, rather than many.

Early in life slow-to-warm-up children can be unflatteringly labeled as: shy, reserved, timid, fearful, picky, whiny, slow-poke, bashful, anxious, scaredy-cat, touchy, stubborn, delayed, babyish, or backward. These labels typecast children into stereotypes that mask and even stunt their true abilities. When attitudes behind labels change, children can be taught to adapt well.

Overall, slow-to-warm-up kids are usually only shy or disoriented at first, and they aren’t as fearful as they are judicious. Slow-to-warm-up kids don’t leap before they think things through; they stand back, look, and listen. Once they establish a rapport with people and trust in a situation’s safety, they can be as outgoing, friendly, creative, and adventurous as the next child. That said, below are tips for being the affirming and responsive parent that slow-to-warm-up kids need as they mature to their full potential.

sensitive child


Parenting Tips

Accept your slow-to-warm-up child for who they are. Resist trying to change them. Build on their traits rather than wish them away. Avoid unflattering comparisons with siblings or peers.

Focus on the positive side of temperament. A slow-to-warm-up child has many skills that can be nurtured; find and reinforce them.

Prepare children in steps for new experiences. For instance, break down how to meet a new dog into manageable steps so your child experiences success. “Stand still with your hands down so the dog can see you mean no harm.” “Use a quiet voice.” Avoid unflattering comparisons, “Look, that girl isn’t afraid of the dog. You shouldn’t be either.”

Increase your patience. Avoid teaching kids with sink or swim strategies. Pushing a child too fast makes kids more rigid and frightened rather than more confident and safe.

Interpret situations matter-of-factly. Resist coddling and giving a child’s hesitance too much attention. Make simple statements such as, “You watch the children singing before you join in the circle. That’s your way of relaxing.”

Provide time for reflection and re-filling emotional reserves. The author of The Highly Sensitive Child believes daily exposure to nature outdoors is also necessary for these children.

Help children become in tune to their own body rhythms. Schedule special activities that demand extra energy, such as going to the dentist or festival, during your child’s up times.

Give kids time to respond when adults try to talk to them. Resist jumping in and answering for them in hopes of hiding a child’s slower approach to new people. Not giving children time to respond is a subtle way of saying you think they will fail if you don’t talk for them.

Translate your child’s behavior for new people. This is very helpful for new teachers at child care or school. Tell them: “It takes John a little while to get used to a new place. It’s best if we don’t push him too fast.”

Stand up for your child if someone labels him or her. If a teacher reports, “Tarah wouldn’t try her cottage cheese at lunch today. Is she that stubborn at home, too?” You can graciously respond that you don’t consider your child stubborn, just wary of the food texture. If someone calls your child “shy” you can counter with: “It will take a few days, but once she knows it’s safe, she’ll be building blocks with the other kids in no time.”

Believe kids when they feel more than you do. Avoid discounting children’s feelings, including claims of pain.

Model coping skills. Coach kids in prevention and problem-solving. A friend’s child took forever ordering at restaurants. Rather than face a predictable ordeal, she collected menus from their favorite spots and kept them in the car. While en route, her child got a head-start on ordering decisions.

Prepare kids for changes or new experiences. Slow-to-warm-up kids need more time to process information. The bigger the change, the more questions a child will have. Spend more time preparing or even rehearsing for change. Playing with dolls or puppets is a great way for kids to work through their feelings.

Coach children on ways to join their friends’ play. Example: “They’re pretending a house is on fire. You can ask if you can help spray water on it.”

Alert kids to predictable sensitivities. “It’s going to be loud and crowded in the grocery store tonight. We’ll finish as soon as we can.”

Model calm expression of feelings. Of course, this is especially important when you’re mad, frustrated, or tired.

Use positive discipline. Guidance and coaching should be your first responses.


Helpful Parenting Books

• The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them by Elaine N. Aron.
New York: Broadway Books, 2002.
• The Shy Child: Helping Children Triumph over Shyness by Ward K. Swallow. New York: Warner Books, 2000.
Reassuring Children’s Books
• Let’s Talk About Being Shy by Marianne Johnston. New York: Powerkids Press, 2003.
• Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus. New York: HarperCollins, 1971.
• The Shy Little Girl by Phyllis Krasilovsky. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1970.


Winged Heart


Winged Heart: The Highly Sensitive Child

A highly sensitive person (HSP) is a person having the innate trait of high sensory processing sensitivity (or innate sensitiveness as Carl Jung originally coined it). According to Elaine N. Aron and colleagues as well as other researchers, highly sensitive people, who comprise about a fifth of the population (equal numbers in men and women), may process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly due to a biological difference in their nervous systems. This is a specific trait, with key consequences for how we view people, that in the past has often been confused with innate shyness, social anxiety problems, inhibitedness, social phobia and innate fearfulness, and introversion (30% of those with the trait are extraverts). The trait is measured using the HSP Scale, which has been demonstrated to have both internal and external validity. Although the term is primarily used to describe humans, something similar to the trait is present in over 100 other species.


The term “highly sensitive person” (HSP) was coined by Dr. Elaine N. Aron in 1996, and the name is gaining popularity because it presents the trait in a positive light. It posits that shyness, inhibition, and fearfulness, terms often used to describe some HSPs, may or may not be acquired by them, depending entirely on environmental stressors. A number of books have been written on the topic using this term, mainly The Highly Sensitive Person , The Highly Sensitive Child, The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, and The Highly Sensitive Person Workbook by Elaine Aron; The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide, The Highly Sensitive Person’s Companion, and The Strong, Sensitive Boy by Ted Zeff, PhD.; and the memoir Help Is On Its Way by Jenna Forrest.


The attributes of HSPs can be remembered as DOES:
• Depth of processing.
• Over aroused (easily compared to others).
• Emotional reactivity and high empathy.
• Sensitivity to subtle stimuli.
HSP students work differently from others. They pick up on subtleties and may think about them a long time before demonstrating their grasp of a subject. If an HSP student is not contributing much to a discussion, it does not necessarily mean he or she does not understand or is too shy. HSPs often have insights they are afraid to reveal because they differ from the common view, or because speaking up is too over arousing for them. For ideas on teaching sensitive students, see The Temperament Perspective[ or the final pages of The Highly Sensitive Person.

HSPs are usually very conscientious, and gifted with great intelligence, intuition and imagination, but underperform when being evaluated. This also applies to work situations; HSPs can be great employees – good with details, thoughtful and loyal, but they do tend to work best when conditions are quiet and calm. Because HSPs perform less well when being watched, they may be overlooked for a promotion. HSPs tend to socialize less with others, often preferring to process experiences quietly by themselves. The ability to unconsciously or semi-consciously process environmental subtleties often contributes to an HSP seeming “gifted” or possessing a “sixth sense”.


• Become easily overwhelmed.
• Are cautious in new situations.
• Notice more (changes, subtleties, relationships, other’s people’s moods & expressions, etc.).
• Think more about what they have noticed.
• Have rich inner lives.
• Feel things intensely.
• Are unusually empathic.
• Are highly intuitive.
• Are conscientious.
• Are exceptionally creative.
• Are exceptionally cooperative and kind—except when overwhelmed.
• Are more likely to become fearful, shy, worried, or sad.
• May stand out as “different”.


The “Pause-to-Check System”

Highly sensitive persons have a very active “behavioral inhibition system.” They pause to check their memory to see if any past situations were threatening before they go forward. The right side of their thinking brain (frontal cortex) shows more activity. Babies with more blood flow to this side of the brain are more likely to be highly sensitive children. Non-highly sensitive folks have a stronger “behavioral activation system.” They have a stronger “go-for-it” mechanism.


Is your child “highly sensitive”?

Do you hear comments like: “Oh, your daughter is so shy…” or “Don’t you worry that your son isn’t more happy and carefree? He sure seems to worry a lot.” Maybe nobody else says anything, but you worry that your daughter seems to get her feelings hurt so easily, or your son melts down when he is teased. Perhaps you secretly wish your child wasn’t so intense…so emotional…or so slow to warm up.
Elaine Aron, Ph.D., author of The Highly Sensitive Child and The Highly Sensitive Person began studying highly sensitive people in 1991. She researched and interviewed thousands of individuals, eventually honing a questionnaire for adults and one for children. Contrary to what many people
think, highly sensitive people are not neurotic, depressed or shy, as many folks think. They have been that way since birth.



Highly sensitive people notice more, reflect more, feel more, and avoid overstimulation. They are “born with a tendency to notice more in their environment and deeply reflect on everything before acting, as compared to those who notice less and act quickly and impulsively,” insists Aron. Their brains seem to process information more thoroughly. As a result, highly sensitive children and adults “tend to be empathic, smart, intuitive, creative, careful, and conscientious. They are more easily overwhelmed by ‘high volume’ or large quantities of input arriving at once. They try to avoid this, and thus seem to be shy or timid or ‘party poopers.’ When they cannot avoid overstimulation, they seem ‘easily upset’ and ‘too sensitive.’”

Every species shows evidence of different temperaments.

Did you know that all across the spectrum of life, in every species, there are these sorts of “temperament” differences? They are not disorders or impairments. These distinctions have evolved to serve a specific function. In most animal species, we find two ‘personalities’ or breeds: the BOLD (larger group) and the SHY (smaller group). There are the ones who charge right in, and there are others who pause to see what happens. There are the “sitters” and the “rovers.” Why is this? Biologists insist this division increases the chance of survival of the species. The bold ones rush out to eat the grass, while the hesitant ones pause to see if there are any predators lurking. In humans groups, we need the action-oriented adventurers and risk-takers to push us to new
heights and make things happen. But we also need the sensitive ones who are able to pause and reflect, to think carefully about consequences and potential dangers. There is no good and bad, no better and best. The two always work best in combination. We need both!

70 % of highly sensitive people are introverts… a tendency that is probably part of their strategy to reduce stimulation.


Highly Sensitive Children Become EASILY OVER-STIMULATED

They often deal with it by…
• Complaining a great deal—especially about “small” things.
• Choosing to play alone.
• Refusing to speak up, talk to adults, talk in class, etc.
• Avoiding typical “fun” activities (parties, play dates, outings).
• Trying to be compliant and obedient (hoping no one will notice them if they are ‘perfect’)
• Having a meltdown with lots of tears
• Bouncing off the walls
• Throwing tantrums and rages
• Getting a stomach ache
• Becoming fearful
• Withdrawing



Highly sensitive children often have a “specialty.” Aron has found that some children are more tuned into relationships and social cues, noticing the moods and expressions of others. Others mainly notice the natural world, such as changes in the weather or the qualities of plants, or they seem to have an uncanny ability to communicate with animals. Some are great at expressing subtle concepts. Some children are particularly alert in new surroundings, while others are bothered by change any change in their familiar routine.

All highly sensitive children NOTICE more. But they don’t just notice more, they think more about what they have noticed. Sometimes this noticing and thinking is obvious and conscious (i.e.: they are asking you questions/talking about things, etc.)—but often their processing is entirely unconscious. They are just “intuiting” something.

Highly sensitive children FEEL more, too. Because they are taking in and processing more, this often brings a strong emotional response. They feel stronger emotions. What they feel, they feel deeply.
Sometimes, it’s intense pleasure. But it can also be intense fear or sadness or anger—because children are confronting new and stressful situations every day. Most highly sensitive children are unusually empathic, Aron insists, so “they suffer more when others suffer.” They can imagine for themselves what others feel. Highly sensitive children have rich inner lives. Early on they tend to seek meaning in their lives.

Highly sensitive children stand out as “different.” Aron says they are not problem-kids in the usual sense. But they are more likely than others to become fearful, shy, or sad–especially if they have had a few bad experiences. With support and guidance, however, they are exceptionally creative, cooperative and kind—except when they are overwhelmed. That presents challenges!
Highly sensitive children become easily over-stimulated and overwhelmed. They are bothered by things that other children do not even notice. Unfortunately, this is the part that most people find difficult to deal with. It’s the “down side of sensitivity.” Highly sensitive children can become totally overwhelmed by a noisy classroom, a big family reunion, a long afternoon with a playmate, or even their very own birthday party.

How do highly sensitive children deal with over-stimulation? They often complain a lot, especially about things that don’t bother most other people. You might call it “the small stuff.” They may not like the texture or taste of the food being served. Or, they get upset by the itchy fabric on their clothes, or their hair not looking how they want it to, or mom buying them the wrong color jacket. They might complain that their teacher gave them a mean look and “she hates me” or that nobody likes them and they will never go to school again. Physical complaints are common. Not only is this their body’s reaction to the stress of overstimulation, but not feeling well actually offers them a solution, Aron suggests, by allowing highly sensitive children to withdraw and go away to rest.

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