Does your child have profound empathy to the point that he cries when he senses the pain of another person or other living things?
Does your child talk about an eerie feeling around people who make her feel uncomfortable? On the other hand, does your child sense that some people have a nurturing and inviting energy?
Does your child have insights that make him seem like an “old soul?”
Does your child sometimes feel like an “odd duckling” who doesn’t fit with her peers because of the depth of her feelings and reactions?
Does your child feel alive and joyful when out in nature, as though he can feel the wondrous energy of the plants and animals?
Does your child feel overwhelmed by sights, sounds, textures, and smells?
All of the above are signs of a spiritually sensitive child.
What is meant by spiritual sensitivity? According to Judith Blackstone, in her book Belonging Here, spiritually sensitive adults and children have these traits in common:
- Profound empathy and exceptional emotional depth
- Visionary insight; ability to see the truth of situations
- A gift for healing
- May feel alienated from the world around them
One of the major challenges faced by spiritually sensitive children is that parents and teachers often misidentify the sensitivities of these children as weaknesses, instead of teaching them to harness and use their personal energy to self-soothe and modulate their sensitivities. Providing a supportive environment helps prevent drug use, cutting, or eating disorders as coping mechanisms. Some spiritually sensitive children end up with depression, anxiety, and autoimmune issues from the stress of living with sensitivities they don’t understand and can’t contain. These sensitivities can lead to loneliness and self-doubt, and for this reason, we need to nourish the minds, hearts, and bodies of these exquisitely sensitive children and help them develop their gifts while diminishing the challenges.
Strategies for Nourishing the Spiritually Sensitive Child
- Mindful Movements – There is a beautiful little book with an accompanying CD by Thich Nhat Hahn called Mindful Movements: Ten Exercises for Well-Being. This series of exercises combines body movements with mindfulness and focused breathing and is great for both children and adults.
- Four Pebble Meditation – Thich Nhat Hahn has a lovely metaphor-based mindful practice for kids that I enjoy doing myself. It uses four pebbles, and he has a new book called A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles. These four pebbles are metaphors for our lives. The first pebble represents a flower: fresh. The second pebble represents a mountain: solid. The third pebble represents still water: clarity & authentic reflection. The fourth pebble represents space: freedom. I find holding each pebble in my hand with my focus on what that pebble represents to be a really relaxing way to meditate. Now that my brain has made the connection between the pebbles and the meditation, seeing the pebbles in my little wasabi dish continually reminds me of the four aspects of myself.
- Sending Love to Others – Once your child knows how to meditate, you can have your child practice sending love to herself, and then to others. You might begin with a photo of your child when she was a baby, and have your child look at the photo and send love to that person who is still a part of her. Once your child has had several opportunities to send self-love, your child can shift that focus to another person and/or animal. The purpose of this activity is to bring loving space to her heart.
- Gratitude Journal – Sending love to others is one way to help children open their hearts. Another way is through a gratitude journal. Having your child focus on what brought her joy that day is a nice way to end an evening and be focused on positive experiences before falling asleep.
- QiGong for greater awareness of personal energy – Lee Holden has a series of DVDs that include sitting, standing, and moving practices. I find my chi for energy work particularly strong after doing these exercises. I believe children who experience their personal energy will be better able to modulate their sensitivities. With parent permission, I teach my young clients to build and play with chi in their hands.
- Spend, Save, Share Jars – Many religious and spiritual groups talk about opening your heart by doing good things for other people. With the spiritually sensitive child, we are looking for positive outlets for the pain they sometimes feel on behalf of others. You might consider having your child divide money he receives into three jars for spending soon, saving for later, and sharing with others. Give your child an opportunity to find an organization that has personal meaning. It is important for spiritually sensitive children to feel like they are making a difference in the lives of other people and animals.
A suggestion to parents: You are the most powerful model in the life of your child. Spiritually sensitive children need to see you focused on your own mindfulness and self-awareness. Give yourself the time and space to create your own spa moment, even if it’s just taking a luxurious breath when you are stuck in traffic. Thich Nhat Hahn talks about the monks at Plum Village who hear a bell and use it as a reminder to take a breath and be in the moment. He encourages us that when our phone rings, it should serve as a reminder to take a breath and be in the now.
Many of us who are spiritually sensitive do not feel safe in this world, with all the chemicals, aggressive people, and over-bearing sights and sounds. It is a nice reminder that by building up our minds, hearts, and bodies (our personal energy), even a spiritually sensitive person can feel safe in, and have a positive impact on, this world.
About the Author:
Dr Paula Wilkes, Ph.D.
Like all moms, I am an educator. It has been my profession and my avocation for more than 40 years. During the first 25 years of my professional life, I was a public school teacher in Eugene, Oregon. During that time, I worked with gifted students both within a heterogeneous classroom and as a gifted specialist. For nearly 10 years, I worked as an associate professor of education at Pacific University’s Eugene campus where I created and coordinated the Center for Gifted Education, and where I taught gifted education and general education courses. A very generous family donated money to establish the Center for Gifted Education, and it enabled me to provide gifted education workshops for parents throughout the community, as well as provide “triage” for parents who were looking for help in dealing with the academic, social, and emotional issues of their gifted children. For the past five years, I have been a consultant through Summit Center’s Los Angeles office working with gifted, twice-exceptional, and spiritually sensitive children and adults.
My personal life has also revolved around children as my husband and I raised one daughter (currently in her late 30’s), and we are now part-time nannies for our two grandchildren. My life and professional experiences, and my avid reading of books related to parenting, education, and spiritual development, support the work I do with my clients.