Family Project: Sensitive daughter
Q. My nine-year-old daughter often tells me that she is being picked on by other children. I made a point to observe her from a distance in social situations, and I see something different. She seems to be very sensitive, and she reacts strongly. For example, someone told her that her sneakers were “funny,” and she started to cry.
Panelist Pam Wallace pointed out that some children are more sensitive than others, and are going to react differently.
Sensitivity by itself is not a fault, said panelist Mike Daniels. “It’s actually an asset. However, the mother is concerned that her daughter is setting herself up to be bullied. If she is setting herself up to be bullied, it is not a conscious decision.”
Daniels suggested that the mother have a conversation with her daughter, maybe over a cup of hot cocoa, by themselves, where it’s not privy to anyone else, to talk about her concerns. The mother could mention that she’s observed that the girl reacts strongly to things, or she could say, “It seems like your feelings get hurt very easily, and I worry about you.”
“If the daughter does have a tendency toward victimization,” Daniels continued, “then it’s most likely not just within her peer group. It’s probably within the family, as well. If it is happening in different places, I’m sure mom can find some examples that naturally occur that she might have a conversation about.”
Noting that some people let comments roll right off their backs, and nothing phases them, while others like this child take everything to heart, panelist Denise Continenza said, “When the daughter was told ‘Your sneakers are funny,’ what she’s probably hearing is ‘You’re funny.’ She’s taking it as a personal attack.” Continenza urged the mother to ask her daughter how she feels about different situations and comments, and talk about how she could react to protect herself and make her a better person.
“Bullying is such a buzz-word today,” panelist Chad Stefanyak interjected. “Just because someone says something mean to you, it doesn’t mean it is bullying. I can’t control everything that is said and done, but what I can control is my reaction.” He suggested asking the daughter how else she might have responded. What would she be comfortable doing?
Continenza said the mother could talk about situations on television or in movies with her daughter, and how the characters handled their different situations.
Wallace suggested role-playing.
Daniels added that the mother should tell the girl, “Whenever people say things or do things, we are going to feel something, and we can’t control that, but it is important to recognize that feelings are temporary. Feelings change. Sometimes, reacting immediately to the feeling could put you in a position to be laughed at.”
If the mother has a problem talking to her daughter in this way, Daniels continued, she could ask the girl if it would be helpful to talk to a counselor, who could provide some response skills.
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, school counselor; Wanda Mercado-Arroyo, educator and former school administrator; Denise Continenza, Extension Educator, Food, Families and Health, Penn State Extension, and Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, CTS.
Have a question? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Family Project weekly column is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.