The internet has recently been set ablaze with articles about “Highly Sensitive People”.
The term was coined by Dr. Elaine Aron in 1996 with the release of her groundbreaking book, The Highly Sensitive Person. In recent months outlets such as The Huffington Post and Wall Street Journal have published articles about the inherited trait. It is wonderful that many highly sensitive adults are receiving validation they they are not “too sensitive” or “overly emotional”, messages many HSPs receive as children.
If you are raising a Highly Sensitive Child it is helpful to know that 15-20% of the population is born with this genetic trait and from an evolutionary perspective, it is valuable asset. Here are some tips to help your highly sensitive child thrive:
The stronger the sensitivity, the deeper the capacity to feel. Highly Sensitive Children have heightened senses; odors and flavors are more pungent and minor physical sensations are more noticeable. Your HSC may not be able to eat a food that “smells yucky” or looks (to them) unappetizing. They might complain that their clothing tags are itchy or the seams on their socks bother them.
Your Highly Sensitive Child feels BIG emotions. They experience ecstatic joy and bliss and deep pain and sadness. Often these children are mislabeled as “big reactors” and “overly dramatic” which are inaccurate and damaging to a HSC’s self-esteem. Many sensitive children intuit that they are different from others. When children are given the message that they are “too much” or “not enough” they begin to believe that they are flawed.
Their perceptions create their reality. You can support them by changing the way you respond to them. This begins with you no longer having to struggle to understand why your child doesn’t want to eat his sandwich or wear her socks — something about it just doesn’t feel right.
2. Validate your child’s experience.
Picture this: You have a long day at work. On your way home you get pulled over for speeding and issued a ticket. As you walk in the door your spouse asks for the eggs you picked up at the market, only to realize you forgot because you were flustered from the ticket.
What do you need in that moment?
A lecture about how irresponsible and forgetful you are? Or would you prefer compassion and understanding?
These sensitive ones come in hardwired to feel intensely. Rather than convincing them that what they are feeling is inappropriate, try to honor their experience. “That looks and smells yucky to you.” Imagine experiencing life in a such a way that seemingly ‘little things’ feel totally overwhelming.
Once you’ve validated their feelings you can help them move past the immediate challenge. “Your socks really bother your toes, how about if we turn them inside out so the seams are on the outside?” or “Those socks feel uncomfortable for you, when we get inside you can take them off and walk barefoot.”
Trying to change a HSC’s feelings does not work. Validating their feelings and then offering a solution is the key to teaching them healthy self-empowerment and boosting their self-esteem! Sometimes they just need you to compassionately ‘hear’ them, even if you can’t come up with a fix.
3. Honor your child’s ability to pick up on subtle energy.
In the same way that a dog can hear a whistle that is silent to humans, HSC tend to pick up on things that are imperceivable to others. They are susceptible to feeling the “vibes” of others, either putting them at ease or making them feel uncomfortable. As they learn to hear their intuition they may become more adamant about doing what feels right to them, even if it seems illogical to you.
As a little girl, I remember hiding in my room when my grandma came over to visit. Her energy felt so intense to me that I had to take some time before I could approach her. Since my parents understood my sensitive temperament they didn’t force me to be “a nice girl” and come out of my retreat before I felt comfortable. By honoring my personal process they allowed me to develop a relationship with my inner voice that is my guiding light as an adult.
As a coach for parents of Highly Sensitive Children I often hear moms and dads worry the world will “not change to fit their child.” I love to remind them that while they are correct, their children did not come forth to conform to this world. Sensitives are change makers and creators. They aren’t concerned about fitting in with the status quo; they move to the beat of their own drum and in their unique process they teach the world to play a new rhythm.