A few years ago, among my stacks of library books, I found a gem; The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron. It was just prior to this that I made aware that the term Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), was actually a true term with real research behind it.
The more I began to read about HSP’s the more the light bulbs began to go off in my head. I was completely reading about myself and my daughter.
In case you do not know, a Highly Sensitive Person, (can also be termed as having Sensory Processing Sensitivity), is not necessarily a person who is highly emotional but those who are keenly aware of all that is going on around them.
HSP’s (and Highly Sensitive Children -HSC’s) are:
more aware of subtleties
can be easily overwhelmed by bright lights, strong smells and a lot of noise around them
Since I am a highly sensitive person raising a highly sensitive child I feel keenly aware of the struggle and I feel like awareness is the first step to helping so I wanted to share a few points today in case there are others out there with highly sensitive kids and are looking for some answers.
I’m not sharing this list to say that I have it all together, but more as a place I can refer back to on the hard days (truth be told, I had to stop in the middle of this post for half a day to deal with my daughter having some HSC issues).
This list isn’t in any logical order, just in the order that I thought about them, your child may be highly sensitive and not struggle with all of these, but these are some of the common ones in our house.
So, if you are dealing with a highly sensitive child, here are some things for you to know and do.
TIPS FOR RAISING A HIGHLY SENSITIVE CHILD
Understand that too much noise can make them so overwhelmed they shut down
This is one my daughter and I both struggle with, we can’t handle having more than one noise at a time, two people trying to talk to us at the same time makes our heads feel like they are going to explode. If you want to get the attention of your HSC try to eliminate as much noise as possible, or remove them from an area if there is a lot of noise occurring. It may look like they are ignoring you when in reality their brains are trying to process every bit of noise and it’s just too much for their brains to do at once. They don’t have the ability to “just tune it out”, this is also something to keep in mind when you child is working on homework, having music or people talking at the same time is not going to help them be productive at all.
Doing a lot of things in a short amount of time can rattle them
Constant go, go, go or being rushed is a tantrum or freak out waiting to happen. There are times when a person has to hurry, I get it, but I find that I’m better off speaking quietly and gently to my daughter and not really letting her know that we really need to hurry. Pushing her too much makes her explode and we end up taking longer than we would have in the first place so I try to give her a lot of time to get ready and do her stuff so we don’t usually have to rush it very often.
Itchy clothes and tags, upside down socks . . . actually bother them
Scratch clothes, itchy tags, upside down socks, crooked pants . . . I could go on for quite some time. Your HSC isn’t trying to be difficult but it’s hard for them to concentrate or do anything else when their clothes are bugging them. I do my best to buy comfortable clothes, or offer tank tops under scratchy shirts or offer my services when clothes are not fitting properly.
Just the other day my daughter was telling me about one of her (non-HSC) friends who was wearing their shirt backwards and didn’t even notice until she told them. That would be the day my daughter wouldn’t notice! And of course she was the one to point it out to her friend, she’s observant like that.
They aren’t over reacting to pain – they are just extra sensitive to it – it really hurts them that much
This is one characteristic that my daughter has that I don’t think I do. It’s hard not to get frustrated and tell her to stop overreacting but I try to remind myself that when she yells (okay, screams) in pain, it’s because it really is hurting her that much. I do my best to comfort her and put band-aids on whenever she asks.
Keep the visual stimulation to a minimum
Houses, bedrooms and classrooms can have a lot of visual stimulation going on which can be overwhelming to a lot of HSC’s. I’m definitely a minimalist when it comes to home decor so I guess that works in our favor.
They can get so overwhelmed by stuff that they can’t act
This totally links to the one above. I find that as my daughter adds more and more stuff to her room (toys, books, papers, assorted junk), she gets overwhelmed. She wants a clean room but she doesn’t know where to start. I am completely the same way so I try to help her out by doing a complete clean of her room one day when she’s in school every few weeks or so. Every time she comes home and sees her clean room she gives me a big hug and says thank you, she appreciates that I was able to put away and get rid of the things that she just couldn’t.
A dislike for certain textures in food is real
I’ve always been a “picky eater” myself and then a number of years ago I came across the phrase “superior taste buds” on the Rachael Ray Show. It was a lightbulb moment for me. It’s not just picky eating, they are being super sensitive to everything. This includes food textures, foods mixing together, certain tastes . . . believe me, if I could have chosen to like certain foods when I was growing up, I totally would have. I didn’t like all the extra time I had to stay at the table because I needed to “finish my food”, I didn’t want to not like it, I just did! We try to aim for the kids having one or two bites of each food at supper but we don’t usually force them to eat all of it. But we do then let them know they won’t get dessert and/or a snack before they go to bed. That’s usually enough for them to eat a bit more, if they go away from the table saying they are done when they’ve only had a few bites I’ll usually save their plate in the fridge because it’s not long before they are back because they realize they want to eat something else yet.
If food is a fight for you I’d recommend the book French Kids Eat Everything, I read it earlier this year and use a number of her techniques.
Slightly scary movies are very scary
Even if a movie has a slightly scary scene that can be enough. No real tips other than to just avoid them! Even to this day I can’t watch CSI or other crime type shows without being up half the night, and that’s just not worth it.
Hugs always help
When my daughter is having a hard time of something I can see it in her face and try to remember to ask if she wants a hug. Physical touch is definitely her love language so she loves this and it helps to calm her down more than anything else.
During or after a tantrum, sit with them in their room
For the longest time I thought a child needed to be sent to their room when they were misbehaving to have some time to cool off alone, and while that may work for some kids for my HSC it works best if I go in with her and she can realize that even though she feels like she is losing control I am still there with her. I try to continue to talk to her calmly and I find singing also helps (yes, even with my awful voice).
Downtime is necessary in the day
A little time to recharge in the middle of the day is exactly what a HSC needs. They can play toys in their room, look at books, listen to an audio book . . . find out what works best for them and work in a bit of time each day.
There are some neat parts to having a HSC that I think often go unnoticed and I think it’s important as parents that we point out the strengths our kids do have.
at a very young age my daughter knew exactly where to turn to get to places we’d only been a few times because she had always been observing out the window
empathy for others, HSC are often very empathetic and compassionate
they have a keen eye for observation and will often notice and point out what most people would miss
If you think you might have a HSC I would strongly recommend reading The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron, and if you think you are a HSP yourself, I would still recommend reading The Highly Sensitive Child! There is the book The Highly Sensitive Person by the same author, I started to read it but ended up not finishing because of the many references to sexual abuse (of course an HSP can’t handle reading about that!) and found that The Highly Sensitive Child was very helpful in helping me understand myself as well.