Highly sensitive children are everywhere. Researchers suggest that more than 15% of kids are HSC. Such youngsters notice the subtleties of life more – like how the bamboo sounds when it blows in the wind outside my office, or if my “therapy dog” Sheeba the pug has taken a shower today. They pick up on the sounds, smells, visuals and other sensory input in a laser like way. It’s a gift however, as you can imagine, it also has the power to overwhelm them at times too. (More Info: “The Highly Sensitive Child” PT blog post)
Parenting these highly aware children also has its challenges. One of my clients explained it this way: “I have to think before we go anywhere, will this be OK for Ava? Or will we have a meltdown?” So part of successfully parenting a highly sensitive child includes figuring out how to avoid the “triggers” that cause upset, and replace them with “boosters” that nurture their spirit.
With that in mind, I wanted to share 7 Survival Tips for Success with Highly Sensitive Children, and they are:
- Give Downtime. Boys and girls that are very sensitive need their own space. They often like to play alone and after a long day (school or camp), most want to chill out. Be sure to give them some downtime just to recuperate after a busy activity.
- Avoid Crowds. Almost every HSC doesn’t like a crowd. Crowds are known to be triggers for many young HSC’s so avoid the mall, supermarkets with bright lights (if possible!) and going into places where there might be swarms of people or overstimulation (bright lights, loud noises, violent movies). Perhaps you can do things in “off hours” or plan them when there will be less people.
- Go into Nature (and Beauty). Giving children the opportunity to be adventurous, go into nature and experience the wonder of planet Earth is uplifting to them. For example, I took a whole car load of HSC’s to see a waterfall this year and they loved it. They were amazed at the beauty and how fun it was to see it – and okay, I let everyone put their feet in the water too! So being in nature or seeing beauty has an energizing effect on HSC’s.
- Put Creativity First – HSC’s love to be creative and playful. So many of them need to be creative whether it is creating a new video game, painting, singing, or discovering their unique talent. I have found the sooner that we match an HSC with a creative outlet that they love, the sooner we find someone who has a “place to rejuvenate” and heal themselves from the harsh world out there.
- Play Together – HSC’s are very sensitive to what people say to them, and who spends time with them on a regular basis. I have found that HSC’s that get regular “play time” with a parent or caring adult feel stronger, more self-confident and able to face the world from a place of inner strength versus weakness. Tip: Let them pick the activity too!
- Give Choices – Just the other week, I heard David Letterman comment about the miracle of giving his child choices. You see even celebrities have to figure out how to raise their HSC to experience more ease, health and overall happiness. Giving a child choices like: “Okay. It’s time for bed now. If you want to read in bed for 20 minutes before lights out, you need to take a shower, brush teeth, and comb hair now. It’s your choice.” Choices help HSC’s feel empowered in this world.
- Teach Happiness. HSC’s need people to help them manage their rich emotional lives, help them “let go” of overwhelming feelings in a healthy way and guide them to develop the strength, as well as insight into doing the things that make them happier. Ideally, this happiness teacher is their parent but it can be someone else too! I am happy to report one of my clients called me her “happiness teacher” to her stepmother, and well I feel happier just hearing that.
By gaining a deeper appreciation for the gifts of highly sensitive children, and “seeing” their sensitivity as an asset in this world – we, as parents, can ultimately help them navigate their way easier. Part of that includes avoiding the “triggers” the cause meltdowns, and adding “boosters” that enliven their spirit and help them be who they came here to be.
Maureen Healy is a practicing children’s emotional health expert. Her specialty is helping highly sensitive children (and their families) succeed. She is also the author of Growing Happy Kids: How to Foster Inner Confidence, Success and Happiness, and popular contributor to the PBS series, This Emotional Life.