"... it is primarily parenting that decides whether the expression of sensitivity
will be an advantage or a source of anxiety."
Elaine Aron, PhD
Does your child want all the tags pulled out from her shirts? Or enjoy quiet play more than big and noisy groups? Does she seem to read your mind? Or ask lots of questions? Is she incredibly perceptive noticing all these minor details of life? Perhaps she has even been labeled as "shy" or "highly emotional" by someone close to her. If you answered yes to any of the above you may be raising a highly sensitive child - and yes, this is a great thing.
The Highly Sensitive Child
As a former highly sensitive child, I personally relate to Elaine Aron's description of the highly sensitive child. She states a "highly sensitive child is one of the fifteen to twenty percent of children born with a nervous system that is highly aware and quick to react to everything." Such children are incredibly responsive to their environments whether it is the lighting, sounds, smells or overall mood of the people in their situations - these kids pick it up. (Dr. Aron's test to "see" if you are raising a highly sensitive child is at: http://www.hsperson.com/pages/test_child.htm)
With a sharpened sense of awareness these children are often gifted intellectually, creatively and emotionally demonstrating genuine compassion at early ages. The downside is that these intensely perceptive kids can also get overwhelmed easily by crowds, noises, new situations, sudden changes and the emotional distress of others. Daniel, a four-year old client of mine, is a highly sensitive child and notoriously won't take naps because he is too "wound up" by his preschool peers. Another highly sensitive child, Lizzie at age eight, came home from school after seeing a bullying episode and just broke down crying. Criticism, defeat and the distress of others is something sensitive children feel deeply.
A huge number of my private child clients are highly sensitive children. Since my expertise is children's emotional health - these kids need extra care and feeding so that they can learn how to see their sensitivity as a strength and begin empowering themselves with tools to tap into the "upside" of their sensitivity such as insight, creativity and empathy while simultaneously learning how to manage their rich emotional lives.
Parenting a Highly Sensitive Child
Parenting a highly sensitive child can be extremely rewarding however some parents admittedly find it exhausting. For example, your son comes home from school with a scraped knee because he fell off the swings - the good news is he doesn't think much of it. But perhaps your other son, a highly sensitive child, fell off the swings and noticed someone laughed at him - now he won't stop crying because of it. See the difference? Raising a healthy, happy and well-adjusted sensitive child is possible however it takes "sensitive parenting skills" to succeed such as:
Being a highly sensitive adult may be helpful in understanding your child's temperament and particular needs as to their sensitivities (lights, people, sounds, clothes, and preferences). It is especially helpful if a highly sensitive child is born to a well-adjusted, happy and healthy sensitive adult that can steer them in the right emotional direction. Of course that can be true of any child with good role models - sensitive children though need especially good role models because they are learning how to use their incredible gift in a world that sometimes doesn't value it's inherent worth.
Maureen Healy is an award-winning author, popular speaker and professional working with parents and their highly sensitive children. Her books include: Growing Happy Kids (HCI Books, 2012) and The Energetic Keys to Indigo Kids (New Page, 2013). In December, Maureen's next book focused on helping highly sensitive children will be available (2015).
Learn More: www.highlysensitivekids.com