Understanding the Highly Sensitive Child

 In Blog, Child & Adolescent Treatment, Parent Consultations, Psychological Services

Parenting is one of the most rewarding and challenging roles you will ever have, especially parenting children with intense, spirited or sensitive temperaments.  Some children come into the world more aware, reflective, intense and emotionally sensitive and reactive.  Understanding their temperament is key to their healthy development, as they do often face additional challenges that require an attuned and sensitive parenting style in order for them to flourish in a world that is often very overwhelming.  Following are some of the key traits seen in children with this temperament, which they are born with and is found in approximately 15-20% of the population:

    • Noticing everything – these children are highly tuned in to their environment and take everything in; they are the first to notice that something has changed in the room; they are aware of other’s reactions, even a subtle change in facial expression or tone of voice. They are often very bright and ask a lot of questions about the world around them.
    • Sensitivity to sensory stimulation – their sensory systems are turned on “high” and they are often easily overwhelmed by sensory stimuli, including to light, sound, textures and temperature; they startle easily and complain of scratchy tags and seams; events like birthday parties or family events can be highly overstimulating; they can have trouble winding down before bedtime.  
    • Being “slow-to-warm-up” – these children often like to watch first before joining in; hang back more; adjust more slowly to change; and can appear more serious and cautious; they are sometimes described as shy or timid.  
    • Emotional sensitivity – they are often highly empathic, feeling others’ hurt and pain acutely; their feelings are easily hurt; they are highly affected by criticism and being shamed; they think deeply about things; they are prone to worrying.
    • High reactivity – these kids tend to feel everything more and can be intense in their reactions to things, including their expressions of joy, frustration, worry and sadness.    

While many of these traits are valuable and contribute to a high level of intuitiveness, creativity and conscientiousness, these children are also more prone to anxiety, depression, perfectionism, emotional dysregulation and/or poor self-esteem, particularly if the environment they are in is highly judgmental or rejecting, if they do not feel understood or accepted for who they are, and/or if they are frequently shamed.  

Please refer to the following sources for additional information on this subject:

  • The Highly Sensitive Child, by Elaine Aron
  • Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
  • The Strong, Sensitive Boy by Ted Zeff
  • www.hsperson.com
  • www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creative-development
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