Tips for Parenting a Highly Sensitive Child - SmartMom

Parenting a Highly Sensitive Child

Photo by Saar Manche

Is your child very empathic, notices even small changes in her environment, doesn’t like certain smells, sounds, or textures, and gets overwhelmed by crowds or loud noises?  If this sounds like your child, take the full test here to see if he is a Highly Sensitive Child, or HSC.

About one in every five people is a Highly Sensitive Person, who started out as a Highly Sensitive Child.  It is passed down genetically, like other personality traits, so it is likely that either you or your spouse is an HSP as well.  Many people who take the HSC quiz for their child note that it sounds just like them as a child. If you’re still unsure if you’re an HSP and curious about yourself, here’s the HSP quiz for adults.

High sensitivity is a temperamental trait, meaning it does not change much over time.  So, the idea of “toughening up” your HSC is bound to fail, leaving both you and your child very frustrated and sad.  HSC’s take life more seriously than other children.  HSC’s have many positive and endearing qualities.  They ask you philosophical questions and are not content with vague answers.  They often are very verbal for their age. They notice every change around them and pick up on your mood and the moods of everyone around them.  They are highly observant and curious, and often show great artistic or musical ability.  Often they love to lose themselves in reading, and empathize greatly with characters in movies or books. (My four year old Highly Sensitive daughter cries at Dumbo, Pocahontas, and other movies.)

HSC’s also have many qualities that are more frustrating for parents to deal with, like throwing fits over food odors or textures, refusing to wear certain clothing articles because “they hurt,” and noticing and inquiring about all of your moods and facial expressions.  HSC’s never “take it easy” or “go with the flow,” unless they are in an environment that is very comfortable and enjoyable for them.  This can be difficult for parents to deal with, particularly when you’re stressed or strapped for time, and your HSC is being very particular, needs to ask you a million questions, or is upset and “acting like the world is ending” (a common state for an HSC).

To help you deal with your HSC, particularly if you’re not Highly Sensitive yourself and have no idea what they are so upset about most of the time, here are some parenting tips.  Let’s say that your HSC is upset because her bear’s ear fell off.

Ask them what exactly they are feeling, in a curious and warm way.

Then, empathize with them and validate them (e.g., “Oh, I understand, you’re sad because Bear looks different now.”)

Work with them to come up with a solution but do not tell them not to feel what they are feeling (e.g., “Maybe we can sew it back on.  But I know you’re still sad that this happened.”

Do not give in to them on everything just to calm them down. So do NOT sew bear’s ear back on if you have to get to work.

Accept your unique child for who she is. So know that she will probably always get sad more easily than other kids.

Appreciate your unique HSC.  The same child who cries over Bear’s ear will also likely give their toy away to another child who is crying.

Compliment them for the HSC qualities that you love (e.g., “I like how much you care about whether Bear feels hurt.”)
Hopefully, these tips can help you learn to deal with the HS part of your C!  For more on this topic, read The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them by Elaine Aron.

Here is another of Dr. Rodman’s posts for SmartMom.



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