I wish I’d known when I had my babies that I was a Highly Sensitive Person and that they might be too. I look back now on a number of times when I was baffled by my first child’s behaviour. She was a premature baby, but the ONLY one crying all the time in the NICU unit. During those early baby months I often found myself shielding her eyes to avoid her getting overstimulated. No-one else in my mother’s group needed to do that with their babies. And as a toddler she was social and happy but she would become overwhelmed easily, start crying and just not be able to calm herself down. I can see now that those moments were actually a sign of her Highly Sensitive nature.
Highly Sensitive Kids are amazing. In our society sensitivity can be seen as a problem or disadvantage. When you have a baby or young child that gets overstimulated, has trouble sleeping and finds it hard to self soothe it definitely seems like a problem. But there are many incredible things about being highly sensitive.
Highly Sensitive people are empathetic to others and animals, very tuned in to emotions, think deeply and see details others miss. Highly sensitive kids are curious, full of wonder, kind and reflective. They surprise you with their ideas and the little amazing things that they notice in the world around them!
What makes someone a Highly Sensitive Person?
15-20% of the population are Highly Sensitive. It’s also a trait that both introverts and extroverts can have. Often people think Highly Sensitive people are shy or timid, but that’s not an accurate idea of High Sensitivity. Highly Sensitive People can be shy and quiet, but they can also be confident, talkative or excitable. (See my article about Extroverted Highly Sensitive Kids) High Sensitivity looks different in different people but, according to Dr Elaine Aron and her research into High Sensitivity, there are four areas (D.O.E.S) that all Highly Sensitive People share.
- Depth of Processing – Highly Sensitive People think deeply about things. They reflect on ideas or on what they have seen or done. They often spend a lot of time thinking before they act or take a long time over decisions.
- Overstimulation – Highly Sensitive people, especially children, get overstimulated more easily than others of the same age because of all the deep processing and detail noticing that they are doing. All young children and babies of course get overstimulated — the world is so new! So the key element here is that they are MORE easily overwhelmed by stimulation than others their age.
- Empathy/ Emotional Responsiveness — Feelings are the language of Highly Sensitive People. They view the world through an emotional lens. HSP are extremely aware of their own and others emotions and can even “feel” or take on the emotions of others.
- Sensitivity to Subtleties — HSP tend to notice things or make connections that others fail to see.
Highly Sensitive People have all four of these aspects. Some other traits or conditions such as Giftedness, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, Anxiety and ADHD can overlap or have similarities to High Sensitivity. Also, people can be both Highly Sensitive and have ADHD, for example.
Some of the things you may notice with your Highly Sensitive child
- Time limits/ deadlines or harsh correction causes a meltdown.
- Asks a lot of deep questions.
- Seems to be an “old soul” or very intuitive.
- Notices when others are feeling down.
- Bothered by noisy places.
- Feels things deeply. Emotional.
- Doesn’t like certain sensations, like wet clothes.
- Prefers quiet play.
- Uses large words for their age.
- They don’t cope well with change or big surprises
- Notices details, such as in art, nature, or if something has been changed
Obviously each child is different and, especially if they are an extrovert or high sensation seeker, might behave differently to the ways described in this list but still fit into the four highly sensitive aspects above.
Dr Elain Aron has a questionnaire available for free on her site and a book The Highly Sensitive Child if you think your child may be a Highly Sensitive Person and want to find out more.
Until next time!
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