From the trenches of parenting a highly sensitive child.

From the trenches of parenting a highly sensitive child.

I first learned about “highly sensitive people” when I read Susan Cain’s book Quiet several years ago and immediately resonated with the description.

It took me all of five minutes to realize that at least two of my four children are also highly sensitive.

This realization was a game changer.

The “highly sensitive” label doesn’t mean someone is touchy or overly emotional. The label implies no judgment: it describes the HSP’s nervous system, which is extremely good at registering the subtle nuances in any given situation.

This means that highly sensitive children startle easily, hate scratchy clothing, and don’t enjoy big surprises. They are extremely sensitive to smells, may seem to read your mind at times, and tend to be perfectionists. They don’t do well with crowds, loud noises, or violent movies or tv shows.

High sensitivity doesn’t look the same in every individual: some HSPs are extremely good at picking up social cues, some are extremely sensitive to sound and pitch, some struggle with diverse textures and bright lights.

15-20% of the population are HSPs. (This percentage applies to all species, not just humans). The trait of high sensitivity is not a subset of introversion: about 30% of HSPs are extroverts.

There are far too many HSPs for it to be considered abnormal. While there are benefits to the trait, it feels like a disadvantage sometimes—whether we’re talking about being an HSP or parenting one.

I learned about high sensitivity from reading, talking to my therapist, and observing myself and my kids. Once I knew what I—and my kids—were dealing with, we could make the appropriate adjustments. It’s made a significant difference in our family life.

Instead of sharing a bulletpoint tips post, let me tell you a little about how high sensitivity has looked through the different ages and stages in our family. (If you think better in lists, maybe we can do one of those in the future. Hit me up in comments.)

A note about these descriptions: my HSCs are not the same. For simplicity’s sake, I lumped the traits together and used the male pronoun. If you know my kids, don’t bother trying to figure out who I’m talking about (although you’ll surely recognize some traits) because this composite child doesn’t exist!

The highly sensitive infant

We knew from the beginning our child had a finely tuned nervous system. Before we left the hospital with our 48-hour-old infant, the nurses—who struggled to soothe our baby right along with us—all told us he was “touchy.” (I hated that description!)

He was highly sensitive, without a doubt, though we didn’t know those words at the time.

We knew we had a highly sensitive child right from the get-go, even though we didn’t know to use those words. Our child cried easily and was difficult to soothe. He was easily overstimulated and acutely attuned to changes in his environment.

He wasn’t very adaptable; he hated transitions. He was a terrible sleeper, because what is sleep, if not a huge transition?

As he got older, his distaste for certain textures—food, bedding, clothing—became more pronounced.

But he could still be a happy baby, if he got exactly what he needed to feel comfortable in his environment: he loved being held, he loved being carried, and he adored being outside.

As our child got older, we began physical and occupational therapy for sensory processing issues. While the therapy helped, I was never fully satisfied with the therapist’s descriptions of how SPD affected our child. In hindsight, I can see the missing piece: high sensitivity.

The highly sensitive preschooler

After a few years of practice, we were better at creating a happy environment for our little HSP. We didn’t buy shirts with tags, we were cautious about introducing new foods, we built lots of downtime into our days.

We still struggled mightily with transitions, and change of any kind was very challenging. We learned coping strategies: some we read about, some we were taught, some we discovered on our own.

We learned how to deal with intense emotions. HSPs may experience more intense emotions than the general population, because they take in more information from their environments, and process it more thoroughly. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but helping our child process these emotions was definitely a learned skill.

We came to realize he hated anything that might be considered the tiniest bit scary in movies or on TV. Disney movies and cartoons were out. (This omission delighted our child, but explaining it to our baffled friends and family was another story.)

We continued to struggle with bedtime and falling asleep at night. Seriously struggle.

We learned to never take our HSC on more than two errands a day, because errands are exhausting for highly sensitive children. This was a pain sometimes, but well worth it.

The highly sensitive grade schooler

This is where we are now.

Some days, the words “highly sensitive” never cross my mind. We’ve structured our lives and our days in ways that suit our whole family—including the HSPs among us—and on a good day, everything just works. (We have lots of good days. But plenty of bad ones, too.)

Our HSCs need: simply furnished bedrooms. Lots of downtime built into the day. Lots of time for independent work. Moderated noise levels. Still no Disney movies.

Our HSC still hates change. He doesn’t relish transitions. He hates crowds. He needs time outdoors (playground) and time in nature (hiking). He craves structure and routine.

Our huge challenge in this stage is emotional. We’re talking a lot, explicitly, about what high sensitivity means, its perks and its drawbacks. And oh, do we have lots of opportunities to talk about being an HSC. Our child struggled mightily with the book The Trojan War when it was assigned for English Lit this year. The book was challenging; I didn’t read much into it. Many months later he explicitly said that he struggled with the blood and violence. Of course, I thought—six months too late.

That’s not an isolated incident. History is often violent; I anticipate this being a challenge in the coming school years. We’ve been having lots of talks lately about dealing with uncomfortable content in the world around us: even discussions of current events in church—or even the scripture readings—can be gruesome.

There are no easy solutions: this is the world we live in, and he needs to learn to live in it. We’re walking the line between trying to shield him appropriately, as we can, without being overprotective. We’re teaching and enforcing personal boundaries. We’re teaching him to self-monitor; our goal is to help him become more resilient.

It’s not easy.

Through it all, we’re emphasizing the perks of sensitivity, and I’m telling him all the time how I understand because I’m the same way. HSPs are gentle and compassionate, they’re natural peacemakers, they’re responsible and intuitive. They are creative, ingeniously so. They feel emotions more deeply, and while this sometimes feels like a curse, it can be a huge blessing.

Parenting highly sensitive children can require increased sensitivity on your part, here's what you need to know.

It’s not an easy road, but it’s the one we’re walking. I know many of you are on it, too, and I’d love to hear your thoughts, tips, observations, and strokes of genius in comments.   

For more info (and links to free diagnostic quizzes), read these posts: It’s more than a kid hangover, let’s talk about highly sensitive people, and self care for the highly sensitive parent.

For further reading, I recommend:

P.S. I wrote a book about personality! In Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, I walk you through 7 different frameworks, explaining the basics in a way you can actually understand, sharing personal stories about how what I learned made a difference in my life, and showing you how it could make a difference in yours, as well.

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87 comments

  1. Emily says:

    I don’t have a highly sensitive child (yet!) but I realized recently that my husband is highly sensitive. It makes a huge difference to know this! I used to think he was just being picky about bright lights and loud noises. I found it frustrating that he would always “complain” about me using the blender at high speeds or bang a spoon against a bowl. Now, I try to be sensitive to his needs and remember that he experiences the world differently than I do.

  2. Christine says:

    Wow, this post was so very helpful! I’ve known for a while that we tend to be a family of HSPs. All in various ways. And we also happen to all tend toward the introverted end of the spectrum as well. But there were some descriptions in here that were very enlightening for me. You mentioned being easily startled as a trait of many HSPs. Our youngest, 8, has always been like that and we’ve always wondered why he seems so tightly wound up that he gets startled so very easily. Of course, it’s part of being HS, just like his perfectionism (also common in our family) and his picky eating habits and his difficulty with transitions (although not so much as our oldest who fit your description of the infant and preschooler stage perfectly). Also, the description of the sensitivity to violence, scariness in movies and books, and difficult/emotional issues fits one of our other kids who definitely seems more sensitive to emotional stuff than to physical stuff. She didn’t watch those Disney movies until just about a year or two ago (she’s 12 now and can even handle Harry Potter movies). Then our only kid who seems less sensitive is the one with the biggest, most obvious need for lots of quiet and down-time after a time spent with lots of people and sensory-overload (like her mom). Anyway, a long note to say thanks for sharing all of this, some of which I knew (but it’s always good to hear that other people have these experiences) and some of which was new to me. Thanks!

    • Shawna Elise says:

      This is a great article. Now we need one about trying to parent as a Highly Sensitive Person. It is quite challenging. I have problems being calm in situations that are not calm and especially noisy situations. Those situation occur often once you have a child. My daughter is 5 now and I still haven’t quite figured out how to manage without losing it when the dog is barking and the kid is screaming and the tv is blaring.

  3. Krista says:

    My daughter seems to be more introverted and doesn’t deal well with change at all (your comment about sleep issues fits her to a T!) but at 16 months old it is so hard to tell if she falls into HSP or if it’s just plain introversion. I’m curious to see how she grows in the next year and if I’ll be able to tell.

  4. Michelle says:

    Hi Anne,
    Do either of these children happen to have an Autism diagnosis as well? My 4-year-old son recently began OT for sensory processing challenges which, as you mentioned, we have all struggled with since the day he was born. However, although he is actually advanced with regard to speech development, he struggles significantly both socially and emotionally. We will be completing our second phase of testing for an ASS, and I know that many of these children also struggle with sensory processing. As an exhausted and often lost parent, this post just left me wondering a bit more about your experience. Thanks for being willing to share about this topic!

    • Shelley says:

      I can’t, of course, speak to your particular situation, but I do know that my son was an early talker & reader (high literacy), but struggled with motor skills to a degree, like tying shoes, skipping, throwing a ball, and emotional things. He would cry very easily about things that seemed unnecessary or get upset about small things. As he got older (primary school age), he was super sweet, but would adopt a blank look on his face or react in unusual ways to others. There was never a diagnosis for Autism, just a strong lean into HSP and it has really moderated itself as he has aged…he’s learned how to cope. Though we still find it hard to “read” him and know what is on his mind. All that to say, it could be just HSP sensitivities and they can become less pronounced as your child ages, if you guide them.

      • Michelle says:

        Thanks, Shelley! His therapist has mentioned this as well, but it’s always nice to hear it from someone who is living it.

      • Angel says:

        Sounds actually like my 8 year old son Zymir.He’s receiving therapy and counseling.He is very social but sensitive and emotional.

    • Jaime says:

      We have been through so much of this with our now 7 year old son. We heard everything from Aspergers, PDD on the ASD spectrum, even extremely gifted. This description here describes him so much it is eerie. He did not sleep more than three to four hours a night until he was almost five, and in the midst of all the stress and sleeplessness I nearly lost my mind. We have agreed with some doctors, disagreed with others, and learned that we as his parents are the closest thing to an expert in our individual child. Our life has calmed down considerably; he is happier and excelling academically and socially. It is hard.
      Off to see if my library has Quiet.

    • Anne says:

      My children don’t have ASD diagnoses, but you’re so right about the overlap. I’ve had this conversation with many friends, and it’s in the literature.

  5. Shelley says:

    I love that you posted about this awhile back. It was so enlightening to me. I’m equally grateful you posted more (keep them coming!). These posts are so insightful and useful.

    I’m an HSP, as is one of my children. For me, I continue to find these posts helpful because I get overwhelmed when we have too much planned into our day, too many errands are exhausting to me, and the world news is often too much to handle…I feel it too much. I wondered if I was just get older and couldn’t handle things as well (I’m in my forties), but now it seems more attributed to being an HSP. Funny how we can miss things in ourselves. It’s nice to know because I felt kind of wimpy. ☺️

    For my son, it was clear he was an HSP early on….hated clothes tags, sensitive to haircuts, clothing, an over-reaction to pain, inability to read social cues, and a need for extra downtime and alone time. But now as a teen, it’s more difficult. He’s leaned to cope more, so I’m not sure what are teen issues (he’s our first teen) and what are HSP tendencies. It makes it difficult to know how to address things and when to push and when not to. I wish there was a book about teens and their special issues and the HSP. Thanks to anyone who can speak to this.

  6. Katie says:

    Ever since I learned about HSPs, I knew I was one….and so is my older daughter, age 8. If only I had known back when she was a baby… Sigh. Better late than never! 🙂 Thanks for this great post – I’ll be sharing.

  7. Sassy Apple says:

    Anne,
    I want to thank you for making me aware of HSP. I’ve done reading since I first read about it on your blog, and finally have answers for my ‘quirks’. Okay, maybe not ALL of them 🙂 Anyway, thanks again for all of the suggested posts and books. It has made a BIG difference to know there’s a reason for the things I feel. You’re making a difference in the world 🙂

  8. Kayris says:

    I put a couple of those books on my to read list. Sounds a lot like me.

    My husband likes to watch movies in the dark. I find the TV screen too bright like this and it hurts my eyes.
    His regular speaking voice, as well as the voice of my boss, dad, brother and a coworker (all men, interestingly, except for the coworker) is too loud for me and I always feel like they are yelling.
    The hubs can come home from work and the minute he walks in the door, I can tell if he had something with garlic in it for lunch. Even though he brushes his teeth after he eats. I can smell things others can’t.
    Lots more examples so I’ll stop here. Except to complain that Old Navy’s tagless shirts still have tags with washing instructions sewn into the side seam. Lots of my shirts have holes on the left lower side from me ripping the tag out because it was making me insane.

    • Shelley says:

      Oh my goodness, that is so me! I even turn my iPad/Kindle lighting way down and people often say they can’t hear me because I talk quietly and am often telling my kids “Shhhh”. ?

  9. Shelley says:

    Sorry to be so verbose, but my 14 year old HSP has a really hard time sleeping. I never made that connection that it could be an HSP tendency. Suggestions???

    • Anne says:

      From one parent to another: if I were in your shoes and had just had that lightbulb moment, I’d read up on highly sensitive children, sleep hygiene (google it), and mention the sleep troubles to the pediatrician to see if he suspects some other underlying issue.

      • Shelley says:

        I will look that up, thanks. The doctor only asks the obvious questions such as is he worried about anything, overly stimulated right before bedtime and the answer is no. Kind of a deadend.

        • Bryony Ellis says:

          Our highly sensitive son has acute allergic rhinitis (symptoms include sleeplessness), a tendency towards allergies/asthma is very common in HSPs. We see an allergist, I’d mention it to your pediatrician- common signs are constant ” bunny” nose twitching, darkness under the eyes, stuffy/itchy/runny nose, itchy eyes/red eyes and neverending picking/rubbing/scratching or touching of the nose. Hope it helps

    • Cynthia says:

      Bedtime routine is the key for HSPs & HSCs. At the same time every night, a light snack, some tea, bedtime reading with calming tone (nothing scary or stressful, so fairy tales about fire breathing dragons, etc. may be out!)…then the routine becomes part of the wind down process and it needs to start at least an hour before lights out ideally, especially so that kids have time gradually to de-stimulate from all the daytime activities.

  10. Allison says:

    Hi Anne – I didn’t realize until last year, the year I turned 50, that I was an introvert and HSP – and all because of you. Thank you. So much fell into place for me. I now embrace those labels because they explain so much. When I was growing up – early 70’s – it wasn’t like it is today. Kids weren’t “catered” to if you will (not sure the correct word) – if they were I would have been diagnosed with severe anxiety at 9 years old and maybe life would have been calmer (and my stomach too!) But at least we know now.
    When I was 5-6 I remember having a thing about the toe placement of socks – but isn’t that common for kids? And also a thing about buttoning cuffs of long sleeve shirts – they had to be buttoned the way the shirt was put on – they couldn’t be twisted into place and buttoned.
    I am also emotionally sensitive. I have not ever gotten through a parent teacher conference without crying. Even now thinking about it I’m welling up. Whenever I talk about something I feel deeply about, such as my kids, I get emotional and cry. Not necessarily sad tears. My kids did well in school.
    When I was in my late 20’s I suffered from depression and saw a psychiatrist. I remember him telling me to be less sensitive. I told him no (first of all HOW does one be less sensitive????) I said I wouldn’t want to see the world that way. I like seeing all the colors I see.
    Thanks for listening, Allison

  11. Beth Anne says:

    I’m a highly sensitive person with a lowly sensitive child and spouse 🙂 I mean, the pieces come together when I think about ripping my tights off immediately after church as a child because I hated wearing them so much! Or the many, many shirts with tags or itchy sweaters I refused to wear.

    I have big emotions, and I hate large crowds or having my personal space invaded with a passion! I would rather drive 12 hours than be in an airport…. and be forced to sit next to someone I don’t know… that makes me feel so trapped and uncomfortable.

    My son, on the other hand, LOVES loud noises, large crowds, and lots of people. It really and truly feeds his soul and he comes away from a day full of activity just filled with joy and contentment. (I know many kids don’t handle a full day of this kind of scenario well, but seriously, he is so much better behaved after a full day…it’s crazy!) So, this highly sensitive Mama is learning to adjust. We have days that are full of fun and activity for him, and days that are calm ones spent at home for me. In his case, going to preschool has been a game-changer for both of us. He gets the noise, activity, and people he craves, and his Mom gets the quiet she craves.

    Loved this post, Anne.

  12. Marie says:

    One of my DCs is an HSP, has ADHD, and is an extrovert–it’s quite a combination. One of the more tricky situations is balancing her desire for stimulation with the tendency to become easily overwhelmed. A dozen years in, I have yet to find the formula. 🙂

    My only regret is being told DC was “colicky” her first six months and that her issues were mostly due to reflux. My frustration levels would have been much lower if I’d known this was her personality and not something that needed to be fixed, outgrown, or medicated.

    • Anne says:

      I hear you on the early “colicky” diagnosis. Once we knew what we were dealing with it was so much easier to handle.

      (Although, just to show that real people are complicated beings, I wish we’d realized earlier that we also had some allergies going on. I’m not certain that eliminating dairy from my diet would have made a difference, but when my second born had cranky episodes shortly after birth that was his first recommendation since I was breastfeeding. I eliminated dairy, gluten, and soy from my diet and it made a huge difference for her—I wish I knew to try the same for my firstborn. We later discovered he was in fact allergic to milk so it was a real possibility. Regardless, HSP + allergies = a wild ride.)

  13. Jordan says:

    Thank you for posting! I forgot about this topic and always feel so AFFIRMED when it is discussed.

    I am EXTREMELY emotionally sensitive. I saw a dead Dove on the sidewalk the other day and wanted to cry. Sometimes I chalk this up to circumstances and/or hormones, but not this time. You word it so well in “resilience” – I think that’s what I’ve had to develop!

    One of the major things that has helped me so is my mentor. We meet once a week for an hour and have been for about 2 years now. She helps me walk through grief, process my past, and develop healthy coping strategies. I have also read the book Boundaries and I’m pretty sure that has changed my life. I suggest it to all (they have marriage and kid focused ones as well). I have learned that I have control over my emotions (more than I ever realized and I’m sure I am still realizing) so that I keep the bad out and let the good in! I have made exercise a priority and that seems to help my emotional health as well. I didn’t know “self care” was a THING, but now I make it such a priority in my life. I really try to listen to my emotions, my body, my needs, without letting my emotions have the power. Does that make any sense?

    I feel like I am literally a matured version of your child.
    -Environment really throws me off. I care where I sit in a restaurant and was really hurt growing up that my mom wouldn’t let me make my room my own.
    -My ability to read people and situations is uncanny. You’d think I am telepathic! It can be so burdensome. Where’s the off switch?
    -Minor transitions are no issue for me but larger ones are – my boyfriend having night class 3 days a week, my boss leaving, a wedding to attend across the country.
    -I am greatly impacted by the things that go on in the world – gay marriage, Charleston, etc. to the point where I prefer to remain ignorant to the news at times.

    I feel like I become healthier and healthier as I age and learn to manage myself well, but it is still a challenge I don’t witness many people endure. It always makes me feel so rare and unique which I have a love/hate relationship with. I want to go around saying “are you an HSP?!” to anyone who will listen and then have coffee with them so we can affirm each other like crazy. I feel like my own species half the time!

    I could keep rambling but I’ll stop. Thanks for posting :). I get it.

    For reference: I’m a 25 year old Female

  14. Angela says:

    My HSP boy is now a teenager and I really appreciated your connection with violence because I hadn’t realized that this could be part of HSP. He doesn’t understand why all his friends like to play violent video games, while he prefers the Wii & Mario games. Also, he’d rather watch movies at home because if/when the movie gets too intense, he can go into the other room and some how by putting more distance between himself and the movie, he can handle it better. This summer, his favorite activity is to build robots with Legos while in his pjs (his most comfortable clothes). He does thrive in nature (we got camping) & enjoys times with others (but prefers having them over our house). Thanks for the insights on how HSP have different things to deal with as they grow (as we all do).

    • Jennifer says:

      Your comments could have been written about my 11yo son. We learned about HSPs when he was 3yo and his Sunday School teacher recommended we read “The Highly Sensitive Child”. It was life changing. As I read the book, it explained not only our son, but me, my dad, my grandmother . . . . Since then, we’ve worked to provide him with the tools he needs to navigate the world successfully.
      A couple of things you mentioned resonated with me specifically: my son also prefers to watch movies at home rather than in a theater. Partially it’s to be able to leave the room if need be, but it’s also due to the volume. Theater showings are so very loud. The other thing you mentioned was about your son enjoying getting together with friends but preferring to do so at your own house. We’ve found the opposite to be true for us. Home is quiet and restful – a safe haven for HSPs. My son only likes to play with friends at a park or other public space. When it gets rowdy and loud in a home, whether ours or someone else’s, he finds that to be stressful, draining, and overwhelming. He does pretty well at handling busy, loud, and rowdy if it’s appropriate to the space. It’s been interesting to observe his growth in that area over the past few years.

  15. Allison says:

    Hi Anne, what does your child’s simply furnished bedroom look like? I’m so glad you mentioned that, since I’ve just figured out that removing tons of toys from my HSC’s room (4 yr old) really helps her feel more secure. Thanks! Allison

    • Anne says:

      My boys share a room, and it looks like: bunk beds, bookcase, two dressers, and one big bucket of legos with a small building table. (They’re finally starting to realize that if the legos spill over to every flat surface they both start to go a little bonkers. 🙂 )

  16. Noelle B says:

    I would be curious to know if there is a correlation between giftedness (and the over-excitabilities) and HSC/HSP. The early literacy comment made me think of it… In our case study of one of our children over here 😉 the HSC and giftedness go together.

  17. ailikate says:

    So I was thinking, “but the kid isn’t really HSP, she just is a really picky eater. And has trouble falling asleep. And trouble with abrupt changes in plans. And gets startled easily. And….hmmm….” Anyway, I think all three of us in our family have at least a few HSP characteristics and more research is probably in order (more research is always in order).
    Also: one way we’ve dealt with sensitivity to some of the more disturbing aspects of history is to focus in more on the history of scientific developments and the history of the arts and music. Wars and violence are still there, as they are often the trigger for advances in science or the inspiration for artistic movements, but dealing with them at a bit of a remove makes it easier to process. We also look at the lives of ordinary people more than rulers or generals. As a child I found the treatment history as a series of battles both boring and disturbing and didn’t get interested until I was an adult and figured out that there were other things going on as well.

  18. Terri says:

    Once again you have provided information that will change my life. If I had only one blog to read, it would be yours.

    My parents always said I was too sensitive! As an adult in my 30s, I came upon the concept of the introvert personality. It was a game-changer for me. I could now feel comfortable in my own skin. Now, reading this post, you have given me another key to the inter-workings of myself. What’s amazing is the part about clutter; I just knew I was that way; my husband was mystified by it. Now I can explain what it actually means to me. I am the one who can go to a gathering where I know everyone and be asking my husband five minutes later, “Can we go now?” I once got excused from being on a jury for a murder trial because I told them that violent pictures upset me and I wouldn’t be able to forget them for months, if ever. I think they excused me as a “nut case” rather than for the reason I stated. I never understood why I wanted to go to bed and get a good nights sleep, and then just couldn’t get myself to go to bed. I jokingly tell people that I’m on my way to becoming a hermit because now that the kids are out of the house I stay home as much as possible. I do most of my shopping online, thank you Amazon Prime, because I can only go shopping on a “good day”, otherwise I can only do one store. As I get older, my job overwhelms me. I have to coordinate with so many people, parents and children! I’m a teacher and travel from school to school. I’ve always thought that if I didn’t have down time in my car, I wouldn’t be able to have a job. I live for vacation and have anxiety attacks about having to go back in three weeks. Up until I read this post I thought I was some sort of “invalid”, as described in Jane Austen-era books. I cannot fathom having to work a full year with only 2-3 weeks of vacation a year. I’ve said enough, although there’s more that resonates. I look forward to reading the books you recommend. Thank you , Anne, you’re a blessing.

    • Anne says:

      I’m so glad this resonated. Thanks for sharing all the examples. Still chuckling at your “invalid from the Jane Austen era” description. 🙂

  19. Jayme says:

    Oh, man. This is my child. She had such a hard time as a baby that I’m actually in a support group on Facebook for High Needs babies/children. (HN is Dr Sears’ term for highly sensitive).

    We are now in the toddler years and BOY is it a struggle lately. Sensitive to noise and excessive stimulation? Check. Extreme sleep issues? CHECK. Very picky about food due to texture and flavor? Check. Hates changes to the point of initially rejecting large Christmas and birthday presents due to their extreme newness? Check. (And, as someone whose main love language is gift giving, this is so hard for me, because I always hope she’ll be just as excited as I am. Most recent example being me filming her seeing a giant pink playhouse in our living room for her 3rd birthday and her refusing to go near it. She now plays in it constantly, but oof, that video is hard for me to watch.)

    I just bought The Highly Sensitive Child and I’m putting Lost Lake aside so I can start it today. I also shared this post with my group along with something like “You GUYS, someone GETS IT.”

    I’ve been following your blog for just a few months, but I have to say your insight and honesty (not to mention book love!) in posts like this is really inspiring and uplifting.

  20. Paula says:

    Elaine Aron is my hero, I wish I had known about her 27 years ago when my oldest was born. She has a terrific website and even has a documentary coming out. All three of my kids are h/s as am I, a challenge I had no idea about when I became a mom. The first few years with my oldest were rocky and I think it is one reason I didn’t have my next one for six years. I found the most success by putting down most of the childcare books at the time and just following my intuition. I really second the advice of an earlier commenter on self-care as foundation, that took me _years_ to implement. As a compliment to Elaine Aron’s work, I found Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities, http://giftedkids.about.com/od/gifted101/a/overexcite.htm which helped further my understanding about both my kids and myself.

  21. Steph says:

    My daughter, husband and I are all HSPs. Our son’s only two so the verdict is still out, but I’m thinking not. People are baffled that at almost six my daughter is very sensitive about scary movies – even Disney ones. That said, if we talk to her ahead of time about potentially scary situations, without pushing anything on her, she sometimes decides she wants to participate. She’s also very good at walking away from situations that bother her. I’ve been impressed with how easily she’ll say something is too much or too scary for her – she’s better at it than me.

  22. Anne!

    I can’t thank you for writing about this again. I have a highly sensitive child, and reading Aron’s book has been life changing (not an overstatement). I am also highly sensitive, as is my husband, though we all have our “specialties” (for son and I, it is emotional sensitivity, for husband it is mostly environment).

    Thank you for calling out the violence / scary / distressing aspect of movies and TV. You can really be made to feel “weird” for not having your child watch the “normal” shows; I don’t know if we ever will be able to. We’re excited about Shaun the Sheep coming to theaters… he’s enjoyed that show (with the exception of the farmer’s naked butt in one episode… another HSP sensitivity), and I’m so hopeful we can have a theater experience as a family.

    Can you share more about how you help your children to process their emotions? Dealing with my HSC’s emotions is our biggest challenge, and I’d love some strategies.

    Thank you, thank you!
    Andrea

  23. Kierstin says:

    My son and I are both highly sensitive too. What I think is missing in a lot of talking about high sensitivity is what kinds of positive stimuli we enjoy. Physical touch is really important to us, calm music goes far to helping us actually feel calm, and reading positive stories makes us feel positive about life. When my son is upset having a wrestle with his dad is the best way for him to get his anger out. We’re sensitive to good things too, and knowing what works in a positive way for your sensitive child is incredibly helpful.

  24. I’m a highly sensitive person, and my husband is so not one! We don’t have any kids yet, but this is great for future reference, especially if they take after me . . .

    • Also, just for amusement, imagine an HSP working in a 911 center with bright lights and sirens, phones ringing, and callers screaming! It’s an interesting combination, but it makes me appreciate the simply furnished and quiet home that HSP’s so desperately need.

  25. Anne McD says:

    Thank you for writing on this, and I can’t tell you just how timely it is tonight! It has been suggested that one of my children has SPD, but looking into his being Highly Sensitive might be the key to many problems we have. In fact, after you mentioned it earlier on your blog, I realized that I, too, am HS. The noise of the children, the visual clutter, the way I always have an itch somewhere…. it all adds up. Thanks for sharing!!

  26. Heather says:

    There is so much to say here… I spent my first few years of motherhood completely devastated by a baby that never seemed to stop crying, with no insights about SPD available at the time. We eventually found our way into OT and other therapies. For parents on this list who are thinking: “YES!” right now, please know that you are not crazy, and you are not alone (it can feel that way.) I encourage you to find the Sensory Support groups on FB (there are at least a couple) and also to follow some of the recent research on Sensory Processing that is being done at UCSF (http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2013/07/107316/breakthrough-study-reveals-biological-basis-sensory-processing-disorders-kidsi), which identifies it as separate from ASD (although there is frequently overlap in symptoms). Sensory issues are not currently part of the DSM, which means that most doctors (and insurance providers) don’t acknowledge that it exists, but that is hopefully on its way to changing.

  27. Dana says:

    Wonderful posting, as always! I’m a storyteller and also mom to a moderately sensitive son, and we have a couple of techniques for handling difficult/sad stories that might help for school. First, he does much better if he knows that something bad is going to happen to someone — forewarned is forearmed! It’s far worse when it comes as a surprise. Second, it helps to ask him what the characters could have done differently so that it wouldn’t have turned out so badly. Imagining a better path gives him a sense of control and makes his discomfort more manageable.

  28. Coming across this post is a blessing because it so accurately describes my youngest child. It brings so much clarity and a starting point on how to deal with him this upcoming school year. Thank you for the book suggestions. I actually have Susan Cain’s Quiet sitting on my fireplace patiently waiting on me to pick it up. It is on my summer must reads list. Not because of my son but because the description resonated with my childhood and who I am as an adult. I will be moving this from #3 to the next book to read on my list since it will help identify and provide some insight into my little one. Thanks again and good luck with this upcoming school year.

    Andrea

  29. Vanessa says:

    Disney movies are still rather scary. My parents didn’t let me watch them as they bothered me as a child and as I’ve watched some as an adult I am so thankful I was shielded from them! Thanks for this post and for sharing.

  30. Polly says:

    I’d love to talk more about sensitive kids and media. My 8 year old won’t let me finish reading “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” aloud to her because there is a “scary witch.” We had to stop on page 25.
    My kids also only want to watch movies that they’ve seen many times before. Any kids movie with a plot seems to freak them out, which is kind of sad for my husband and I since we have old favorites we want to share. It seems clear to me that fear of the unknown and the suspense is what upsets them and I’ve tried to talk to them about it but it just doesn’t seem to do much good.

    • Anne says:

      I hear what you’re saying about “any movie with a plot.” That’s how I describe my kids, too. Conflict drives plots forward, so if a child doesn’t like conflict, that makes sense. I know that many of my friends’ kids are fine with the conflict if they know it has a happy resolution, but my sensitive kids have never been that way.

      We’ve noticed that one of our kids is okay with conflict if it’s reality-based (like, say, a plausible baseball storyline) but not at all okay if it’s fantastical (no witches and talking fauns and furniture that opens into alternate realities for him, thank you very much).

  31. Marisa says:

    My daughter is a HSP. Thankfully I was made aware of this through a Listening Prayer seminar I attended when she was just 3 years old. It answered a ton of questions and gave me great insight into her personality and issues. As a child the only Disney movie she could watch was the Aristocats as the “evil” side of the movies disturbed her so much as did any other violent type shows. Hard transitions at school with tears at the door for the first few weeks of school each year until 5th grade. High school was a tough transition as ours is overcrowded and she was overwhelmed and could sense the “pain and sin” of those at the school. We spent many a night doing cleaning prayers so she wouldn’t carry the feelings/burdens of others. Lots of down time at home as she adjusted and long talks so she could unload. Thankfully she has had some very accommodating English teachers who have allowed her to read a different class novel study book as she couldn’t handle the ones that were chose. We plowed our way through the Outsiders – the blitz read it on a weekend and we talked it through but it did a number on her so in future years we spoke up early and got alternate books. Lots of texting over lunch breaks so she had a “safe haven” to dip into during the day. She will be a senior this year and last year was her best year to date as she “knows the ropes” and she has even branched out into a few school clubs. Read the book The Highly Sensitive Person and it is excellent. Also give exercises in the back on how to “re-program” their thoughts (often assume the next experience will be exactly the same as the previous without giving it a chance to be otherwise etc.). If you have any questions on what we have encountered and how we have dealt with things, don’t hesitate to send me an e-mail 🙂 Love her to bits, her sensitive heart is amazing as is her intuition and insight into situation/people. I am an HSP myself though most likely more “hardened” due to not knowing why I reacted to things the way I did over the course of my lifetime and it has been interesting to deal with my own HSP characteristics as we walk through my daughters.

  32. melanie says:

    For all of us who are HSP or have HSP kids be aware that in addition to being HSP, it is also possible to be an empath. Empaths are those who are deeply sensitive to the emotions of the people around us. We take on the emotional attributes of a person or animal and feel them as they would. We are the healers, caretakers and “fixers” of the damaged. We have trouble with boundary setting which can leave us feeling depleted and used. Being an empath can be a blessing and a curse. Just thought I’d mention it as an HSP who didn’t discover this about herself until midlife. I think it would have been very useful to understand this aspect of myself much earlier than I did.

  33. lisette says:

    Thank you for this article! I realize I’m high sensitive too and while reading this it suddenly hit me; so is my daughter! It’s funny how so many of your solutions have also helped us, even without knowing why we did them. I have always hated how people thought and think that we’re over protective of her; they just don’t know how upset they can get. My daughter is really strong and smart so no one would ever know that she can struggle with life more than the average kid.
    Thank you for sharing and getting their stories out there, they deserve to be heard!

  34. Donna says:

    I have struggled to understand the temperament of my 6 year old daughter, I have recently been reading up on HSP, while she hasn’t been clinically diagnosed as of yet, she fits perfectly into the category of HSP. She was well advanced for her age in all aspects, speaking early, reading early and excels in her school work, she even skipped kindergarten and is the youngest in her class. Her issues/struggles are emotionally and her temperament. She is clearly advanced for her age and while she gets excellent academic grades, her citizenship grades are far below the average. she is always in trouble for arguing, not following directions, and is often off task which causes disruption in her class. She is very critical of herself and others, most often times angry at herself and everyone. She hates school and thinks everyone is against her. As far as sensitivity she is the child that cannot stand tags, socks that don’t fit perfectly, and shoes that she cannot move her toes around in, even brushing her hair is a struggle and a fight. I worry that she is self centered and she feels like she should have more control, luckily with patience I can get through to her with reasoning, it feels like she questions everything and only complying after I prove my point, often times she even makes a great argument and we compromise to get things accomplished. I am sad she feels like a bad kid especially at school, flipping color cards for behavior, and notes bring sent home. She just gets more frustrated, I dint even get made when behavior notes come home brandy more because then that meant she was bring tortured both at school and at home. Luckily her offenses are not physical, she is not violent it’s just mostly her mouth and attitude that get her teachers angry. I am so happy to see I am not alone in this, I felt guilty like I couldn’t handle this child without losing it myself.

  35. Jodie says:

    Thank you. Today I learned a high schooler in our area recently committed suicide because he felt lonely. I looked at my four year old and recognized that he is sensitive and I want him to be happy and confident, among other things. I started to research and I came across this Highly Sensitive Child description. My son is even afraid of going into another room in our house by himself, even the bathroom. Now, I begin praying and adjusting my parenting of him. Pray for me and my husband as we learn how to embrace his gift of sensitivity and help him to do the same.

  36. Mary says:

    Thank you so much for writing about this! Our 4 year old boy is this & much more! I wish there was a school for them. It has been a very interesting & exhausting road. We cherish every moment.

  37. Cj says:

    I just wanted to thank you for the article you wrote. I just now stumbled across it, after having an argument with my mother over how to parent my 7 year old. I was feeling frustrated, and like a failure of a single mother because I didn’t agree with my parents stance on ‘tough love’ and couldn’t seem to make them understand that there is nothing WRONG with the way my child acts, feels, processes, or the job I am doing when trying to raise her. Of course, I’m not quite where I want to be, and I’m struggling with trying to make her understand that it’s okay to want to please everyone, and not want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but sometimes she has to put her comfort, her wants, and her safety above her fear of disappointing someone. My parents are constantly on me about being too ‘easy’ on my child, and though even our doctor, her second grade teacher, and our therapist says that she is HSC, my parents see that as an excuse, and were making me feel like I was failing my child somehow. This article, and the fact that you took the time to write it, elevates some of my fears, and makes me see that there are some people out there (the author and those who commented) that know exactly what I’ve been trying to explain to my family for 7 years… HSC is real. And sometimes it requires a DIFFERENT set of rules and traditions. Thank you for helping ease some of my burden!

  38. Annie says:

    Thank you for writing this. The part where you mentioned that the nurses in the hospital had a hard time calming your highly sensitive baby- THAT WAS ME! My daughter is almost a year old now and as first time parent to a highly sensitive baby, it often feels like I’m “not doing it right.” She is tough to soothe and it makes me often feel like I’m failing as a mother. What mother can’t soothe her child? While all of my friends take their babies out and about while the child naps contentedly, my baby will scream when we go to a friend’s home for dinner or even if friends come to our house. Even her own grandparents that she hasn’t seen in awhile! She cries and clings to me when she sees them. It’s above and beyond the common “stranger danger” phase and it started when she was 4 months old. I’m preparing myself for the next stages you mention. Any more resources you know of about sensitive babies?

    • Anne says:

      I would highly recommend checking out Elaine Aron’s book (the one for children) and site. Also, looking back, I can see that one of my infants was exquisitely sensitive. Understanding that earlier would have helped, but some good occupational therapy sure helped a ton. Yes, he was highly sensitive, but we also add additional issues going on, but in infancy they can look much the same.

  39. Rebecca says:

    Our daughter, age 5, is definitely highly sensitive – as am I. It began at birth, being really needy of Mommy, only calming once outdoors (at all hours) – and she’s definitely a picky eater. I’ve always called her my “odd duck” as she never wanted to do the things the other children did. I noticed early that she always waited until the crowd had cleared, watching before hesitantly participating (and only with huge support from Mom), shying away from the things kids are “supposed” to like. The playground is torture unless there aren’t many children there. Loud and/or aggressive adults and teachers are very scary, and ironically other children are drawn to her like a moth to flame. This of course upsets her – especially since children often don’t have a personal space filter and she can’t fight back for her space. We tried preschool, but began seeing a therapist for selective mutism (she couldn’t find her words at school) and began our quest for understanding and serving our little duck the best we could. We finally pulled her from her preschool in April after feeling her become gloomy in all aspects of her life – she began to hate all activities (skating, ballet, riding). It’s taken about 4 months for that cloud to lift – she’s eager once again to go to those activities, and we’ve opted to homeschool for at least this year. The joy has returned to our life thankfully, and I’m coming to accept that things are just going to be not “odd” but special and unique. She is wildly creative, super verbal and intelligent – super cautious physically and likes activities and outings that are calm and mellow. It’s a truly wonderful world we live in – but we’ve really diverted from society’s typical path, and as a sensitive person I can say “Oh, this is way better!”….

  40. CC says:

    Any advice for the mom of an 8 yr old boy HSC who has great difficulty coping w/his emotions after losing a game? He becomes overwhelmed by intense feelings of frustration and then more upset as he feels next feels tremendous difficulty trying to calm himself down from that first reaction of frustration/disappointment. The deep breathing exercises don’t work for him, he’s too upset to implement that technique at the time. He is a classic HSC, gifted off the charts, model student at school, hates transitions, loud noises, perfectionistic, empathic, also social and a sensory seeker, quick to overstimulate and difficulty with emotional self-regulation in the face of anything he cannot control, especially the outcome of a game he has lost. I have read Aron’s book & it was a game changer, but it doesn’t address how to help kids this w/challenge other just being supportive. Anyone other moms overcome this issue this issue w/their HSC? Thanks!

  41. Julie says:

    First off, let me thank you so much for writing this article! Me and my husband are in the field of psychology and I do not ever remember coming across the term Highly Sensitive Person. This is both incredibly eye opening and insightful in understanding myself and my daughter’s (9 years old) challenges.I have the sense that this is the beginning of a great journey of understanding.

  42. Joseph says:

    Great article and kudos to all parents out there with a HSC. I want to be quite frank from the beginning…this is the hardest job/task I have ever had to do. We all can relate to possibly being highly sensitive as kids growing up and not having parents who understood the personality differences. I am a dad with two HSC; an 11 year old daughter and an 8 year old boy. He is actually the true poster boy for this topic. Started as a premature cholic baby up every two hours for the first year…then never sleeping on his own and still up today, I walk him back to his room in zombie mode 4 or more times a night. But he is the most special child anyone can hope for. During the day he plays joyfully, is extremely empathetic and just an awesome funny kid. Of course I struggle that he doesnt like sports, at least anything with the remote possibility of getting hurt. It took 6 months to get him to ride a bike. Anyway my main comment was to just say that this is extremely hard; I really don’t have the patience that comes naturally to a mom but it takes just one moment of an outburst from me to see his eyes filled with fear, disappointment and just sheer panic to remind me not to EVER do that again. I just pray I am alive long enough to protect him in this dangerous, insensitive and impatient world.

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