Highly sensitive children (HSCs) have a special set of gifts. Unfortunately, many people still see the strengths of high sensitivity as weaknesses.
As someone who was once an HSC and is now a highly sensitive person (HSP), I remember my eyes burning under the fluorescent lights in school. The constricting feeling of jeans filled me with panic, so I wore leggings until I was a teen. (Maybe I became a yoga teacher just so I could wear leggings instead of business attire.) I still complain about seams in my underwear and even wrote a song about it.
I know what it’s like to feel profound empathy toward my family and emotional overwhelm about global injustices. And as I sit here writing, I’m processing so much in this active mind of mine that it’s hard to write coherent thoughts.
I used to feel there was something wrong with me. Now I know that what I just described is all simply related to the gift of high sensitivity — even if it doesn’t always feel that way.
It took me until my 30s to embrace my sensitivity as a strength and share my voice. Today, I lead retreats for highly sensitive people and introverts in order to build a sense of belonging among those of us who feel like outsiders due to our unique traits. Many attendees tell me they leave these retreats with a renewed sense of who they are.
I believe we can encourage our children to love their sensitivity from a much earlier age. Some of these sentiments I share were words I heard. Others are words I wish I had heard.
What Your Highly Sensitive Child Needs to Hear
1. “All of your emotions are acceptable.”
At some point in our lives, most of us have been told not to cry. While tears might be gaining an iota of societal respect, emotions such as anger, anxiety, and hurt continue to be judged as “unhealthy.”
Highly sensitive children are wired to fully experience the entire spectrum of human emotion. When we give HSCs permission to experience their emotions without being told they’re bad, they benefit in a powerful way. Then, we can teach them tools to transform an emotion such as anger into creative or passionate fuel to do something constructive.
2. “It’s healthy to experience emotion about injustice.”
As a young child, I got extremely emotional about issues ranging from racism to bullying. As I got a little older, political conversations about injustice easily landed me in tears.
At an early age, HSCs need to hear that it’s okay to feel emotional when they see others experiencing pain. This is a compassionate response, not an overreaction. Rather than dismissing their experiences, we need to acknowledge the hurt. When the time is right, offer ways your child can take meaningful action, such as starting a fundraiser or making a donation.
3. “Let others know when you need alone time.”
Highly sensitive adults aren’t the only ones who need alone time. I recently saw a video of a little girl stating that she “just wants to chill in nature away from people.” She certainly seemed like a sensitive introvert to me.
HSCs will probably need alone time after stimulating activities like attending school or parties. Let’s teach them to ask for alone time constructively so it doesn’t come in the form of a meltdown later.
4. “Listen to your body.”
HSPs are often highly intuitive and can easily sense subtleties. Unfortunately, our conditioning moves us away from listening to what our bodies intuitively tell us, so we may lose this connection as we get older.
We can teach sensitive children to notice how their body feels, for example, when they eat a certain food or hang out with a certain friend. Likewise, we can also teach them to find a place in their body that feels calm (like a finger or toe). This is a powerful grounding skill HSCs can use when they feel overwhelmed and need to regulate their bodies’ responses.
5. “It’s okay to say no.”
Children are accustomed to hearing the word “no,” but they usually don’t get permission to use it themselves. Obviously, it’s up to parents to set their own boundaries for when “no” is acceptable. But consider asking if your child wants to go to Henry’s birthday party before simply sending the RSVP. Certainly, “no” is a delicate balancing act with children, but if encouraged mindfully, it can be an important step in learning healthy boundaries.
6. “Take your time to process.”
Just like adult HSPs, HSCs may require extra time to process information. According to Dr. Elaine Aron, one of the four characteristics of HSPs is “depth of processing.” This means that when sensitive children receive information, they take in everything they can, analyzing and connecting data to a larger picture.
Depth of processing can make life rich and meaningful, but it also slows us down. Simply being patient and allowing your child extra time to process honors this special gift.
7. “The world needs people like you.”
There’s no question that our world needs more empathy, listening, and awareness. Sensitive children can also be extremely analytical and creative. Let’s remind the sensitive children in our lives that even though the world feels challenging at times, their sensitivity is a gift that can help others in countless ways.
Check out my Mexico retreat just for highly sensitive people and introverts. It has the perfect mix of adventure and downtime. Get $50 off when you use the code INTRODEAR50.
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