We need to teach our children to love their sensitivity from a young age — and to not grow up feeling broken.
Highly sensitive children (HSCs) have a special set of gifts. Unfortunately, many people still see high sensitivity as a weakness.
As someone who was once a highly sensitive child and is now a highly sensitive person (HSP), I remember my eyes burning under the too-bright 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 like there was something wrong with me. That I was somehow broken because “little” things bothered me, and I had strong emotional reactions to violence or beauty when the people around me didn’t. 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.
(Are you a highly sensitive person? Here are 21 signs that you’re an HSP.)
It took me until my 30s to embrace my sensitivity as a strength and to 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 it’s important to teach our children to love their sensitivity from a young age — and not grow up feeling broken like I did. Some of these sentiments I share were words I heard as a child. 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 your life, you may have been told not to cry — especially if you’re a highly sensitive person. However, while tears may be gaining an iota of societal respect, emotions such as anger and anxiety continue to be judged as “unhealthy.”
Sensitive children are wired to experience the entire spectrum of human emotion, because for all highly sensitive people — child or adult — emotions hit hard. When we give sensitive children 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 a “negative” emotion such as anger into creative or passionate fuel to do something constructive.
2. “It’s healthy to experience strong emotions about injustice.”
As a young child, I got extremely emotional about issues ranging from racism to bullying. As I got older, political conversations about injustice could easily land 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. Then, when the time is right, offer ways your child can take meaningful action, such as starting a fundraiser, making a donation, or volunteering.
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.” The video made me smile, because I could relate — she certainly seemed like a sensitive introvert to me.
HSCs will need plenty of time to decompress after stimulating activities like attending school or parties, because they process that stimulation deeply, and can easily feel worn out by it. Teach your sensitive child to ask for alone time constructively so it doesn’t come in the form of a meltdown later.
4. “Listen to your body.”
Highly sensitive people tend to be very intuitive and can easily sense subtleties, such as the disappointed look in their friend’s eyes or the difference between two similar paint shades. Unfortunately, our conditioning moves us away from listening to what our bodies intuitively tell us, so we often 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 that 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 their parents say the word “no,” but they don’t usually 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 highly sensitive adults, HSCs may require extra time to process information. According to Dr. Elaine Aron, the researcher who coined the term “highly sensitive person,” 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 — all of which takes time.
Depth of processing can make life rich and meaningful, such as allowing sensitive people to see details that others miss or to have profound insights. But it also slows us down. Simply being patient and allowing your child extra time to process — such as when they are making a decision or responding to a question — 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 our sensitive children that even though the world feels cruel at times, their sensitivity is a gift that can help others in countless ways.
Check out my upcoming retreats and workshops for highly sensitive people and introverts here.
You might like:
- 9 Mistakes Parents Make With Highly Sensitive Boys — and What to Do Instead
- Why Highly Sensitive People Get Mentally and Emotionally ‘Flooded’
- 15 Things You Should Never Do to Your Introverted Child
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