We should teach our kids to love and embrace their sensitivity from a young age, so they don’t grow up feeling broken.
As someone who was once a sensitive child and is now a sensitive adult, I remember my eyes burning under the glaring fluorescent lights in school. The feeling of constriction from jeans was so overwhelming that I chose leggings until my teenage years. (Maybe I became a yoga teacher so I could wear leggings instead of business attire.) I still complain about uncomfortable seams in my underwear and even wrote a song about it.
I know what it’s like to feel profound empathy towards my family and the emotional overwhelm caused by global injustices. As I sit here writing, I’m processing so much in this active mind of mine that it’s challenging to organize my thoughts for this article.
I once thought there was something wrong with me, feeling as if I were broken because “little” things bothered me and I had strong emotional reactions to violence or beauty, unlike those around me. Now, I realize that these experiences are all part of the gift of high sensitivity, even though it doesn’t always feel like a gift.
(Are you a sensitive person? Here are 27 “strange” things you do because you’re a sensitive person.)
It wasn’t until my 30s that I embraced my sensitivity as a strength and began to share my voice. Now, I lead retreats for highly sensitive people and introverts, aiming to build a sense of belonging among those of us who feel like outsiders due to our unique traits. Many attendees tell me that they leave these retreats with a renewed sense of self.
I believe it’s important to teach our children to appreciate their sensitivity from a young age, so they don’t grow up feeling broken like I did. Some of the sentiments I share are words I heard as a child, while others are words I wish I had heard.
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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 sensitive person. However, while tears may be gaining an iota of respect in society, due to increased awareness of mental health, emotions such as anger and anxiety continue to be judged as “unhealthy” and “unacceptable.”
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.
Speaking of processing emotions, here are 10 creative things sensitive adults and kids can do to process and calm their emotions.
2. “It’s healthy to experience strong emotions about injustice.”
As a young child, I became extremely emotional about issues ranging from racism to bullying. As I grew older, political conversations about injustice often brought me to tears.
Sensitive kids need to know from an early age that it’s okay to feel emotional when they see others in pain. This is a compassionate response, not an overreaction. Instead of dismissing their feelings, we should acknowledge their hurt. Then, when appropriate, we can suggest ways they can take meaningful action, such as organizing a fundraiser, making a donation, or volunteering.
3. “Let others know when you need alone time.”
Highly sensitive adults are not the only ones who need alone time. I recently watched a video of a little girl stating she “just wants to chill in nature away from people.” The video made me smile, as I could relate — she seemed like a sensitive introvert.
Like sensitive adults, sensitive children also need plenty of time to decompress after stimulating activities such as attending school or parties. They process stimulation deeply and can easily become overwhelmed by it. Teach your sensitive child to constructively ask for alone time to prevent potential meltdowns later.
4. “Listen to your body.”
Highly sensitive people are often very intuitive and can easily detect subtleties, whether it’s a friend’s disappointed expression or the subtle difference between two similar paint shades. Unfortunately, societal conditioning often leads us away from heeding our body’s intuitive signals. Growing up, we may have been told that we were “too sensitive,” “overreacting,” or needed to “push through,” so we may have learned to ignore our emotions and discomfort.
As adults, if we’re used to ignoring what our bodies tell us, we can run into problems. We might not realize when we’re tired and need a break, or we could miss the signs that someone is crossing an important boundary. This can also make it harder to see when we’re in a toxic or codependent relationship because we might not notice the warning signs, such as anger, exhaustion, or resentment.
We can teach sensitive children to be aware of their body’s reactions, such as how they feel after eating a particular food or spending time with a specific friend.
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. Of course, using “no” is a delicate balance with children, but if encouraged thoughtfully, it can be an important part of learning healthy boundaries.
For example, you might let your child decide if they want to attend Henry’s birthday party instead of automatically sending the RSVP. Or, let them choose whether to join a sports team or art class. If they don’t want to or feel too busy, it’s okay for them to say “no.”
6. “Take your time to process.”
Sensitive children, much like sensitive adults, often need extra time to process information. In her insightful book Sensitive, Jenn Granneman explains that one of the strengths of sensitivity is depth of processing. This means that sensitive children absorb and analyze information thoroughly, connecting it to a bigger picture.
While depth of processing can make life rich and meaningful — allowing sensitive people to notice details or to gain profound insights — it can also slow things down. Be patient and give your child extra time to think things through, whether they’re making a decision or answering a question.
Is the chaos of life overwhelming you as a highly sensitive person?
Sensitive people have certain brain differences that make them more susceptible to stress and anxiety. Thankfully, there is a way to train your brain so you can navigate the challenges of sensitivity, access your gifts, and thrive in life. Psychotherapist and sensitivity expert Julie Bjelland will show you how in her popular online course, HSP Brain Training. As an Introvert, Dear reader, you can take 50% off the registration fee using the code INTROVERTDEAR. Click here to learn more.
7. “The world needs people like you.”
There’s no doubt that our world needs more empathy, listening, and awareness — qualities that sensitive people abundantly possess. Sensitive children can also be extremely analytical and creative. They are the empathetic and kind leaders of the future. Let’s remind them that even though the world can be 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:
- 27 ‘Strange’ Things You Do Because You’re a Highly Sensitive Person
- 15 Things You Should Never Do to Your Introverted Child
- Are You an Introvert, a Highly Sensitive Person, or Both?
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