I have one child that is a classic highly sensitive child, and another one that I’ve got my suspicions about. I’m highly sensitive myself (although I’d rather not be), so I’m fairly well versed on dealing with HSPness. It’s easy to label HSP kids as fussy or high maintenance, but understanding them and helping them navigate the world can make a tremendous difference in both of your lives. It will also help them become a calmer, more functional adult. Here are my top ten secrets for parenting a highly sensitive child:
–Help them deal with their emotions. HSPs have greater and more complicated emotions–they may respond with, “I don’t know”, when asked what they’re feeling. It’s not that they know exactly what they’re feeling, and they just don’t want to tell you because they’re embarrassed. They really don’t know.
They will likely need some time to process internally before they’re ready to give that feeling a name. This can be very overwhelming for young children, so stay calm, and sit down with them. Give them a few minutes of quiet, and then calmly ask questions that will help them decipher their inner turmoil.
–Try to keep emotion out of discipline related conversations. HSPs tend to take things personally, and discipline can be difficult for child HSPs. Keeping your voice soft and neutral, and peacefully talking about the behavior in question is key for disciplining a HSP child.
–Let them pick out their own clothes–my HSP wants to live in track pants and basketball shorts. While a lot of boys prefer these sporty garments, (which doesn’t necessarily make them a HSP) I decided long ago that battling my child over blue jeans was a waste of time and energy. It’s just not worth it.
HSPs feel everything more than the average person, so an itchy tag or sock seam that bothers them will be at the forefront of their mind all day. They can’t just forget about it, they feel it all. day. long. When buying clothes for kids, always save your receipt, and don’t remove any tags before they try clothes on.
I like to buy everything on sale, especially kid clothes that will be soon outgrown. It drove me and my wallet nuts that my HSP son just wouldn’t wear things I had found on sale for him. I get it now, and I know that it will bother him all day long to be physically uncomfortable, so it’s just easier to find something he will wear the first time around.
I’m fortunate too, because he has younger, laid-back brothers to pass down items he hardly wears.
–Be very selective with movies (and think outside the box). We learned the hard way that 3D movies don’t work for our HSP. Clearly, my boys are too young for any kind of violence, but even non-violent action and emotionally intense scenes can be too much. I know from personal experience that movies on the big screen can be very overwhelming. HSPs feel all of the emotions more than most people.
Seeing a movie at home can be a much more enjoyable experience for a HSP. Kid HSPs may need to hit pause and take a small break from an intense scene. (As an adult HSP, I NEVER watch horror or super violent movies. Or anything by Nicholas Sparks).
–Don’t overemphasize tragedies. HSPs think about things, ALL the time. Our brains keep ticking non-stop, and tragedies can loop over and over through our minds, despite our best efforts to turn it ‘off’. I don’t believe in sticking our heads in the sand, but we also don’t have news on mindlessly at our house.
–Your HSP child may tend to fly solo rather than thriving in a group, and that’s okay. Learn how to channel their strengths when choosing activities for them. For example, they may like swimming or golf, as these are a little more individual sports. My son loves baseball, which is a team sport, but it’s non-contact, and each player has their own individual job to fulfill. While he likes to watch football, he’s never shown much interest in playing it, although many of his friends do. I think these choices are because of his HSPness.
–Loud, crowded environments are more overwhelming for HSPs. My HSP has regularly attended our local amusement park. However, he is very particular about what activities he will do there. Other HSPs may not enjoy a setting such as an amusement park at all, because of the noise and crowds of people.
This doesn’t mean that your HSP will become a hermit and never leave the house. But understanding what environments and activities are naturally stressful for them will help them learn how to deal with those situations.
–Help them learn to make decisions. Decisions are difficult for any HSP to make. They want to carefully consider ALL the possibilities, so that they can make the best decision possible. They may think through a few scenarios and worry about possible outcomes while in the decision making process. With a child, give them 2 or 3 options to chose from, not unlimited options. This teaches them confidence in their own decision making skills.
I know it’s not always possible, but try and give them extra time to make their decision. My HSP once asked us if he could have 24 hours to make all decisions in his life. He was about 8 years old at the time, and very earnest in this request. Obviously, we couldn’t grant his wish, but when at all possible, we do try and give him as much time as possible to make a decision.
–Don’t try and scare them out of their behavior. I’ve been a jumpy person forever–I startle easily. Different well-intentioned people in my life have gone out of their way to scare me, to ‘toughen me up’, so that I’ll get over it. (My boys think this is the most hilarious pass time ever). Please don’t try this. HSP are hardwired to be more sensitive. If they’re more jumpy and more easily startled, that’s just the way they are, and you need to accept it, and not try to change them.
–Teach them the importance of their physical health. HSP kids are more prone to picky eating, anxiety and sleep issues than more laid back kids. The more they take care of their physical health, the more their mental health benefits. I know this may seem like an obvious statement, because it’s also true for everyone, but even more so for HSP kids.
They may require more sleep than average. I have friends and loved ones who work night shifts in law enforcement and in hospitals. I would never be able to function in a job like that, even if the job was otherwise well suited for me.
Picky eating is also often an issue for HSP kids. I’ve discussed picky eating before, and my best in-a-nutshell advice is to try and help your child learn to eat as many whole foods as possible, with as much variety as possible. If they struggle, gently model good eating habits and encourage them to try new things, but don’t fight them over it.
Caffeine or other medicines may affect them much more than normal. Chemicals may also affect them in different ways–medicines that usually cause drowsiness often keep me awake.
Highly sensitive may seem like just another label in a society where almost any behavior can be justified and explained away. In my family, understanding highly sensitive tendencies has freed us so much, and has enabled us to more joy as a family.
Do you have any friends or family that are highly sensitive? Let us know your secrets for helping them thrive, in the comments!