Highly Sensitive Children, Parenting

Is your child a Highly Sensitive Person?

15-20% of us are Highly Sensitive. Photo by Gabby Orcutt on Unsplash

I wish I’d known when I had my babies that I was a Highly Sensitive Person and that they might be too.  I look back now on a number of times when I was baffled by my first child’s behaviour. She was a premature baby, but the ONLY one crying all the time in the NICU unit. During those early baby months I often found myself shielding her eyes to avoid her getting overstimulated. No-one else in my mother’s group needed to do that with their babies. And as a toddler she was social and happy but she would become overwhelmed easily, start crying and just not be able to calm herself down. I can see now that those moments were actually a sign of her Highly Sensitive nature.

Highly Sensitive Kids are amazing. In our society sensitivity can be seen as a problem or disadvantage. When you have a baby or young child that gets overstimulated, has trouble sleeping and finds it hard to self soothe it definitely seems like a problem. But there are many incredible things about being highly sensitive.

Highly Sensitive people are empathetic to others and animals, very tuned in to emotions, think deeply and see details others miss. Highly sensitive kids are curious, full of wonder, kind and reflective. They surprise you with their ideas and the little amazing things that they notice in the world around them! 

What makes someone a Highly Sensitive Person?     

15-20% of the population are Highly Sensitive. It’s also a trait that both introverts and extroverts can have. Often people think Highly Sensitive people are shy or timid, but that’s not an accurate idea of High Sensitivity. Highly Sensitive People can be shy and quiet, but they can also be confident, talkative or excitable. (See my article about Extroverted Highly Sensitive Kids) High Sensitivity looks different in different people but, according to Dr Elaine Aron and her research into High Sensitivity, there are four areas (D.O.E.S) that all Highly Sensitive People share. 

  1. Depth of Processing – Highly Sensitive People think deeply about things. They reflect on ideas or on what they have seen or done. They often spend a lot of time thinking before they act or take a long time over decisions.  
  2. Overstimulation – Highly Sensitive people, especially children, get overstimulated more easily than others of the same age because of all the deep processing and detail noticing that they are doing. All young children and babies of course get overstimulated — the world is so new! So the key element here is that they are MORE easily overwhelmed by stimulation than others their age. 
  3.  Empathy/ Emotional Responsiveness — Feelings are the language of Highly Sensitive People. They view the world through an emotional lens. HSP are extremely aware of their own and others emotions and can even “feel” or take on the emotions of others. 
  4.  Sensitivity to Subtleties — HSP tend to notice things or make connections that others fail to see. 

Highly Sensitive People have all four of these aspects. Some other traits or conditions such as Giftedness, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, Anxiety and ADHD can overlap or have similarities to High Sensitivity. Also, people can be both Highly Sensitive and have ADHD, for example. 

Highly Sensitive Kids may get overwhelmed more easily. Photo by Hunter Johnson on Unsplash. 

Some of the things you may notice with your HS child

  • Time limits/ deadlines or harsh correction causes a meltdown.
  • Asks a lot of deep questions.
  • Seems to be an “old soul” or very intuitive.
  • Notices when others are feeling down.
  • Bothered by noisy places.
  • Feels things deeply. Emotional. 
  • Doesn’t like certain sensations, like wet clothes.
  • Prefers quiet play. 
  • Uses large words for their age.
  •  They don’t cope well with change or big surprises
  • Notices details, such as in art, nature, or if something has been changed

Obviously each child is different and, especially if they are an extrovert or high sensation seeker, might behave differently to the ways described in this list but still fit into the four highly sensitive aspects above.  

Dr Elain Aron has a questionnaire available for free on her site and a book The Highly Sensitive Child if you think your child may be a Highly Sensitive Person and want to find out more. 

Until next time! 

Kelly 

 

Highly Sensitive Children, Parenting

Even extroverts need alone time

Is your extroverted child melting down after a busy day? Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

Extroverted kids love to fill their days with friends, activities and social events but if they’re having meltdowns they may be overdoing it. Especially if they are also a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). 

Extroverts only make up 30% of the group of people who are Highly Sensitive according to research by Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Child. And because of this, people often mistakenly believe that only introverts can be Highly Sensitive. They think of HSPs as shy, timid and withdrawn. 

However, HSPs can be far from it! Both myself and my two daughters are friendly, outgoing, bubbly and confident. We are also Highly Sensitive People.

Highly Sensitive People show four aspects

  1. Depth of Processing — they have a tendency to process or reflect deeply
  2. Easily Overstimulated — more so than others of a similar age
  3. Emotional Reactivity and Empathy — feel their own and others’ emotions strongly
  4. Sensitive to Stimuli — Notice small details or changes in sounds, smells, sights etc

Highly Sensitive People have all four of these but can express them differently. Extroverted Highly Sensitive children, for example, might express their tendency to reflect deeply by asking hundreds of questions or passionately talking about their ideas to everyone. 

They might experience overstimulation as overexcitement. Or be pulled between really wanting to socialise (because extroverts get energised by people) and finding the busy environment too much after a while. 

My child is an extrovert so I keep their calendar full of activities

This can be the temptation with extroverted children. My older daughter keeps a very busy schedule. She is always finding new activities she wants to try out. She wants to swim, sing, play piano, be involved in every group dance and duo, every movie making club, every musical! But that’s the key here. Her schedule is full of activities SHE wants to try.

Although they look like typical extroverts, Highly Sensitive Extroverts get overstimulated easily and especially if they are made to do busy activities or social events they haven’t chosen themselves. 

The biggest meltdowns my daughter has are always after busy days where she has had no say in the schedule.  

our excursions in the outer world need to be novel, and chosen by us, based on our individual needs, or else the activity can become just as overstimulating for us as the introvert HSP. And even when we are out, very much enjoying ourselves, we can often return home overstimulated, physically tired, and in need of extra sleep or processing time.

Licensed professional counsellor, Jacquelyn Strickland

Overstimulation in an extroverted child 

It isn’t always obvious when an extroverted child is becoming overstimulated. Sometimes the meltdowns happen suddenly and unexpectedly! 

The more new or different a situation is the more quickly they will become overstimulated. All young children experience this — non-highly sensitive children too. And the younger they are the more easily they are overstimulated. Everything is new and different to a little baby! Processing new information is tiring for your brain. You’ve probably experienced this feeling yourself when you’ve been studying or in a new job. 

With the Highly Sensitive Child’s tendency to process things deeply and notice small details, becoming overstimulated happens much more quickly. 

Your overstimulated Highly Sensitive Child

  • They will have trouble sleeping the night before or after an event. 
  • Vacations or fun days end in tears, grumpy moods, or tantrums.
  • Extreme reactions to pain (even minor bumps and knocks become a big deal). 
  • Strong resistance to changes of any kind. Tears and meltdowns when there is a change. 
  • Surprises (even fun ones) are met with resistance or tears. 
  • Loud noises ‘hurt’. 
  • Every little thing becomes a big deal — even things they usually cope well with.  
  • Time or other pressures cause a meltdown. 
  • Overly emotional. Can’t seem to calm themselves down. 
Learning to enjoy alone time will benefit your child in the future. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Alone Time: love it or hate it, they need it

One of the difference between the introverted HSP and the extroverted one is that while an  introvert enjoys alone time, seeks it out and recharges that way, an extroverted HSP doesn’t necessarily prefer being alone. 

In fact, if you recognise that your crying, grumpy 12 year old is actually overstimulated and needs alone time they might resist your suggestion. Mine usually does. As much as they need it to recover from their busy day, rest and recharge from all that socialising, they often don’t enjoy it.

And too much alone time can leave an extrovert feeling tired, and even a bit low. 

But it’s a balance they need to learn. As Extroverted Highly Sensitive children, it is important that they learn their limits and to recognise when they need alone time to avoid a meltdown. 

Some great alone time activities for extroverted kids:  

  • Listening to an audiobook they love
  • Drawing or colouring 
  • Listening to music
  • Wrapping up in a blanket and reading a book 
  • Sitting in the same room as others but with headphones on
  • Building with Lego
  • Playing with toys
  • Painting
  • Spending time looking at Pinterest 
  • Watching a movie or tv show (although screen-free time is usually better)
  • Go for a walk in nature 
  • Go for a bike ride

If you are wondering if your child may be Highly Sensitive there are some great resources available. Try this test or take a look at the informative articles on Highly Sensitive Refuge.

For other ideas on parenting your Highly Sensitive Child check out my other posts on this topic here.  Have you found other alone time activities helpful? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below! 

If you’d like to support my work feel free to buy me a coffee! Thank you!
Highly Sensitive Children, Parenting

The value of pets for your sensitive child

maria-teneva-1155108-unsplashPets have many psychological and physical health benefits. Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

Growing up, my dad never said “no” to a pet. As a result, my sisters and I ended up with over 14 pets at one stage. Yes, all at the same time. We had everything from rats to birds, frogs to lizards. Perhaps he was a bit nuts letting us have so many pets (sorry dad), but perhaps — raising three highly sensitive girls on his own — he was on to something.

The research on the benefits of pets is overwhelmingly positive. Companion animals appear to add psychological and physical health benefits to owners, as well as help in many areas of a child’s development. In fact, there are so many positives to owning pets that it’s hard to cover them all in one blog post. So — raising two highly sensitive daughters myself —  I’m going to narrow it down to how pets specifically benefit this 15-20% of the population.

Seriously? You want a pet?

Initially, I was pretty reluctant to get pets for my girls. For a start they take a lot of work; some more than others. I remember spending hours cleaning out animal cages, tanks and bedding areas. All that poop! Ugh.

And then there’s the issue of good animal ownership. I hate seeing animals being mistreated and, sometimes, little kids can be just plain nasty. Watching my friend’s preschooler dress her tiny dog in hundreds of plastic necklaces and princess frills and then cart it around making it “dance” is one of my most traumatic memories. (I might be exaggerating slightly about the level of trauma, but it wasn’t nice).

I was worried I’d spend my whole day telling the children off for not being careful with their pets. It was stressful enough getting the four year old to be careful with her baby sister let alone a mouse she could actually crush.

So I let them get a snail. Actually, three snails.

pascal-van-de-vendel-560568-unsplashEven a snail can provide opportunities to love and learn. Photo by Pascal van de Vendel on Unsplash

They loved their snails, played with them, raced them, feed them, helped clean out the cage and learnt about them.

And yes — one got squashed. And it was traumatic. But, it was just a snail — and the four year old learnt a VERY unforgettable lesson about gentleness. Surprisingly, she also learnt about the grieving process.

Mummy, do pets go to heaven?

And this was the other reason I was reluctant to get pets. Pets don’t live that long — not even dogs. Inevitably, they die and it’s painful. Highly Sensitive People are wired to feel emotions super strongly and so the (many) deaths of my (many) pets lingered as powerful, painful memories and I wasn’t sure I could cope with taking my kids through that process.

But after the dropped snail incident the four year old seemed to show resilience in the grief process. She cried — loud, dramatic, rolling on the floor crying as only four-year-olds can, and then announced “I feel better now.” So we progressed from snails to rabbits. When I discovered one morning before work that one (aptly named Angel) had died, I think I struggled with the idea of telling the kids more than was actually necessary. They were sad. They cried. We buried the rabbit. And they moved on.

As I discovered, if you help them through it, the passing of a pet can actually be a great opportunity for children learn about the grief process and that we can and do recover!

For HSP this is especially important as HSP’s strong emotions can be overwhelming at times. Highly Sensitive Children need opportunities to learn to manage (but not suppress) their strong emotions and find ways to soothe themselves, like listening to an audiobook or wrapping up tight in a blanket.

They need to know that grief looks different in different people and that there isn’t a right way to feel — that all feelings are totally normal. Highly sensitive children can sometimes be told they are overreacting or being dramatic. When my daughter’s snail died I could have said “Get over it, it’s just a snail.” But by accepting their strong feelings we are telling our kids that they are okay and that we are there to support them in learning to manage their emotions.

A special connection

Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Child says — because of their strong empathy and emotional responsiveness — Highly Sensitive people often enjoy a special connection with animals.

“HSPs speak of having a special relationship with one domesticated species–dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, potbellied pigs–or with their own particular companion animal,” says Aron. “Being sensitive to the animals around us can benefit them–not just their physical well being but their mental health, too. And it benefits us by connecting us with individuals who are generally sensitive, subtle, discriminating, and loyal to their friends–like most of us.”

Certain animals are particularly easy to connect with. There is a fair amount of research around horses and their special connection to humans. The emotional responsiveness of horses seems to help people feel understood.

“What we’ve found is that horses can not only read human facial expressions,” says Karen McComb, Professor of animal behaviour at the University of Sussex, “but they can also remember a person’s previous emotional state when they meet them later that day – and, crucially, that they adapt their behaviour accordingly.”

Dogs also have a special connection with humans. In one study it was found that gazing into your pet dogs eyes produced the same feelings of love, and same brain hormones, as feeling love for a human.

Highly Sensitive Children who love animals can find a lot of comfort and support in a world that is often a bit overwhelming. Some things are just better talked out with your pet!

ricky-kharawala-10194-unsplashPets can bring kids emotional comfort and support. Photo by Ricky Kharawala on Unsplash

When you can’t get a pet

I understand though that many living situations make pet ownership difficult. Luckily, there are other ways to include animals in your children’s world. For a whole year my daughters and I volunteered as SPCA kitten cuddlers. It’s a real job!

For an hour or two each week we spent time patting and cuddling cats and kittens to socialise them, preparing them for their new families. It was great for the cats — some of which came in fairly wild — but had many benefits for my children too.

Having had a bad experience with grandma’s cat, both my girls had learnt to fear them. After a few weeks at the SPCA their fear of cats was completely replaced by compassion.

In fact, as highly sensitive people tend to notice subtleties and tune in to others — including animals — my girls ended up being given the job of handling the very wild, difficult cats. They developed a very gentle approach with these terrified animals and quickly learnt to observe the cats’ signals. The volunteering experience led to us adopting two cats of our own, who we adore.

Dog walking, wild (safe) animals, the pet store, the zoo and other people’s pets can all be alternative sources of animal contact. Or perhaps you could get your kids a snail?  

Until next time

Kelly

Highly sensitive refuge has a lot of information if you think you or your child might be a Highly Sensitive Person.

Or take this test.

Highly Sensitive Children, Parenting

The superpowers of your extroverted Highly Sensitive Child

edu-lauton-71055-unsplash.jpgHighly Sensitive Extroverts excel in unique areas. Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

All the kids are backstage, made up and ready to go on. The director announces “It’s a full house.” All the kids nervously groan. Except mine.

My daughter is an extreme extrovert. She loves being on stage. She’s been on it since she was four and she never gets nervous. In fact, when the director announced that it was a full house she cheered. According to her, the more people watching the better. Personally, I generally join the rest of the population who rank public speaking as their number one phobia. This is one of her super powers.

My daughter is also a highly sensitive person. It’s a common misconception that highly sensitive people are shy or introverts. In her research, Dr. Elaine Aron found that 30% of HSP are actually extroverts.

Could your child be one of them?

Signs you have an extroverted HS child

    • Social and would rarely turn down a chance to be with friends.
    • Intense, deep thinking, and has big ideas.
    • Kind, gentle, empathetic, creative and observant – notices subtle things about people, art, music or the world.
    • Seems to always be wanting to go to social events and gets energised while at out and about with people. However, especially after a busy day, still needs alone time or a nap.
    • Doesn’t prefer to be alone. Becomes bored, tired or even feels a bit depressed if alone for long.
    • Often engaged in new, interesting, creative activities outside the home especially with others.
    • When out they often spark up conversations with others even strangers and are happy, smiling, open and engaging.
    • Easily makes new friends.
    • Loves working in a group or team.
  • Emotional — Feels things deeply and cares deeply about others and the world at large.

If your child fits a lot of these they may be a Highly Sensitive Extrovert.

Super Powers of an Extroverted HSP

steven-libralon-570406-unsplashHighly Sensitive Extroverts have unique abilities. Photo by Steven Libralon on Unsplash
  • Acting ability

The HSPs ability to notice things others don’t makes it easier for them to imitate others or develop characters. Being able to pick up on subtle body language, quirks and mannerisms makes for effective acting. Add to that HSPs extreme awareness of feelings and you’ve got a powerful combination. HSP who are introverted can obviously be actors too and many are, but the added extroversion brings a confidence that makes it very easy for these children to enjoy the stage.

If your child shows an interest, encourage drama classes or any opportunities to act, dance or sing.

2) Making Friends

Wherever we go my daughter makes friends in seconds. She makes each new friend feel special and it’s not hard to see why they enjoy her company. Her bubbly, extroverted personality makes her great to be around and her HS awareness of feelings means she is kind and shows empathy. Extroverted HSs can build rapport quickly, tuning in to people and getting on with them at their level — adjusting the way they interact with people depending on their age, interests, personalities and moods.

And they make great friends too! Their HS side is reflective and empathetic. And because they feel emotions so deeply, when you’re loved by a HSP you really are loved! And an extroverted one will let you know it!

Talk with your child about their friends as they will be a very valued part of their lives.  

3) Activists

Extroverted HSP can often get very passionate about a particular cause — they will think deeply about human rights, feel strongly about animal cruelty or damage to the environment. News items or documentaries about these types of issues tend to affect HSP deeply. And with the outgoing nature of an extrovert — people are going to hear about it!

jessica-podraza-524601-unsplash.jpgHighly Sensitive Extroverts will fight for justice. Photo by Jessica Podraza on Unsplash

Encourage your child to think about a cause they want to support and help them come up with an action plan of how they can contribute or promote it. My daughter went shop to shop with free chocolate cake promoting Red Panda Day one year and raised money to support a Red Panda for a year. 

4) Handling crowds and parties

HSP tend not to handle crowded spaces or parties all that well, but the more extroverted they are, the easier it is! Some even thrive on it! They might start planning their own parties and events, and with their tuned in HS side they’re great at thinking about what their guests will enjoy and how to make them comfortable. My daughter started planning her own parties at age 11!

But remember, even if they really want to, planning a party will probably be overwhelming for a HSP and they’ll need your support to handle this — it’s a good opportunity to learn stress management. After any busy event even extroverted HS kids need quite a bit of down time. And don’t expect them to go to sleep easily that night!

Of course, other non-HSE can be great at all of these things too! But perhaps you recognise your child here? I’d love to hear about them.

Until next time,

Kelly

To find out more about Highly Sensitive Extroverts read Introversion, Extroversion and the Highly Sensitive Person by Liscensed Professional Counsellor, Jacquelyn Strickland.