I’ve written a good few essays on what it’s like to be a highly sensitive person.
As someone who falls into that category, I’m now conscious of what it would’ve been like, had other people picked up on my sensitivities and catered to them when I was younger.
Although it’s a term growing in popularity, high sensitivity can’t be formally diagnosed.
A label coined in 1991 by Dr. Elaine Aron , highly sensitive people are typically neurodivergent and experience increased central nervous system activity, leading to feeling emotions greatly and struggling to process them in ways we might consider ‘normal’.
When it comes to assessing whether or not you might fall into the category of being a HSP, it’s easier to reflect on the criteria and decide for yourself.
But deciding whether or not your child falls into the high sensitivity category is a little more challenging.
We all want the best for our children.
So, how do you identify their sensitivities and make sure you’re supporting them in a way that’s not coddling them but still supporting them to the best of your abilities?
Well, you can start by keeping an eye out for the following 10 giveaway signs that your child is a HSC:
1) They’re tiny empathy machines
You know how you thought you’d have to teach your kids to share grief and try and feel what others are also feeling?
Well, it turns out HSCs don’t need any lessons in empathy.
In fact, as they’re so quick to jump at the chance of sharing lunch with a hungry classmate or trying to nurse a sick mouse back to life, they’re sometimes the ones teaching you about empathy and selflessness.
They get so overwhelmed by seeing other people or animals in pain, often resulting in their own tears as they seem to sense and share pain.
Owing to this, you sometimes have to moderate the films they watch or the books they read as you know that they’ll just be visibly shaken after being exposed to certain topics.
Yes, Marley & Me has probably been black-listed for now.
2) They react with forceful emotion
Highly sensitive children are prone to extreme emotional reactions.
As they empathize so deeply with others and feel every emotion as if on steroids, they can also struggle to control their responses.
Although toddlers are prone to tantrums, these tantrums might happen more than expected as they get overwhelmed with the forcefulness of their emotions.
These heightened emotions don’t have to be negative – they can also blow you away with the sheer euphoria they get through being treated to their favorite ice cream flavor.
3) Their wardrobe is a battleground
You expected to have to explain why wearing the same unwashed, glittery but stained Frozen costume to nursery for a week straight won’t cut it.
Even Elsa sometimes has a change of outfit, you promise.
…but, you didn’t realize that every item of clothing had to be heavily scrutinized before it’s deemed acceptable to wear.
Fabrics and tightness can often clash with highly sensitive children who struggle with sensory processing.
Suddenly even a Velcro strap on a pair of shoes or a slightly itchy jumper can leave a day in ruins, so you’re cautious with what you buy and how your child responds to certain items of clothing.
4) They’re little insomniacs
Even after days of challenging outburst and meltdowns, you’d think they’d be tired out and sleep it off.
But no – their minds are still powered up when it comes to bedtime.
Filled with quick-flitting thoughts and emotions, they often struggle to self-soothe and get to sleep.
Bedtime routines have to be carefully crafted and involve several hours of gradual calming activities.
Without it, you often find yourself up all night trying to pacify their worries or keep them from nightmares.
5) Changes in routine send them spinning
Highly sensitive people and children tend not to be big fans of spontaneity.
Changes in plans or new experiences are rarely received with immediate excitement.
Being dropped off at a new school can lead to an absolute meltdown as your child panics over the new environment, the new people, and the new schedule.
But even minor changes can go amiss.
Promised them pasta for dinner, and serving up stir fry instead?
Without any prior warning?!
Cue a little wobble of the bottom lip and a panic-stricken expression as the day doesn’t end as expected, which leads to emotional disaster.
6) They’re prone to perfectionism
Even from a young age, highly sensitive children are likely to exhibit perfectionist behavior and be very tough on themselves when things don’t go according to plan.
Whether it’s succeeding at coloring within the lines or getting perfect grades, HSCs tend to thrive off of performing perfectly.
This black-and-white thinking means they struggle to see the rationality of why sometimes things don’t turn out in the way that they expected or wanted.
Especially if they spent hours deliberating on a certain strategy.
This can leave them feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you sometimes catch them engaging in cheating to make sure they secure their perfect win.
7) They take things very personally
Part of that heightened sensitivity means that everything is personal.
Obviously, criticism and rejection hurt for most people, but we learn to differentiate constructive criticism from condescension.
But for little ones who haven’t yet worked out that everyone isn’t nice and they don’t have to take mean comments personally, growing up can be a challenge.
Additionally, anything short of perfect leaves them feeling unworthy and inadequate.
Being the target of a nasty rumour or even just getting a report card below expectations can lead to immense feelings of failure and extreme lows.
8) They have excellent manners
Being highly sensitive means being quite aware of the world around you.
As children, this means being incredibly conscious of those around them and how they are perceived.
Often wanting to come across as polite and serene, you might be astounded by how cordially your child behaves (when not mid-meltdown).
They’ll beam and wave, remember their thank-yous and receive every gift with graciousness and appreciation so as not to offend anyone.
9) They love animals
Feeling at times misunderstood or out of place with the human-world, HSCs are often adoring of animals.
They don’t feel like they have to work for the affection of pets, and they’re so gentle with the helpless, furry nature of the animal kingdom.
Even snails have no doubt found a loving ‘forever home’ at some point in your kitchen (even if they aren’t still around to tell the tale).
They thrive off of being able to experience unconditional love without being judged for not talking or for acting differently to others.
The family dog or hamster might be their closest confidant when it does come to talking, and you might stumble upon them giving the cat an extensive rundown of their day.
10) Discipline doesn’t go down well
You often find yourself sometimes having to rethink how you correct and discipline your child and tailor it to their sensitivities.
Even minor suggestions or redirections are perceived as you taking up a personal vendetta against them.
More mainstream forms of discipline such as raising your voice or a timeout can lead to catastrophic, it’s-the-end-of-the-world, everyone-hates-me meltdowns.
It’s as if they hear even minor statements on a loudspeaker.
You know how much they internalize and nit-pick every comment ever made towards them, so you don’t want to add to the burden by scolding them too harshly.
Instead, you find yourself often speaking to them in a calm and matter of fact manner, as if they were an adult you were trying to educate politely without upsetting.
Not every HSC will exhibit all of these signs.
On top of that, many children who do not fall within the category will also struggle with some of these difficulties.
So deciding whether or not your child is highly sensitive might take a bit of deliberation and a few years – don’t be too inclined to paste a label on them just because they’re prone to getting tearful.
But if you think you can go over most of the above giveaway signs and relate them to your child, there’s a high chance that they do feel things more deeply.
This should never be taken as a negative trait. You’ll likely find that whilst they’re more sensitive, they’re also deeply empathetic and polite, and exhibit constant curiosity regarding the world around them.
Whilst you will want the world to be gentle with them and yourself might start to cater to their sensitivities, it’s important to understand that everyone else they meet might not be so forgiving.
The best thing you can do for a HSC is identify how you can support them best by paying attention to their behavior and helping them navigate how they deal with and respond to certain situations.
Remember also to laud how precious their sensitivity is and remind them that it’s a big part of what makes them who they are.
One of the best things you can do for your HSC is to get them to champion their own sensitivity and know how wonderful a trait it is to have.