Tips for Raising a Highly Sensitive Child
Is your child highly sensitive? Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them, tells us that up to twenty percent of children can be classified as being highly sensitive.
What does having a highly sensitive child mean? Many parents may not realize their child has this diagnosable characteristic. Maybe they seem more sensitive to stimulating environments than their peers. Maybe socialization is difficult and they are easily overwhelmed. Life with a highly sensitive child can be challenging, but there are some ways to effectively comfort them and encourage healthy social development.
Highly sensitive children become overstimulated easily. This is because they are hyperaware of their environment, taking in every sight, sound, smell, and feeling within their radius. It takes time and a great deal of effort for them to process this information, even in a peaceful environment. Therefore, noisy, busy, and intensely stimulating situations should be limited due to their tendency to overwhelm. Examples of situations that may overstimulate a highly sensitive child include:
- Video arcades
- Indoor malls
- Amusement parks
Apart from stimulating environments, your child may become overstimulated by emotions as well. Highly sensitive children are deeply affected by pain in themselves, and others, both physical and emotional. Watching the news or a dramatic movie can overstimulate them, so it’s important to be mindful of what they see and hear.
Over-stimulation is a frequent occurrence for sensitive children because avoidance of all the things that overwhelm them is not always an option. In an effort to find a balance of activities that the child can enjoy without becoming overstimulated, compensatory strategies can be used.
Compensatory Strategies for Highly Sensitive Children
Research has shown that spending time in nature reduces stress. Highly sensitive children are particularly responsive to natural environments of trees, trails, and mountains. Even looking at photos of nature or listening to nature sounds can calm an overstimulated child. A daily dose of nature is ideal for sensitive children, and investing in house plants or a book of natural photography can serve as a substitute.
Immersion in water and listening to water sounds is calming as well. Whether in nature (lakes, streams, or oceans) or man-made (a bath, shower, or fountain), highly sensitive children are soothed by water. Overstimulated kids respond well to warm baths, especially when paired with aromatic oils like lavender.
For an overstimulated child, taking time alone or with a parent in a quiet room provides an opportunity for deep processing. Highly sensitive children have rich inner worlds that they need to visit frequently. Be sure to let your child know this is not a punishment, rather an opportunity to gather themselves and process their thoughts. Routine quiet time can help prevent over-stimulation as well. Pay particular attention to the lighting as natural light is best, and avoid strong smells in the room.
A gentle touch from calm hands can be reassuring to an overstimulated child. Whether you hug, massage, pat, or caress, your child will benefit from the contact.
Highly sensitive children have highly sensitive bodies, especially when it comes to sleep. Your child will become overstimulated more easily if they are lacking in sleep or sleep quality. Calming your child with one of the methods above followed by increasing their sleep and sleep quality will greatly improve your child's ability to tolerate stimulation. Invest in blackout curtains, white noise machines, comfortable bedding, and use a structured bedtime routine to help your child sleep. Always avoid electronic screens for one hour before bed.
Life with a highly sensitive child can seem challenging at times because they are easily overwhelmed, but these compensatory strategies will make their life and your parenting smoother. Teaching them how to manage their sensitivities will lend them well as they grow more independent. Your child will thrive as a result of you understanding their inner workings, and soon they will be able to use their unique characteristics to reach their fullest potential.
Soundsory Music and Movement Program helps in sensory and emotional regulation. Learn more about Soundsory.