He needs all of the tags removed from his clothing. She prefers individual play to group play. The littlest things seem to set them off. If any of these ring true, odds are you have a highly sensitive child on your hands. The good news is, this totally normal. High sensitivity or sensory-processing sensitivity is not a disorder at all, it’s merely a temperament, one that’s shared by approximately 20% of the population—kids and adults included.
Elaine Aron, PhD and author of The Highly Sensitive Child explains in her book, “a highly sensitive child is one of the fifteen to twenty percent of children born with a nervous system that is highly aware and quick to react to everything.” In short terms, that means these kids pick up on everything from lighting, to noise to texture — there’s very little that they don’t notice. This sensitivity can sometimes lead to overstimulation and may be why some of these children may be prone to meltdowns or tantrums.
Special educator and New York Times Best-selling author, Rachel Macy Stafford has both professional and personal experience dealing with highly sensitive children. In her new book, LIVE LOVE NOW, Stafford offers help to parents who may be struggling with their highly sensitive children based on her experiences with her own daughter.
Accepting your child for who they are is the first step in easing the struggle often associated with parenting highly sensitive kids, Stafford tells Parentology. “I encourage parents to ‘love kids by their book’ — meaning notice what makes your child feel comfortable? Is it predictability in the schedule? Is it knowing what the plan is for the day? What makes them feel at ease? Is it having extra time? Are there certain phrases that help them relax? Are there certain phrases that cause them angst?”
Stafford encourages parents of highly sensitive kids to empower their children by giving them tools to cope with their feelings and emotions, “My daughter has a “joy folder” in her head that she uses when she is overwhelmed, scared, or anxious and cannot sleep. She flips through her “joy folder” in her mind (or I flip through mine and tell her what I see) to bring peace and calm.”
It’s also important to consistently reassure your child there’s nothing “wrong” with them, this is merely an aspect of who they are. “When you see your sensitive child’s strengths and positive actions or attributes, point them out,” Stafford suggests. “This practice will offset the belief that they are flawed/abnormal as some may comment in school or in the community.”
Stafford believes that while parenting these kids can be difficult, understanding them and giving them the right tools enables them to shine.
“Deep Feelers & Noticers experience life and human interaction beyond words and outer appearance, enabling them to read the heart within and feel what someone else is feeling,” she says. “They are highly perceptive, taking in important details of life that other people might miss. I believe Noticers and Deep Feelers are rare & beautiful gifts to this world.”