When its not just 'being shy'
“My child takes a bit longer to adjust to change”
“They are so aware of their surroundings, picking up on the smallest details, never forgetting something I once mention!”
“It feels like other children can just able to dive straight into situations whereas mine needs more coaxing and often prefers to play alone or remain glued to my side.”
“There are very often tears or drama about 'something'- not just with feelings but can also be with smell, temperature, hunger, noise or light!”
“My child notices when other people are sad/hurt/worried etc and wants to help”
“It feels like people are often judging my child and giving (often unsolicited) advice on the best way to handle their behaviour!”
These are just a few of the common statements I hear from the parents that I have come across. If you find yourself agreeing with many of them, it is really important to be aware of the term ‘Highly Sensitive Children (HSC)’, as proposed by Dr Elaine Aron. In so many of the families I work with that are dealing with anxiety, I find that the child is often a HSC. The parents are often unaware of this temperament and usually confused- unsure how to best support their child and walk the fine line between protecting their sensitivities and building their resilience.
If you take one thing from this post - know that it is NOT dysfunctional or abnormal! HSC make up approximately 20% of children that are born with a nervous system that is highly aware and quick to react to everything.
HSC are highly intuitive, perceptive, and deep-thinking children who often grasp subtle changes, from minor details such as rearrangement of ornaments or haircuts, to more emotional changes such as other peoples’ moods or distress. They not only notice more but will think about what they have noticed, often surprising you with their memory and level of insight for their age. HSC will usually need time to think and process before taking action and can often be cautious in their play or interactions, especially in new situations. With a sharpened sense of awareness these children are often gifted intellectually, creatively and emotionally demonstrating genuine compassion at early ages.
It is because of their ability to feel things intensely that HSC are easily overwhelmed by high levels of stimulation in their physical and emotional environment. When HSC are overwhelmed they often display traits (depending on their age) such as:
meltdowns with lots of tears
tantrums and outburst of rage
complaining a lot and getting stuck in a cycle of negativity—especially about “small” things
refusing to speak up/talk to strangers/talk in class, etc
avoiding typical “fun” activities (parties, outings, sleepovers/camp, play dates)
trying to be compliant and obedient, scared of breaking the 'rules'
getting a stomach ache, head aches and other physical pains
isolating themselves from people
In my work I talk to the child about their superhero powers, a feeling I relate to as a HSC myself. It is the ability to feel, see, hear, sense things intensely, and to understand that not everyone has those powers. Its like seeing the world in 50 different colours, while most others only see 10 colours –our superpower is such an amazing gift, but it can also be tiring, overwhelming, sad and scary. So we have to learn how to switch it on and off, to choose when we use the power, in order to protect ourselves. Often just the acknowledgement and validation of how they feel can go a long way in building their resilience.
I will continue to explore HSC in other blog posts as it is a such a valuable framework, and for further info, take a look at The Highly Sensitive Person site.