Helping your highly sensitive child thrive is easier if you understand their world better and find tools to help them navigate. If you are the parent of a highly sensitive child, you probably already know that it can be alternately challenging and rewarding. They can often be overwhelmed by the world around them and feel things more deeply, both their responses and the emotions of others around them. Highly sensitive children are often gifted intellectually and creatively and thrive in a supportive environment.
First, I want to stress that being highly sensitive isn’t a defect or something that needs to be fixed or overcome in most cases. Highly sensitive children or adults can’t just get a thicker skin, let it roll off, or get over it. Discovering and working with your child’s neurodiversity can have lasting benefits.
Note: Virginia Bonta Brown and AnnaMariah Nau co-wrote this article; see our info below. We’ve tried to give you a balanced look at some issues based on our backgrounds and experiences. From an Occupational Therapist’s Viewpoint, certain therapies can help. See more below.
High sensitivity is a biological trait, a difference in their nervous system, not a choice or something that needs fixing.
Your child’s nervous system is wired differently than the neuro-typical brain, resulting in hypersensitivity and more difficulty being in a busy, sometimes unkind, and non-sensitive world.
You can learn to help your highly sensitive child thrive and navigate the world. Don’t try to get your child to stop feeling or being so sensitive – shutting down feelings also interferes with their gifts and sense of who they are. Love them as they are and find ways to help them navigate a confusing, often overwhelming world.
Would Sensory Processing Therapy Benefit Your Child?
A win-win for both you and your child is to recognize their sensitivity is a gift of perception that can be overwhelming and find ways to help them manage it. Specific kinds of therapy may help if there are particular issues in the brain.
Sensory Processing Issues in the Brain
Children with specific sensory issues, such as poor balance, coordination issues, or overreactions to touch or sound, will benefit from a type of Occupational Therapy previously called Sensory Integration Therapy.
This title is apt because it describes helping the child’s brain function more flexibly. It can decrease certain uncomfortable sensations while not losing their perceptive gifts. Other benefits include increased coordination and even an easier time learning to read. Bilateral motor coordination is necessary for the body’s movement and the eyes.
Sensory Integration therapy is now known as therapy for a “sensory processing disorder.” We feel this is unfortunate labeling because of the disorder part of the title. Still, the therapeutic activities are the same as the original ones and can be extremely helpful to any child who is sensitive to certain sounds, textures, or energy.
If your child mainly reacts at an emotional level, likely, Sensory Processing is not the main issue. ABA, Applied Behavioral Analaysis, is very effective with children on the spectrum. If you have your child evaluated at school, hopefully, they will receive testing from the Occupational Therapist, a psychologist, and a learning specialist. If there are issues, therapy will provide support without the risk of your child losing the gifts that come with sensitivity. Instead, help your child embrace their “thin skin,” Even if you don’t understand it, do your best to understand it. Your therapist can be a tremendous resource for you.
Elaine Aron states in her Highly Sensitive Child Test
“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.”
You can also take our more detailed HSP quiz for your child.
Help for their sensitive nervous system
Besides therapy, a BioElectric Shield could be extremely helpful to your child and/or yourself if you are sensitive.
As a highly sensitive adult, the BioElectric Shield has made a world of difference for me. (AnnaMariah) I still don’t particularly like crowds or too much stimulation, but with the help of my BioShield, I can tolerate and sometimes even enjoy situations that would have had me in tears before. I’d learned coping mechanisms, but the minute I put a Shield on in 1994, I felt a huge shift and no longer felt tossed around by everyone else’s emotions and needs. I could think clearly and react to the situation, much less emotionally. I can only imagine how my life and daughters would have improved if we’d had Shields.
Shield transformed going to school from an emotional train wreck to a fun place to learn – Review from a parent
My daughter is a very sensitive and intuitive child. Due to her sensitivity, I schooled her at home for two years. Once she started school in second grade, however, the classroom setting quickly overwhelmed her. She was fine with the academics and social interaction, but being closeted in a windowless room with fluorescent lights rapidly took its toll. Furthermore, she absorbed the energies of the adults and children in her presence. My daughter would come home from school and release the day’s tension through her tears.
Initially, I selected the traditional round shape for Morgan. When the package arrived, I placed it on my daughter’s bed to await her return from school. Even though I hadn’t told her that her Shield had come, she felt it. When Morgan walked into her bedroom, she froze and said, “Something is in here …, and it feels wonderful!” She immediately began to look around while holding her hand to her chest, saying, “I can feel it right here. I can feel it in my heart. It feels wonderful.” I walked to the bed, picked up the box containing the BioElectric Shield, and handed it to her. Morgan replied, “That’s it!” Going to school became much easier for her after she started wearing her Bioelectric Shield because she was no longer overwhelmed by the energy of the adults and other children!
Meeting with Evaluators and Clinicians
Highly sensitive children are frequently misdiagnosed as bipolar, ADD, or needing therapy or drugs. Therapists and psychologists label everything, and it’s part of their training. Sadly it’s often inaccurate because they can’t see the whole picture. High sensitivity can show up in many ways, and no two children will have the same sensitivities and reactions.
It’s important to meet with whoever evaluated your child if suddenly they have a diagnosis without having met with you. The clinician will benefit from input from you, the parent, because you see the rest of the picture. By working together, your child can get the best help to adjust to school and life.
What can you do to help your child live more easily in a world that often seems too loud and chaotic?
Please pay attention to what causes distress, and don’t dismiss it as meaningless. Do what you can to reduce the impact or avoid them altogether. Here are just a few triggers:
• Loud noises
• Scratchy, wet, or sandy fabrics
• Things out of place
• Others in distress or being treated unfairly
• Changes – in either their surroundings or in plans. Try to prepare them ahead of time.
• Strong punishment – most HSP kids react much better to gentle treatment
• Violent TV shows or movies
It is important to determine if the sensitivity reflects the sensory processing problem we mentioned above or if the sensitivity is mainly a reaction to energy most people do not feel. The symptoms above indicate a sensory processing issue that therapy can help. This includes loud noises, unpleasant fabrics, or the desire not to be touched by anyone other than parents or immediate family. The other symptoms are more reflecting of sensitivity to energy.
What Can You Do to Help Your Highly Sensitive Child Thrive in a non-sensitive World?
Accept that your child is highly sensitive and cannot be changed into a rough and tumble tough kid.
Tantrums, emotional outbursts, and meltdowns often come with the territory. When your child hits overload, they can no longer react reasonably, they are in full fight or flight, and all that emotion and energy often comes rushing out.
Punishment and discipline don’t help but may cause even more trauma.
Just listen – don’t give advice, and above all, don’t tell them not to feel how they feel. Sometimes they need you to listen without fixing anything. I’m sure you know how helpful it is if you can share what you’re feeling without someone telling you not to feel that way or to problem-solve things. Just being heard makes a huge difference.
When working with a therapist, it’s important to be consistent in helping your child navigate difficult feelings and reactions.
Create a space of calm and peace. Do what you can to provide a peaceful, loving space for your child to calm down.
If possible, a room of their own, or at least a peaceful space away from the noise and commotion of daily activity, can do wonders.
Some things that may be helpful
• A loving hug
• Soft lights and/or music (headphones can help shut out the outside “noise”)
• A favorite stuffed animal
• Art or some other quiet, creative activity
Use Gentle Discipline and provide structure and limits in their lives to give a sense of safety and comfort. Learn to partner with your child to make decisions and reason with them instead of just ordering.
Saying No As a mother of a highly sensitive girl, I found that when I had to say “no,” it went over much better when I gave her a reason why not. She was smart and could understand when I explained my reasons. I didn’t know then there was such a thing as an HSP, let alone that we were both in that category, but I did see that I needed to be more interactive with her and less the stern parent.
Avoid statements like “Do it because I said so.” You’d be surprised at how differently they react to orders versus requests. Well, don’t we all respond better to requests, especially if we feel like we’re given some say in decisions?
Example – Your child wants to stay up past bedtime and is resisting getting ready for bed. You might say, “Darling, I know you want to keep playing (or whatever has their attention), but you need your sleep to have a good day tomorrow, and we’ve agreed that this is your bedtime.” You’ll get much better results than yelling, and your child will still feel in control of their life as they make that decision with you.
“Children do not experience our intentions, no matter how heartfelt. They experience what we manifest in our tone and behavior.” —Gordon Neufeld
School and group activities can be overwhelming to the point where your child is in pain and intense distress and can be loud. Let’s face it, kids are often mean, and your sensitive child is more affected by thicker-skinned kids. They also tend to be more easily hurt by gossip, betrayal, or exclusion, and they’re upset for themselves and those around them. Often seeing someone else bullied or treated unfairly is as painful as when directed towards them. Injustice and cruelty are often simply intolerable, and your child can’t bear to be in a situation where that’s going on.
Listen and ask questions – if your child doesn’t want to go to school or an activity, see if you can find out why. There is often more to the story, and it may need some work to uncover the problem. Highly sensitive children sense the injustices and cruelties around them. Trust that they must be experiencing something painful if they ask to stay home.
Another possibility from my own life – If your child loves to read, they may not be quite finished with a good book and want to finish it. I sometimes faked a sore throat to finish the last chapters of a book. The downside would be I’d be done in an hour and have to stay in bed and play sick for the rest of the day.
Encourage connections with other sensitive children. They nurture, reinforce and encourage each other and can relax and be themselves more fully. They help each other appreciate their strengths and gifts. It’s extremely helpful to know that others have the same challenges. Feeling less alone helps break the sense of isolation of being sensitive.
The most important thing is to use compassion and listening skills to understand their world and how it feels.
A BioElectric Shield can be helpful for both of you.
- You feel calmer and better able to tune in with your child.
- The BioShield protects their energy field by deflecting other people’s energy, stress, and emotions and some of the overwhelm and chaos in their environment.
- The Shield also helps protect from electromagnetic energy, which impacts many HSP kids, even making them sick or anxious.
- More reviews from parents of HSP Children
- Discovering Neurodiversity what you as a Teacher or Parent Need to Know – Blog & Podcast
- Protect your Children from EMF Radiation & WiFi – a Parents’ Guide
Not sure if a Shield is right for you or your child.
Call or email us
Virginia Brown is a retired Pediatric Occupational Therapist who was a Certified Sensory Integration Therapist for 22 years. She has treated ADD, ADHD, ASD, and children with various learning disabilities. She is available to brainstorm with you, sharing tools that have often helped children cope with and improve sensory sensitivities.
Direct line: 541-535-2214 Email: [email protected]
AnnaMariah is a Highly Sensitive Person/Empath and the mother of a highly sensitive child with ADD/ADHD.
Direct line 541-727-7322 Email: [email protected]
- From the trenches of parenting a highly sensitive child.
- How to Help Your Highly Sensitive Child
- Disciplining the Sensitive Child