A Highly Sensitive Child (HSC) is one of the 15-20% of children born with a nervous system that is highly aware of itself and its surroundings. This makes HSCs quick to grasp subtle changes in a person or their environment, they prefer to reflect deeply before acting and generally behave conscientiously. They are also easily overwhelmed by high levels of stimulation such as loud noise, too much light, extreme weather, being around too many people, environmental toxins, too many activities on their schedule, etc. They are also very aware of sudden changes and the emotional distress of others. They have an active dream life, talk with things in nature, may see aura's or talk about past lives. Click here for a list of 50 traits of HSCs.
Because children are a blend of a number of temperament traits, some HSCs can be labelled by teachers or parents as 'difficult', because they can be physically active, emotionally intense, demanding, and persistent. Other HSCs can be quite calm, turned inward, and almost too easy to raise except when they are expected to join a group of children they do not know, for example at birthday parties or group sports. Both, the outspoken & fussy and the reserved & obedient are sensitive to their emotional and physical environment. In regards to situations they might find overwhelming both types of HSC need to be prepared in advance and they need quiet downtime afterwards.
The HSC in school works differently from others. They pick up on subtleties and may think about them a long time before demonstrating their grasp of a subject. If an HSC is not contributing much to a discussion or activity, it does not necessarily mean he or she does not understand or is too shy.
Parents, teachers and the HSC themselves need to know the following:
- Being Highly Sensitive is normal. It is found in 15 to 20% of the population. This prevalence in the population means this is too many to be a disorder, but not enough to be well understood by the majority of those around them. So be patient and learn to explain the trait.
- It is innate. In fact, biologists have found it to be in most or all animals, from fruit flies and fish to dogs, cats, horses, and primates. This trait reflects a certain type of survival strategy, being observant before acting. The brains of HSCs actually work a little differently than others.
- The HSC is more aware than others of subtleties. This is mainly because their brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply. So even if they wear glasses, for example, they see more than others because they notice more.
- HSCs are also more easily overwhelmed. If you notice everything, you are naturally going to be overstimulated when things are too intense, complex, chaotic, or novel for a while.
- This trait is not a new discovery, but it has been misunderstood. Because HSCs prefer to look before entering new situations, they are often called "shy." But shyness is learned, not innate. In fact, 30% of HSPs are extraverts, although the trait is often mislabeled as introversion. It has also been called inhibitedness, fearfulness, or neuroticism. Some HSCs and adult HSPs behave in these ways, but it is not innate to do so and not the basic trait.
- Sensitivity is valued differently in different cultures. In cultures where sensitivity is not highly valued, HSCs tend to develop low self-esteem. They are told "don't be so sensitive" or their classmates might start avoiding them, so they feel abnormal.
But, for all of that to blossom, they absolutely must be raised with understanding. Otherwise, as adults they are prone to depression, anxiety, and shyness.
HSCs have a tremendous amount to offer the world. But they do need special handling. They need to be appreciated, to have their special needs and sometimes intense reactions and behaviors understood, and, when correction is needed, they need to be handled with special care so that they do not become anxious or ashamed of their failure.
Again, few parents and teachers understand this trait and as a result, HSCs are often mislabeled as "problem children" (and in some cases, misdiagnosed with disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder). But raised with proper understanding and care, HSCs are no more prone to problems than nonsensitive children and can grow up to be happy, healthy, unusually well-adjusted and creative adults.