Advice for Parents of Highly Sensitive Children

“Children do not experience our intentions, no matter how heartfelt. They experience what we manifest in our tone and behaviour.”   —Gordon Neufeld

Dear Parents of Highly Sensitive Children,

There is nothing wrong with your child. Both you and your child need to know that— really know that. Below are the six things I think a highly sensitive child might need from you the most.

1) Love us for who we are.

We actually feel things more deeply than most of the population. High sensitivity is a biological trait, not a choice.

Don’t assume that we’re just like you and that what worked for you will work for us. We can’t control how deeply we feel. We can’t decide when to stop feeling or which feelings not to have even when it appears as though we’ve got them under control.

When we try to suppress what makes us who we are, we risk losing the gifts that come with our temperaments.

Highly sensitive does not mean overly sensitive. What is normal, anyway? We know you want us to be happy, but trying to stop us from feeling badly is only a temporary solution. Where are all those feelings supposed to go?

If we’re fed the message that there’s an easier, better way to be, we’ll believe you and feel like something needs to be fixed. Help us embrace our “thin skin” and recognize that there’s nothing wrong with having it.

2) Listen to your intuition and not the “experts.”

Experts might tell you that we need therapy, or psychiatry, or that we’re bipolar, or have ADD, or need medication, or more medication. We are often misdiagnosed.

Consider that the experts may be wrong and that there’s nothing to cure. Experts are trained to psycho-pathologize. They look to label.

The experts we rely on to decipher our symptoms cannot possibly understand who we are in a one-hour consultation. See us with compassion, and then help us see what you see.

3) Teach us boundaries.                         

We are nurturers by nature.

We tend to the feelings of others while ignoring our own. We can give more than we have.

We need to hear that it’s okay to put ourselves first and that setting boundaries does not make us selfish.

4) School and group activities.

If we tell you we don’t want to go to school or to a group activity, try to find out why. Assume there is more to the story than what we’re telling you.

School is loud. Kids can be mean. They can betray, gossip, and exclude. School can be excruciatingly overstimulating. We are deeply affected by our surroundings and living in a culture that can be relentlessly aggressive.  

Highly sensitive children sense the injustices and cruelties all around them. Trust that we must be experiencing something painful enough to ask you if we can stay home.

Consider that we may be the canaries in the coal mine.

5) Just listen.

Sometimes we don’t need advice, and we don’t need to hear why we shouldn’t feel the way we do. Sometimes, we just need you to listen.

6) Keep us close.

You are the North Star.

Share your thoughts.

Let’s keep our discussions reflective, productive, and welcoming. Please follow our Community Guidelines and understand that we moderate comments and reserve the right to delete comments that don’t adhere to our guidelines. You must sign in or sign up to comment.
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  • Rich Flynn

    I could not agree more!

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  • Hendrie Weisinger

    I would also add that by nature, sensitive children (as sensitive individuals) are more apt to personalize “critical comments” that are made by parents. In other words, they take a parent’s comment as an evaluation of their selves rather than a specific behavior. As a result, they often exaggerate and distort the meaning of what their parent says (as sensitive employees do with the criticism of their boss.) For example, a sensitive child is more likely to hear, “Your grades need to be improved” as “I am not good, I am not loved” whereas the less sensitive child will hear it as ” your grades need to be improved,” and shrug it off, knowing their parent still loves them. For sensitive children, criticism contributes to low self-esteem and there are numerous studies to indicate this to be true. Contrary to conventional wisdom, you can be “too sensitive”–when your sensitivity causes you to overreact to criticism or prevents you from engaging in appropriate social interactions, sensitivity works against you. Parents of sensitive children should make it a point to make sure their child understands that no matter what their criticism, they still are loved unconditionally. This helps your child feel secure and allows them to be “less” sensitive when criticized and more likely to respond in a way that helps them grow.

  • Rosanna Biondolillo

    Great article… I am hoping that you can provide some guidance for your advice:

    Help us embrace our “thin skin” and recognize that there’s nothing wrong with having it. – How do we help them to embrace it?

    See us with compassion, and then help us see what you see. – How do we show them to see what we see?

    We tend to the feelings of others while ignoring our own. – How do we help them to tend to their own feelings? To feel all the feels???

  • Pingback: Reflections on Being Highly Sensitive | Training in Power Academy()

  • Meridyth Wild

    My daughter is highly sensitive and bright. She is 9 and has never like going to school. When I ask, she doesn’t report negative things like bullying or even kids being mean to her in any way. She gets high grades. When she comes home after school, she usually talks about it being a good day. I think the anticipation of going to school produces anxiety. But seems to be fine at school. she gets along fine with her peer groups. But is at heart an introvert. She does want to socialize but in limited time frames. I just need advice on how to lessen the anxiety of her anticipation of going to school.

  • Mario

    Sound advice. I’m a highly sensitive introvert who grew up in an unloving home deeply influenced by an unloving and paranoid mother. So imagine a normally highly sensitive introvert child, then me, much more sensitive than that.

    I take comfort in the fact that parents today are exposed to sensible advice for child rearing. However, a list of recommended actions is just one of the starting points and not a spelled-out universal solution for raising and dealing with introvert children.

  • Palmira Alloggia

    Thank you for Point no. 2 “Listen to your intuition and not the “experts.” This is a timely advice for me

  • Brandy Carlson

    I LOVE this! Thank you so much.

  • Andrea

    This is great! As a highly sensitive person, I can only imagine how different my life’s journey would have been had my parents followed even some of these ideas.

  • Egregore

    I had a Leo dad, Sadge mom, Cancer brother and I am Pisces. They didn’t get anything. Never did. Never will. They don’t care. They think something is wrong with introverts. Snap out of it they say like that’s even possible. Parents should always get their children’s birth chart read or look it up for free if you can read it. It helps immensely with avoiding pitfalls later in life. Of course many people still think it’s all just entertainment or even black devil magic. hahaha………Americans……..

  • Kyle Anderson

    Excellent article – thank you! There is so much focus on extraversion and being the “alpha male” in our society. It often makes me feel inferior or too sensitive. After all, it’s true that “Everyone shines, given the right lighting.”

  • Dean Kloss

    “School is loud. Kids can be mean. They can betray, gossip, and exclude. School can be excruciatingly overstimulating. ” This is so true. If you have children; pay close attention to what tell you about their days there. School is not for everyone and increasingly what goes on in the name of “being on grade level,” is bad for children.

    • Natalie Givan

      I feel the same way about school. In elementary and middle school I dealt with frequent bullying, teasing, and pressure to fit in. In high school the bullying wasn’t as bad but there was a lot more pressure to achieve, pass all the standardized tests, and handle increasing homework loads which was exhausting for an introverted HSP who had less and less time to recoup from the overstimulation of the school day. The best part of my school years was when my parents realized the effect the traditional school environment was having on me and allowed me to find a happy compromise of taking only foreign language and math classes at the public high school and finishing the rest of my high school courses through a homeschooling program.

      I don’t know if I will ever have children of my own, but if I do I would be open to considering whatever kind of schooling (public/private/charter/homeschooling) is best for the child’s personality, temperament, and learning style.

      • Peter

        Bless your parents. Their love for you truly counted when you needed it most. As for parenting, there’s a beautiful new magazine which has come out recently for parents and hopeful parents. “Inspired Parenting”. Worth checking out. (I am in no way connected to the magazine.)

  • Katalin Janssens

    <3 <3 <3 Thank you!

  • Tiffany Smith

    Oh my gosh YES! All of it YES! It’s extremely validating to see yourself in print, described thusly, and without prejudice. Thank you 🙂

  • Stephanie Kimball Amis

    #6 is truly excellent! Thanks for this article. I have a sensitive 10 year old son and I have learned some of this the hard way.