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.

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