Parents bring their children or teen into my private practice in Tampa and say, “My child is so sensitive”. Or “My child gets overwhelmed really easily. Could he have anxiety?”
When I hear this and I have ruled out mental illness or cognitive issues as the source, I will talk to the parent about the possibility that their child or teen is a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).
While I am explaining HSP signs, the light bulb going off shows up on the parents’ faces.
Then the questions come. What can I do for her? How can I help him? The child (client) may even begin to become emotional when they learn there is a name for what they feel on a daily basis.
Often, one of the parents is HSP as well. They may sit and nod their heads along with the list of what HSP “looks like”.
What I look for to learn if the child might be an HSP:
Big crowds are overwhelming even if it is family or close friends
A loud, busy room feels like chaos to the child
Coarse fabrics and bright lights trigger meltdowns
Senses the intense emotions of others intensely
Sensitive nervous system causing headaches and stomach aches when they feel overwhelmed
Moved by the arts (music/movies/theater) more than most
Struggle with watching violent and scary movies or t.v. shows and often have nightmares
More aware of the world around them/notice more details than most children their age
Enjoy delicate/fine scents and tastes
Fall deeply in love or are very attached to their best friends
Very accurate at spotting errors.
Don’t like change
Panic attacks occur regularly for no apparent reason
Highly sensitive People make up 15-20% of the population. That equates to 50 Million people in the U.S.
In other countries HSP is highly valued, for example in China they value shyness and sensitivity. While HSP is not shyness, it can often seem like shyness since the person is taking in the world around them so carefully.
HSP is NOT shyness, introversion, timid-ness or neuroticism.
HSP is a highly sensitive nervous system where a person processes things much more deeply and they are easily over aroused.
When I work in a counseling setting with HSP children and teens, I teach them to calm their nervous system when it is overwhelmed with breathing techniques. I also teach them how to put up healthy barriers to all of the incoming stimuli.
As an HSP adult myself, who was once an HSP child/teen, patience and understanding go a long way in helping your child cope.
Parents can help by asking the child if they need a break from the overwhelming stimuli or how they can help them ahead of the activity so they have a game plan that won’t embarrass the child.
Giving the child some control over their environment, when possible, is helpful in avoiding meltdowns and panic attacks.
It helps when children know what it is they are feeling is an overactive nervous system and that there is nothing wrong with them.
Pointing out the positives of being an HSP is helpful. Many counselors, artists and highly successful people are HSP’s as they are sensitive to the world around them.
Highly Sensitive Children and Teens will bloom and find their “True North” with the help of parents, friends and counselors.
The Highly Sensitive Person By Dr. Elaine Aron
The Highly Sensitive Child by Dr. Elaine Aron
Quiet By Susan Cain
A Highly Sensitive Person’s Life Podcast