Family and Fun at the holidays can be overwhelming for Highly Sensitive Children (HSC). They can easily become overwhelmed in the crowds of shoppers, the big family gatherings and the noisy holiday parties at school and at home.
HSC is a specific personality type that centers on some children having a more highly sensitive nervous system. It is often also called Sensory Processing Sensitivity. If you have ever said to your spouse about your child, “Wow, he/she is so sensitive.” Maybe your child is easily overwhelmed or experiences things more intensely than other children (but does not have ADHD and is not on the Autism spectrum).
There are great books on Highly Sensitive People, like the books from Dr. Elaine Aron. Dr. Aron is the pioneer of HSP research and the author of the most well known books on Highly Sensitive children and adults. Also, author James Williams writes about his and his child’s personal experiences with High Sensitivity.
To learn more about Highly Sensitive adults and Children, click the following links/books.
Links are for Amazon Affiliate True North Counseling.
The Highly Sensitive Child:
The Highly Sensitive Person:
Understanding the Highly Sensitive Child:
Supporting the Highly Sensitive Child:
The following are some tips and tricks to managing the holidays with Highly Sensitive Children.
Tip #1: Create a password.
When your child gets overwhelmed, he/she may not know how to leave the situation. Make up a silly password or hand sign with your child and have them signal you to let you know they need assistance to take a break. This is the ideal time to take a walk with you child (to walk the dog, get needed supplies, refresh your drink, etc.) and give your child 5-10 minutes to take a deep breath.
Tip # 2: Make sure your child is well rested, has eaten and is in a positive mood before attempting to run errands or go to a busy gathering so they are feeling their best.
Tips #3: Make sure close friends and family are aware that your child has a sensitive nervous system and may need to leave the gathering early with you. If they are given an early warning, they will not think they are terrible hosts but they will be aware that you are creating boundaries to keep your child healthy.
Tip #4: Take a separate car from your spouse (if possible) to holiday gatherings so only one of you leaves early if your child needs to bow out early and their other parent and siblings can still enjoy the fun. It is usually best if the more highly sensitive parent leaves early, as they may also be ready for a break.
Tip#5: Have your child bring a quiet activity such as coloring reading or music with headphones if they need to check out of the gathering but leaving is not an option. Find a quiet place they can be alone or sit with them quietly for a while.
Tip #6: Never yell or discipline your child for not participating or for becoming overwhelmed. They cannot change the sensitivity but can learn coping skills to manage it. Please see a children’s counselor who is comfortable working with Highly Sensitive Children and who may also be Highly Sensitive themselves for assistance. See my website for assistance at www.yourtruenorthcounseling.com
Tip #7: If family members are arguing or “debating” at a family gathering, a Highly Sensitive Child might find the emotions of the room TOO MUCH. Calmly remove them from the room and take them away from the higher emotions so they can process their own reactions to the high emotions of the adults. HSC’s can become easily overwhelmed when in this type of situation because they feel their own and others emotions so intensely.
And, even if your HSC is doing fine at an event or crowded holiday gathering, they may struggling to “come back down” from the over sensitive nervous system dealing with all of the input. Often, they will have trouble falling asleep that night or may be upset on the way home; even if they were fine throughout the activity. This is a great time to snuggle, if they prefer, or to quietly listen to music or read. Ask your child what they would like to do to unwind from the day.
Also, recognize that unfamiliar surroundings like a neighbor’s home they have never visited can be overwhelming for a child but the Highly Sensitive Child can more easily become worried and fearful of the new experience. A great way to handle these fears beforehand is to discuss what will be happening, where you will be going and some options if your child feels anxious or overwhelmed at any point while focusing on the positives.
Finally, from a Highly Sensitive Adult who was once a Highly Sensitive Child, please be patient with HSC’s. We are not trying to make your life more difficult but often need your help and guidance as a parent to help us manage our sensitive nervous system when we cannot. I was lucky enough to have a mother who understood how to help me more than 20 years before this information was widely available and for that I am truly grateful.