The highly sensitive child is often overwhelmed by their emotions and may react strongly to certain situations.
To a highly sensitive child, everything seems larger than life. Their emotions are intense and they react strongly to things that others don’t even notice.
How to recognize a highly sensitive child
Highly sensitive children pay a lot of attention to what’s going on around them, what they’re feeling, and how others feel. For this reason, they often get overwhelmed by their emotions and react very strongly to various situations.
High sensitivity can show up in various ways:
Crying and tantrums that seem exaggerated
Low tolerance for frustration
Strong reactions to change and novelty (too much new information to process)
Difficulty making choices (they take multiple elements into consideration)
A tendency towards shyness and nervousness
The need for calm
Sensitivity to noises, smells, light, and textures (they are easily overstimulated)
The influence of temperament and environment
High sensitivity is largely related to temperament. Temperament refers to how your child behaves, reacts, adapts to situations, and handles their emotions. And since temperament is present from birth, it’s partly hereditary.
That being said, a child’s temperament is also influenced by their environment. This means the care they receive, their parents’ mental health, their interactions with others, and even the mother’s experiences during pregnancy can all affect a child’s temperament.
Your child may become less sensitive over time.
You have an important role to play when it comes to helping your child. Children are like little sponges, and this is even truer for highly sensitive children. Giving them a caring environment to grow up in where they feel understood is the best way to support them.
High needs or highly sensitive?
The term high needs baby was coined by an American pediatrician in the 1980s. It refers to babies who react strongly to change, are sensitive to stimuli, and are very demanding. High needs babies cry a lot, are light sleepers, and constantly want to be held. The term is not recognized by the medical community, but babies with this temperament are likely highly sensitive.
How can you help your highly sensitive child?
It’s normal to feel impatient when your highly sensitive child is reacting strongly to something, but they have a deep need to be understood and reassured. Here are a few ideas to help your highly sensitive child:
- Accept their emotions without ridiculing them. Teach them to recognize their emotions and use their words to express them.
- Prepare them for any changes. If possible, try to avoid surprising them. Talk to your child ahead of time to let them know they’ll soon be starting daycare, switching to a big kid’s bed, sleeping over at grandpa’s house, etc. Let them bring a comfort object with them to help ease these transitions.
- Give them plenty of down time. A highly sensitive child is easily agitated and disturbed by stimuli. For instance, they may need some alone time when they get home from daycare. You also need to learn to recognize the signs that your child is starting to feel overstimulated. This will give you time to retreat to a quieter place before they have a meltdown.
- Encourage them to try new activities or join a group, but don’t force or rush them. They may want time to observe and take things in before they try something new. A step-by-step approach may be easier for them. However, try not to overprotect your child by shielding them from new experiences, because they’ll never have a chance to improve.
- Gradually help them distinguish what’s important vs. what’s not.
Things to keep in mind
Highly sensitive children are often overwhelmed by their emotions and may react strongly to situations that seem trivial to you.
They’re not doing it on purpose—their temperaments make them highly attentive to what’s going on around them.
You can help your child reduce the intensity of their reactions.
Scientific review: Dr. Andrée-Anne Bouvette-Turcot, psychologist
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: August 2018