Motherly Collective

Parenthood is a journey filled with joy, fulfillment, and a little bit of chaos. Amidst this beautiful chaos, some highly sensitive children shine with a neurodivergence that sets them apart. These children perceive the world with a depth and intensity that often leaves us in awe. As a licensed counselor specializing in maternal mental health and as a mom of four, including one highly sensitive child, I’ve learned all the ins and outs of raising highly sensitive children. Through trial and error, I’ve gained insights and learned how to embrace and celebrate this extraordinary personality trait. 

Understanding sensitivity 

The term “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP) was coined by Dr. Elaine Aron in 1991 and describes people with a heightened sensitivity to their environment and emotions. It’s a neurodivergent trait that they are genetically born with. HSPs have a remarkable ability to catch things that others miss, empathize deeply and experience their emotions on a turned-up dial. They also become easily overstimulated, emotional, and need a special type of parenting that both accepts them for who they are and provides them with coping strategies. My own journey as a mother, practice owner, and licensed counselor has shown me that this sensitivity might be overwhelming at times, but it’s also an incredible gift. 

What to know about raising a highly sensitive child: 6 parenting tips

1. Recognize empathy as a superpower 

Empathy is a superpower that highly sensitive children possess in abundance. They may pick up on their teachers’ non-verbal cues, have a deep connection to animals, and often take on the emotions of their peers. This incredible ability allows them to tune into the unspoken feelings of those around them, fostering deep connections. However, it also presents the challenge of absorbing others’ emotions, causing them to become overly emotional. It’s important to guide them toward setting healthy emotional boundaries and protecting their emotional energy. 

2. Help to balance stimulation 

Highly sensitive children are like sponges, absorbing everything around them–sounds, sights, smells–with intensity. My counseling experience has taught me that while this can lead to a rich inner world, it also means that they are highly susceptible to overstimulation. My journey as a mother of a highly sensitive child has taught me to manage their stimulation levels by creating spaces where they can retreat when they need a break. Teaching them to label their emotions and express them helps them avoid emotional outbursts and navigate their internal world. 

3. Respect emotional boundaries

Just as it’s important to avoid overstimulation, respecting emotional boundaries is equally vital. My experience as both a counselor and a mom has shown me that highly sensitive children need more time to process their emotions and experiences. Teach them to communicate when they need space and avoid trying to talk about emotions when they are already heightened. 

4. Make sure you’re managing your own emotions

Managing your own emotions as a parent of a highly sensitive child is a master skill. Like me, recognizing that your child’s emotional sensitivity might mirror your own can be a transformative realization. By modeling healthy emotional expression and not meeting them on their heightened level, you give them a blueprint for managing their big emotions. At times, even whispering when they start becoming emotionally heightened can bring them down from spiraling into a full-on meltdown. 

5. Embrace their passions

The HSP trait is linked to giftedness—and highly sensitive children often have a natural inclination towards the arts, music, nature and other forms of creative expression. These avenues provide an outlet to channel their intense emotions and communicate their inner world. My highly sensitive child often goes to the piano–which he taught himself to play–when he is feeling heightened. Putting his emotions into sound has been highly therapeutic for him. (Noise-canceling headphones have been equally therapeutic for me–ha!) It’s important to find an outlet that not only allows them to express their creativity but also builds their confidence as they see the beauty they can create. 

6. Build resilience 

One of our jobs as parents of highly sensitive children is teaching them to build resilience rather than melting down and then quitting. This process involves validating kids’ emotions, teaching them positive self-talk, and teaching them coping mechanisms. Promote and celebrate problem-solving skills and perseverance. Tell them in the moment how proud of them you are when they push through a problem or persevere through a hard situation. By arming them with resilience, you empower them to navigate life’s challenges with grace. 

A note on raising a highly sensitive child

Raising a highly sensitive child is a journey of mutual growth. As a mother of a highly sensitive child, I’ve changed my own mindset to fully embrace the gift of raising an HSP child. This transformative experience has not only deepened my understanding of the richness that sensitivity brings to our lives but has also prompted me to continually learn and adapt. It gives me a framework for helping other moms with parenting and seeing my own HSP child’s behavior in the context of sensitivity rather than disobedience. It helps me keep my own emotions in check to provide the support and guidance my child needs. Raising a highly sensitive child is a two-way street, offering us both the chance to grow and learn how to navigate life’s challenges while developing a deeper connection with one another.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.

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