Highly sensitive children perceive impressions more intensely. This makes them more stressed or anxious. But that does not make the children any different. With the right strategies and the right communication, parents and children can be relieved, explains Melanie Vita.
When children develop differently than their parents expected, disappointment can occur. A possible scenario: Jan has observed that his son Tim is different. “I had imagined all the things I wanted to do with my son: have adventures, play football, fight … And then I realize that none of this corresponds to my child’s nature at all, that my child is careful, not particularly spontaneous. sensitive. That’s when the world shakes.”
Another possible variant: Marie, Lea’s mother, is asked several times about her parenting style. “Does your child dare not go to the bakery alone? But at that age it should have been there long ago. You are far too careless.” − “What kind of games does your child play with you while you eat? What’s on the table is eaten! You let Lea get away with everything. If she grew up with me, she wouldn’t be so afraid.”
High sensitivity may be an explanation
What bothers Jan and Marie is how different their children are. If the offspring does not comply with the norm, parents understandably worry: What is behind my child’s behavior? did I make mistakes How can I raise my child according to their gifts and help them become strong and confident?
In the search for answers, many parents come across the subject of high sensitivity. In many cases, the children’s reactions suddenly make sense. It quickly becomes clear that certain behaviors are neither due to a fault in upbringing nor to the child’s peculiarities, but rather that their cause must be found in the special way in which perception is processed.
What is high sensitivity?
According to E. Aron, high sensitivity is an innate personality trait. Highly sensitive children have a more sensitive nervous system from birth. They perceive sensory impressions much more intensively than others. Almost nothing bounces off them. They want to process, think through and understand what they observe, feel and perceive. They pick up far more details than other children and think about everything more intensely.
It is understandable that everything quickly becomes too much for them. The amount of impressions – moods from fellow human beings, sounds, smells… – ensures that the children need a lot of time to process events.
If too many impressions flood these children, sensory overload can occur. You feel exhausted, stressed, want to shield yourself from the outside world or are irritable. They start crying or throwing tantrums to signal that everything is too much for them.
Sleep problems, headaches and stomach aches can also be warning signs of overstimulation. Highly sensitive children approach new situations with caution and observation. You think through all the risks. Only when they feel safe do they become active and act.
How do I recognize high sensitivity?
E. Aron mentions four essential characteristics which can be found in their entirety in highly sensitive children. The properties can be well explained with the help of Lea and Tim:
Lea and Tim have a very high level of observation. While they seem passive or dreamy at times, their brains are working overtime to absorb many details. They are curious and learn quickly.
On the other hand, they find it difficult to take spontaneous actions or change situations. They need a lot of time for answers, decisions and instructions because they want to perform their tasks correctly.
Lea and Tim experience everyday life very intensively, have their antennae constantly on reception, are present with all their senses. This quickly leads to overstimulation. How this manifests varies. Lea tends to withdraw and cry.
Tim takes his feelings out on those around him, so he goes outside with his stress. Both require more retreat and rest periods than other children to remain balanced.
Lea shows her emotions very sparingly. Conflicts and misunderstandings affect them. If other children argue, she sympathizes and gets stressed herself. That is why Lea Harmonie is very important. On the other hand, she would prefer to remain silent about a definite no.
Tim shows his feelings directly. He is compassionate and helpful. But if he perceives situations as unfair, explosive emotions arise. No matter what emotions he goes through, each one is intense.
Lea sometimes seems stressed. Complaints such as “The sweater is itchy” or “The jeans are too bulky” can then be heard. Tim, on the other hand, makes too much noise in the classroom and there is too much trouble on the playground.
What sounds like a fad is actually neurologically explainable. Highly sensitive children perceive sensory perceptions as through an amplifier, which can trigger stress.
The stop-and-go system or the traffic light system
In addition to the four main characteristics, there is another indication of whether a child is highly sensitive. As already described, it can happen that children only want to observe or be on their own in new, unfamiliar situations. This answer has an important meaning to understand: A highly sensitive child has a strong security system.
It sees itself at red lights until it knows what the rules and expectations are and until it feels understood. Only when the child has the feeling that he can master the situation does he become active: the traffic lights turn green.
What are the strengths and challenges?
Highly sensitive children have many valuable skills. This includes good empathy, a strong sense of fairness, reliability and creativity. Characteristics that are enriching for a group. The high sensory perception often shows musical or artistic talents. To promote these strengths, it is important to acknowledge them and give them space. If children show care for their playmates, if they comfort them in case of minor accidents or if they are welcoming during play, this can be positively encouraged.
At the same time, the other children also have the chance to learn tolerance and consideration. For this potential to develop, it is necessary to let the children rest and take their need for retreat seriously. In this way, they can process events and information.
Highly sensitive children usually display difficult behavior when they are thrown out of balance by stress and hectic. New situations and unforeseen activities trigger stress in them. If stress signals such as whining, emotional outbursts, boycott activities or dawl are not recognized as such, misinterpretations occur. Taking children’s energy levels seriously and paying attention to them helps minimize stress.
What can parents do if they are highly sensitive?
Whether a child perceives his high sensitivity as a strength or a weakness, a gift or a burden depends largely on his experiences. Basically, it is important to understand the child, to accept him in his own way and to accept him. Balancing the child’s needs with societal demands can be very challenging for parents.
New situations should be prepared with highly sensitive children through discussions, role plays, etc. Every conversation, every hint and every additional piece of information about what they can expect from the children means more security for the highly sensitive and therefore less reason to fear. The more time invested in preparing for a new situation, the more relaxed the child can approach the unfamiliar situation.
As highly sensitive children quickly become overwhelmed, stressed and overwhelmed by stimuli, they constantly need periods of rest and opportunities to retreat. This may mean reducing leisure activities and planning activity-free times. Family rituals and a structured everyday life are also beneficial.
Highly sensitive children are self-critical, have high expectations of themselves and are in a hurry to please everyone. It is all the more important that parents show leniency when mistakes are made or the children fail to jump over their shadow. In this way, highly sensitive children experience relief and learn that they are loved and accepted.
Do not reduce to high sensitivity!
Knowing about your own child’s high sensitivity makes it possible to assess behavior better. At the same time, it is important not to reduce the child solely to high sensitivity, but to make room for the many other facets of the personality.
A child is not only reserved, but perhaps also interested, courageous, hands-on. It is important to seize these resources and in this way support the child’s development. In a nutshell: accept what is, but also allow for growth. Away from “that’s just the way it is” to “something else is happening”.
is a trained social worker, learning therapist and author. She advises highly sensitive children, young people, parents and adults in her private practice “Highly Sensitive Life”.
This article was written by Melanie Vita