Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive child smiles at their highly sensitive parent.

7 Ways Being an HSP Can Help You Raise One

Being a highly sensitive parent to a highly sensitive child can strengthen your bond — it’s like a secret language you share.

I’m a highly sensitive mom and I have a highly sensitive daughter (a highly sensitive teenage daughter, to be exact). Although our sensitivities are to different types of stimuli, we understand each other, as though we’re both members of the same secret club. I understand her sensitivity to noises more than other adults do while she understands my sensitivity to visual stimuli better than anyone else in my home. 

To outsiders, we overexaggerate or complain too much. But I know my daughter is not overexaggerating. I know it isn’t unreasonable for her to ask others to turn down the TV or to lower their voices. (We’re both very sensitive to noise.) In essence, being an HSP has helped me raise the youngest HSP of my family, my daughter. 

Being an HSP Is a Big Benefit When Raising an HSP 

Being an HSP doesn’t have to be something negative. As sensitive types, we know we are more perceptive, and often more empathetic, than non-HSPs. Applying these characteristics to different aspects of our lives can bring us great success, friendships, and can even make us better parents. 

A highly sensitive child cannot always express how drastically stimuli affects them. Many aren’t even aware they are a highly sensitive person (or that they even exist at all). If you know —  or think — you might have a highly sensitive child, don’t panic. As both an HSP and their parent, there is no one better equipped to help your child. There are many ways being an HSP has helped me raise mine.

The Science Behind Highly Sensitive Children

Everyone is sensitive to a certain extent, but some are more sensitive than others. Approximately 30 percent of people are born more sensitive than average, both physically and emotionally. (Around 40 percent of people are average in sensitivity while 20 percent are low in sensitivity.) Researchers refer to this trait as environmental sensitivity (or Sensory Processing Sensitivity). And all three levels of environmental sensitivity are considered completely healthy and normal.  

Children and adults who are at the high end of the sensitivity continuum are referred to as highly sensitive people, or HSPs. They are very aware of their physical environment, as well as the feelings and emotions of those around them. They also easily pick up on the little things other people may overlook and connect the dots among ideas others may not.

Often, highly sensitive children (HSC) are quite creative, empathic, and intuitive. In addition, they tend to be deep thinkers, and some researchers also believe high sensitivity is linked to giftedness. At the same time, textures, noises, and other things in the environment that other children seem to shrug off may bother HSCs.

If your child is highly sensitive, they were likely born that way and it developed further in early childhood. They will always be sensitive — however, as they grow and develop, they can learn how to better manage overwhelm and overstimulation, as well as ways to regulate their strong emotions. As a parent to a highly sensitive child, you can help them see how being sensitive is a superpower, and how they can use it to their advantage.

The more you can help them understand their sensitivity, and validate it, the more they’ll accept it and see it for the positive trait it is, not a negative one.   

Suffice it to say, as a highly sensitive person myself, it certainly helps when it comes to raising my highly sensitive daughter. Here are several ways how.

7 Ways Being an HSP Can Help You Raise One

1. You know what they’re going through and how they feel.

When others think my child is being unreasonable for asking adults to lower the noise level or searching for an exit at a crowded mall, I know she is being anything but. I know how overwhelming the stimuli can be. Others think I’m exaggerating or unreasonable, as well. When I’ve left the house because there is laundry on the couch, or because the cats are running around and knocking things over, some have called me a “drama queen.” No, I’m not one. The environment just becomes so overwhelming, I think I might lose my mind. I know the same holds true for my daughter.

If my daughter had a non-highly sensitive parent, they wouldn’t be able to fully understand the severity of the way stimuli affects my daughter. They might think she’s being overly dramatic (or just a brat). Yes, I’ve had adults call my child a brat for the way she responds to noises. I know she isn’t a brat. I know the people calling her one are wrong, and I know I need to make them understand and accommodate her needs.

2. You can advocate for them.

It’s because I understand my daughter as an HSP that gives me the knowledge to inform others. When others think she’s being unreasonable, I am her advocate. Of course, parents are their children’s advocates whether or not they are highly sensitive. But if I wasn’t highly sensitive, I wouldn’t be nearly as successful in advocating for her. 

Like I mentioned above, many children don’t know what an HSP is. And many parents don’t realize they even have a highly sensitive child. If I couldn’t identify that my daughter’s behaviors were related to the overwhelm of stimuli, I doubt I’d feel the need to advocate for her at the level I do.

As a result, I promptly correct anyone who thinks my child is being unreasonable. They become experts on HSPs in a hurry, because I need them to understand what my daughter is going through. I need them to understand how raising their voices causes my child a level of overwhelm that makes her brain feel like it’s on fire. 

I inform them I am a highly sensitive person, as well — it has nothing to do with her being a child, and she is not being disrespectful and unreasonable. I can stand up for her by making others realize that not accommodating her is what’s truly disrespectful and unreasonable. Because I am an HSP, I can also encourage others to reduce the amount of stimuli they expose her to.

3. Your outings are less stressful.   

Family events, shopping trips, day trips… they are all things that are part of most families’ lives. But these events can be very stressful and overwhelming to an HSP. I know they can be for me, so I know they can be for my child, too. 

But they can be less stressful. As an HSP sensitive to visual stimuli, I was already planning our outings in such a way as to minimize exposure to messy environments. Since learning my daughter was an HSP, I began planning our outings to accommodate her needs for reduced stimuli, as well. For example, we’ll avoid movie theaters, concerts, and fireworks. 

Quiet nature walks have replaced walking through crowded paths at state parks. Instead of visiting shopping centers on weekends, we go in the middle of the week. Rather than going to the movies, we make snacks and have movie nights at home. Because of this, my highly sensitive daughter is able to enjoy our time together as a family — without getting overwhelmed and wanting to go home early. It has made things a lot easier on her, and the rest of the family, too.

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4. You can offer suggestions (that actually work).

There is nothing more annoying than being offered bad advice. Strangers, friends, and family are all quick to offer suggestions, and they do so with the best of intentions. But, in reality, they have no idea what it’s like to be an HSP. What works for someone who dislikes loud noises might not work for someone extremely sensitive to them. My daughter covering her ears or ignoring the sounds just doesn’t cut it. 

I can offer her ideas that do help her with the auditory overwhelm. Quality noise-canceling headphones and noise machines bring her peace when it is impossible to keep her in a quiet environment. Taking a walk when the house gets loud, or visiting the library if the lunch room is too noisy, are practical ideas that work, too. As an HSP, I know how important it is to limit the stimuli, and I have a much better idea of how to make that happen.

5. You can help and support each other.

Just like I understand my daughter as an HSP, she understands me. I do my best to keep the noise levels down in the home and she tries to limit visual overwhelm for me. I can just look at her when she digs through a pile of clean laundry on the couch rather than taking it to her room, and she knows. She knows it’s more than me being that nagging mother most teens think of. She knows to what level it stresses me out and overwhelms me. Because she better understands me, she puts in the effort to minimize my exposure to stimuli, too.

We both endure less stress and overwhelm  in our day-to-day lives — we know what it’s like for the other person and we know how awful it can be to be an HSP when others don’t acknowledge being highly sensitive as a “real thing.” Many people don’t take it seriously, but we do. And it helps us help each other. 

6. You can help them “get away,” like to a less stimulating space. 

Sometimes as highly sensitive souls, we need to completely escape the stimuli. Removing ourselves from the overwhelming situation can be the best way to calm down

I am known for getting in the car and going for a drive to get away from my chaotic house. My daughter often comes with me, as everyone is calmer strapped when in their seatbelts than they are running through the house. Sometimes, I will take everyone except her with me. That way, she gets the entire house to herself. The only noises she would have to endure would be the ones she decides to listen to.

These escapes are necessary for us both. Being an HSP makes me more lenient about letting her stay home when the rest of the family has something planned to do. Teens need their alone time as it is, but a highly sensitive teen needs more than just time alone in their environment. They need their environments to be calm. Another example is if she doesn’t want to go to the neighbor’s house for dinner — I don’t push it, as I know it will do more harm than good.

7. It can strengthen your bond — it’s like a secret language you share.

The bond between a mother and a daughter is unbreakable. But it can get a little rocky during the teen years. Being HSPs gives us something in common. We don’t like the same music or clothes. We don’t watch the same TV shows or shop at the same stores, But we are both sensitive to outside stimuli. Being HSPs is something we share. It’s something we can talk about together that we both understand, and it has brought us closer together.

Things were chaotic and tense between us before we learned we were HSPs. But now that we know, our relationship has grown stronger and the knowledge has united us. It goes beyond just our understanding of each other’s overwhelm; it’s something we have in common that she doesn’t have to share with her siblings. The strengthened bond we share now makes being an HSP seem like the greatest gift one could ask for. (And it is, by the way.)

Being a Highly Sensitive Parent Can Be a Very Positive Experience

Being an HSP makes me a better parent in general, but it makes me even better equipped to parent my highly sensitive child. I can empathize with her and advocate for her. I can make her days less stressful by altering plans and making suggestions. I can help her escape overwhelming situations. I can do all these much better because I am an HSP. It’s all these things that have brought us closer together and strengthened the bond we share. Being a highly sensitive parent raising a highly sensitive child can be a very positive experience, if only you let it.

Highly sensitive parents with highly sensitive children, what would you add to this list? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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