As a child, I remember my eyes burning under the fluorescent lights in school. The constricting feeling of jeans filled me with panic, so I wore leggings until I was a teen. (Maybe I became a yoga teacher just so I could wear leggings instead of business attire.) As an adult, I still complain about seams in my underwear, and I even wrote a song about it.
I know what it’s like to feel profound empathy toward complete strangers, as well as intense emotional overwhelm about global injustices I read about online. As I sit here writing this post, I’m processing so much in this active mind of mine that it’s hard to write coherent thoughts.
I used to feel like there was something wrong with me. Now I know that what I just described is all simply related to the gift of high sensitivity — even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are the 20 percent of the population who feel and process things deeply, from sights to sounds to emotional cues. We read people well, notice details that others miss, and are extremely perceptive, but we also get easily overloaded and overwhelmed.
It took me until my 30s to see my sensitivity as a strength. Today, I lead retreats for highly sensitive people and introverts in order to build a sense of belonging among those of us who feel like outsiders due to our unique traits. Many attendees tell me they leave these retreats with a renewed sense of purpose and hope.
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As a child, my sensitivity was not understood by the adults in my life. I was “too emotional” and needed to “toughen up.” That’s why I’m writing this post. We need to encourage our children to love their sensitivity from a young age. Here are seven things we should communicate to our sensitive children.
What Highly Sensitive Children Need to Hear
1. “All of your emotions are acceptable.”
At some point in our lives, most of us have been told not to cry. While tears might be gaining an iota of societal respect, emotions such as anger, anxiety, and hurt continue to be judged as “unhealthy.” Highly sensitive children (HSCs) are wired to fully experience the entire spectrum of human emotion. When we give HSCs permission to experience their emotions without being told they’re bad, they benefit in a powerful way. Then, we can teach them tools to transform an emotion such as anger into creative fuel to do something constructive.
2. “It’s healthy to experience emotion about injustice.”
As a young child, I got extremely emotional whenever I saw or even heard about bullying or racism. As I got older, political conversations about injustice easily landed me in tears. But I was told I was “overreacting” and needed to let it go — unfortunately, a common experience for many HSCs.
At an early age, HSCs need to hear that it’s okay to get upset when they see others experiencing pain. This is a compassionate response, not an overreaction. Rather than dismissing their experiences, we need to acknowledge the hurt. When the time is right, help your child take meaningful action, such as starting a fundraiser, speaking out, or making a donation to a charitable organization that fights for the cause.
3. “Let others know when you need alone time.”
Highly sensitive adults aren’t the only ones who need alone time. I recently saw a video of a little girl pouting and stating that she “just wants to chill in nature away from people.” It made me laugh, but really, I feel her pain — she’s probably a highly sensitive person, an introvert, or both.
HSCs, whether they are introverts or extroverts, will need alone time after stimulating activities like attending birthday parties or play dates. Even just a normal day at school — with all its noise, activity, and socializing — can be fatiguing and overwhelming for them. Let’s teach HSCs to ask for alone time proactively. That way, it won’t come in the form of a meltdown later.
4. “Listen to your body.”
HSPs are highly intuitive and can naturally sense subtleties. Unfortunately, our conditioning moves us away from listening to what our bodies intuitively tell us, so we may lose this connection as we get older. That’s why we should teach sensitive children to notice how their body feels, for example, when they eat a certain food or hang out with a certain friend. Similarly, when they are overwhelmed, we can teach them to find a place in their body that feels calm (like a finger or toe). This is a powerful grounding skill HSCs can use to regulate their bodies’ responses.
5. “It’s okay to say no.”
Children are accustomed to hearing the word “no,” but they usually don’t get permission to use it themselves. Obviously, it’s up to parents to set their own boundaries for when “no” is acceptable. But consider asking if your child wants to go to Henry’s birthday party before simply sending the RSVP. Certainly, “no” is a delicate balancing act with children, but if encouraged mindfully, it can be an important step in learning healthy boundaries.
6. “Take all the time you need to process.”
Just like adult HSPs, HSCs may require extra time to process information. According to Dr. Elaine Aron in The Highly Sensitive Person, one of the four characteristics of all highly sensitive people is “depth of processing.” This means that when HSCs receive information, they think about it deeply, analyzing the issue from many different angles and connecting it to a larger picture. Depth of processing can make life rich and meaningful for HSPs, but it also slows us down. Simply being patient and allowing your child extra time to process honors this special gift.
7. “The world needs special people like you.”
There’s no question that our world needs more empathy, listening, and understanding. Sensitive children can also be extremely analytical and creative. Let’s show them — through our words and actions — that even though the world is challenging at times, their sensitivity is a gift that can help others in countless ways.
You might like:
- Is Your Child Highly Sensitive?
- What Happens When a Highly Sensitive Person Grows Up With Emotional Neglect?
- 13 Problems Only Highly Sensitive People Will Understand
This article was originally published on IntrovertDear.com.