How Highly Sensitive Children Can Thrive in Life

a highly sensitive child

You can help sensitive kids thrive by encouraging them to use their HSP qualities as guiding forces — vs. roadblocks — to their success.

The first encounter most people have with my daughters is watching them run up and down the soccer field or basketball court. Seeing them playing their respective sports with such confidence and self-assurance may cause some to question how they could possibly identify as part of the nearly 30 percent of the population who consider themselves highly sensitive. But, they do. And I believe that their sensitivity is one of their superpowers.

While there are trademark characteristics of being an HSP — from the way they empathize with others to the way they pick up on subtle nuances — not every HSP demonstrates their sensitivity in the exact same way. Trust me, as a sensitive person myself, I know!

Sensitivity Looks Different From Child to Child

For my 20-year-old collegiate soccer player, a part of being highly sensitive looks like putting her game face on and competing against high-level opposition, then retreating to her room to recharge from the mental energy expended from being around so many people.  

Being highly sensitive for my 14-year-daughter, on the other hand, means playing point guard on her basketball team, then spending hours post game ruminating over whether her tone in speaking to her teammates was perceived as disrespectful. Although able to compete at a high level, she cannot turn off her need to please those around her and to preserve and care for their feelings.

Being able to perform at a high level is extremely important to both of my daughters, and this desire carries through to every area of their lives. Though their personalities are markedly different, they both strive to succeed in all aspects of life: in the classroom, in sports, and in friendships, for example. 

As a parent, it has been thrilling to watch as my daughters explore, and continue to discover, tools that enhance their journeys in life. My highly sensitive children have found ways to not only survive in life, but to live fulfilling lives in which they are able to thrive.  As a highly sensitive mother, I’m happy to share some of these tools with you.

3 Ways Highly Sensitive Children Can Thrive in Life

1. HSP children thrive when offered creative outlets to enhance their experiences and to help temper their feelings.

Many HSPs are creatives. And while many would attribute the word “creative” to primarily art or musical talents, creativity is not limited solely to these arenas. In fact, creativity can be demonstrated in so many other ways.

For my daughters, creativity is expressed on the basketball court and soccer field.

Both of my girls were gifted with my husband’s athletic ability and build, and they have both used those characteristics to their benefit. As I mentioned, my oldest daughter is a Division I college soccer player, and my youngest is on Elite Level teams in both basketball and soccer. While their sports acumen is unattainable to me from a physical standpoint, it is equally as remarkable from a mental standpoint.

A high-level athlete’s ability to be creative within their sport is comparable to a high-level musician’s ability to compose a beautiful musical piece. In order for high-level athletes to perform optimally, it is vital that they possess both game intelligence and tactical creativity. Something that differentiates artistic/musical creativity from athletic creativity is timing. While a musician or artist typically searches for — and creates — new ideas, athletes often find themselves in positions in which they must develop opportunities from already existing options depending on current conditions. Athletic creativity often happens on a dime, in the blink of an eye.

Highly sensitive athletes, such as my daughters, are extremely creative in their sports and are great teammates. Highly sensitive people make exceptional leaders and team members, due in large part to their consideration of the team as a whole and not just their individual success. HSP are the true embodiment of the statement “There is no ‘I’ in team,” and they are eager to utilize crafty and creative methods within the framework of a game or match to contribute to the ultimate goal of the team: Victory.

2. HSP children thrive when given the freedom to determine the direction of their own social experience in school environments.

Being highly sensitive is not a “one-size-fits-all” type of situation. Not all HSPs will experience or display sensitivity in the same manner. Some will demonstrate certain characteristics of being highly sensitive while not displaying others. It is important to allow each highly sensitive child to feel their own way through life experiences to figure out what feels best for them. (And if HSPs know how to do one thing, it’s feel all the feelings!)

There are few areas of life that speak more clearly to this point than an HSP’s experiences in school.

Of course, there are areas that sensitive students behave similarly regarding school. For instance, most HSPs aren’t huge fans of group projects, preferring, instead, to work alone. Additionally, sometimes the slower pace of school can be boring to an HSP, as their creativity and intuitiveness may cause them to crave deeper content than what is being offered in the classroom.

I made the mistake of assuming that the educational experience for both of my daughters would be exactly the same, and that I could just follow the blueprint I’d developed for my first daughter with my second. Let me just tell you: I was sadly mistaken. 

My oldest daughter found the deep connections HSPs seek within the walls of the school building. These friendships were often formed after she would quickly complete her assignments and begin talking to her friends, not understanding that her classmates had not yet completed their assignments. Because she was in a smaller school, she was very familiar with her classmates and extremely comfortable during small-group or one-on-one conversations with them. Teachers tried, repeatedly, to move her desk to a different area, thinking she would be moved “away from her friends”; however, that didn’t work. Relocating her desk next to a new person only caused her to seek deep friendship with the new neighbor. 

My youngest daughter, on the other hand, is content to maintain one or two friendships throughout the entire school. To be clear, she’s friendly and kind to everyone — but while her big sister easily talks with her close-knit, small group of classmates regularly, she was busy being intentional with her very best friends.

So, while most highly sensitive children’s school experience in the social realm would be more like my youngest daughter, it is possible for some HSPs to thrive in environments where they are friendly and communicate more freely, like my older daughter. Again, there is no one-size-fits-all method. 

3. HSP children thrive when given the freedom to try on different coping mechanisms to find their best fit. 

It took me 40 years of living as an HSP to figure out what helped me to most effectively cope with symptoms of overwhelm, stress, anxiety, and stimulus overload. There are so many different mechanisms available to help deal with negative emotions and experiences, including journaling, meditation, grounding, therapy, music, and exercise, to name a few. Sometimes, one method will work, but then there are times when it takes a certain “coping cocktail” in order to bring a highly sensitive mind back into a state of homeostasis.  

My cocktail of choice consists of a mixture of exercise, meditation, journaling, and talk therapy. But in the same way my perfume smells differently on my daughters than it does on me, my coping mechanisms fit them differently — and sometimes not at all.

At a young 20 years old, my oldest daughter has discovered that when she is feeling especially overwhelmed, some combination of talk therapy, music therapy, and meditation help to bring her back to a calm and functional state. When she was growing up, I used to think she was putting on loud music just to drown me out… when, in fact, she was using music to help change, amplify, or moderate her mood. She has discovered that music helps her create space for expression and emotion, especially when she lacks the words to share her feelings.

Conversely, after three different talk therapists, my 14-year-old let me know that she was simply not a fan of talk therapy. Her highly sensitive mind will not allow her to open up to who she considers a “stranger,” so she does not reap the same benefits as her older sister. This is very similar to their interactions with classmates in school.

What we have found to work, however, is exercise therapy. Our family has an amazing physical therapist who has worked with both of my daughters through injuries, as well as for preventative measures. My youngest daughter has an easy-going rapport with her and willingly talks to her about life “stuff” during their sessions. So, rather than spend money on a talk therapist every two weeks, we allow her to meet with her physical therapist every two weeks to clear her mind, as well as work on strengthening her body. 

What works for one HSP child may not work for all, so be mindful of finding the path that fits best with each of your children individually.

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Encourage Your Children to Use Their Sensitivity as a Guiding Force, Not a Roadblock

HSPs are tasked with both learning about how our sensitivities present, and also figuring out  how to traverse the world of high sensitivity. It has been an honor watching as my daughters have made the decision to not allow being highly sensitive control their abilities to excel in life. But, rather, use their highly sensitive qualities to their benefit and allow those qualities to be more guiding forces — vs. roadblocks — to their success. 

It has always been interesting to me knowing that both of my children are sensitive, but seeing how the sensitivity presents differently. For instance, in sports, my oldest daughter is extremely aggressive, very confident in her abilities, and extremely self-assured. Meanwhile, my youngest daughter does not take compliments easily, is often embarrassed when she’s put in the spotlight, and would much rather her team receive positive accolades than her personally. She is the picture of humility. 

Still, they both have figured out how to work with their sensitivity and to excel. 

  • They have figured out how to cope in a world that can be too fast and too loud.
  • They have discovered how to find a balance between allowing themselves to succeed and not consider that success as being a competition with anyone except for themselves.
  • They have accepted that being highly sensitive contributes to, and enhances, their lives and life experiences in every arena, from sports teams to friendships to academics.

And they excel…

And they fail…

And they pick themselves up and offer their best the very next time… again and again and again.

They are highly sensitive, and they are superheroes — and they will always be my superwomen.

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