How to Better Understand and Accept Your Highly Sensitive Child

A highly sensitive child reads a book to her mother

Understanding and accepting your highly sensitive child allows you to focus on what matters rather than being distracted by what doesn’t. 

Did you feel misunderstood when you were growing up as a highly sensitive child (HSC)? You may have been told you were too emotional, that you needed to toughen up, or any number of other things that made you feel less valid.

Much of the misunderstanding around highly sensitive people (HSPs) stems from cultural values and societal norms. Many adults who raised us didn’t display or discuss their emotions in front of us because it wasn’t “socially acceptable.”

Now, you’re parenting a highly sensitive child and might be finding it challenging. Each sensitive person is unique in their sensitivity, so it’s essential to become aware of your child’s particular sensitivities and accept them for who they are.

The Key Is Listening and Communicating in a Way That Empowers Your Sensitive Child

The key to a strong bond between you and your child is listening and communicating in a way that empowers them and supports their feelings of validation. Understanding your child — and their sensitivity — is an important first step in creating this bond. It’s not simple, and there may be some tough times, but it is worth it. 

As a parent, you’re faced with many important questions: Do I accept my sensitive child for who they are? Do I wish I could change them? How do I make sure my child knows I love them for who they are? How do I ensure they don’t feel left out or marginalized by society? You might try to “fix” them by removing certain stimuli from their lives or encouraging them to “get used to it.” While those decisions might make sense to you, they can be incredibly invalidating for your child.

In my upcoming book, The Sensitive Ones: Healing and Understanding Your Child’s Mental Health, I share the importance of acceptance and understanding our children for who they are.

“When children are restricted and forced to be someone they were not born to be, they start to lose confidence. Their self-worth is compromised, which causes an internal struggle with their true innate self. Internal struggles become external struggles. This is when we start to see mental illness, behavior issues, and addiction. Your child must know that they have support, as this is a part of Advocacy.”

Accepting Your Highly Sensitive Child Is Important, but Understanding Them Is, Too

The truth is, accepting your child and their sensitivity is important, but understanding it leads to a deeper level of validation. Acceptance is about you and your child creating and bonding over shared values and beliefs. It’s not only about you or your child; it’s about the connection and relationship between the two of you.      

My daughter is a highly sensitive person and she was a challenge as a child — it seemed that way because she was different from the other kids her age. The truth is, she was doing things her own way, but we weren’t sure what that meant when she was younger. I finally realized that understanding her differences was the first step to helping her fully develop into the person she’s meant to be.   

Accepting your child for who they are and how they process the world is important, but it’s not enough. You may accept your child, but if you don’t understand why they are the way they are, you may not be able to help them as effectively. Understanding leads to a deeper level of validation. Understanding allows you to focus on what matters rather than being distracted by what doesn’t. All that said, here are four ways to understand and accept your highly sensitive child.

4 Ways to Understand and Accept Your Highly Sensitive Child 

1. Put yourself in their shoes to better understand their temperament and personality.

The temperament and personality of your highly sensitive child are not things you can change, but rather things you can learn to understand to help them grow and feel validated. Highly sensitive children are born with these innate characteristics. Sensitivity cannot be “trained away” or “fixed,” so it is important for you to learn about the traits and how they work. 

Highly sensitive children have strong emotions, and they process experiences at a deeper level than most children (just like those of us who are highly sensitive adults). They are often introverted, thoughtful, creative, and empathetic — all positive qualities! They will be more deeply affected by events around them than their peers will. They will react emotionally to things you may hardly notice.

2. Keep in mind how stress and emotions affect them.

When a highly sensitive child feels stressed or emotionally overwhelmed, they will have a more difficult time coping than a less sensitive child. It is important for you to understand which situations cause your child stress. This can vary child-to-child, of course — they may get stressed over what to eat for lunch or overstimulated from the bright lights in their school classroom. And remember, it is not their fault that they feel overwhelmed in those situations. 

As a parent, you can help your child cope by providing validation, limits, and boundaries, as well as teaching effective ways of dealing with stress — whether that means taking them outside for a walk or giving them alone time.

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3. Understand that they were born with non-negotiable characteristics.

Just like you and I were born with certain characteristics that could not be changed or trained away at an early age, your HSC was also born with a set of unique traits. What’s true for one sensitive child isn’t necessarily true for another — one may be more prone to cry while another may nurture their creativity due to their increased sensitivity.

Your HSC may seem hard to understand, but if you want to make them happy, you must learn to relate to them and what interests them. They might love playing with intricate toys, reading books, or playing music, so make sure you nurture their hobbies.

4. Figure out their needs and then proceed accordingly.

According to Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Child, highly sensitive children are born with a nervous system that is more finely tuned to their surroundings than most. Your highly sensitive child has a different brain and nervous system than the average child, so they need time to process and integrate information. In fact, HSCs have twice as many neurons in the prefrontal cortex (the area responsible for decision-making) as an average person. This means they are more aware of their choices and how they affect others. This can be challenging if they are constantly being told what to do. This is a struggle for highly sensitive adults, so you can only imagine what it’s like for a highly sensitive child.

When your HSC is overwhelmed, they may shut down due to anxiety, withdraw into themselves, or lash out at others. Therefore, it’s important to understand that they don’t need punishment, but rather, support in understanding who they are — and validating why their sensitivity is a superpower, not a detriment — and what makes them feel safe. Because the safer they feel, the more you’ll each understand and accept the other. You’ll see.

My forthcoming memoir, The Sensitive Ones: Healing and Understanding Your Child’s Mental Health, is available for pre-order and will be released April 12, 2022. It shares my account of motherhood, love, and fear — and how to deal with our sensitivities in relation to how the world treats us. 

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