What is the Highly Sensitive Child (HSC)?
According to research carried out by Elaine Aron, High Sensitivity, also referred to as Sensory processing sensitivity (SPS), is an innate trait that impacts around 20% of the population and is also found in over 100 other species, for example, in dogs, fish and birds.
It is associated with greater sensitivity (or responsivity) to environmental and social stimuli, and there is a genetic, biological basis for a person’s sensitivity. For example, it has been shown that those who have the traits of high sensitivity have greater brain responses associated with awareness, memory, self-other processing and empathy.
High Sensitivity is an innate trait, so the characteristics of HSP are found in babies and children.
Here are some common characteristics of the HSC:
More impacted by the moods of others
Gets frustrated easily
Find it difficult when they are being watched or observed
Get overstimulated by too much noise and sensory stimuli around them
Are likely to appear shy or introverted (when this might not always be the case!)
Tend to watch and observe rather than be the ones to initiate interactions
Like to work or play alone
How to recognise the HSC?
I have experienced Highly Sensitive Children as being more reflective than the average child.
They tend to ask deep questions, and are often wondering about the meaning of things.
They are very aware of the emotions of other children and adults - as they are extremely empathetic.
Often when HSC are at school, or when they’re with their friends - they prefer to work alone and can be very imaginative and creative with their play.
HSC are less likely to put their hand up to contribute in class unless they have had time to process the information. At home, if they are in a safe and nourishing environment, they are likely to appear more relaxed, playful and extraverted. However, they can be easily overwhelmed by large crowds, or noises.
Highly Sensitive Children can often cry easily and find it difficult to hold back their tears. They are also more likely to get sick or unwell because of their sensitivity to the environment and because they are so easily impacted by the energies and emotions around them.
The Impact of Early Life Trauma on the Development of HSC
Many people believe that HSC are more anxious, nervous or shy. Research does show that a lack of 'good enough' parental care means that HSCs will struggle with depression later in life; however, the belief that HSC are all anxious or depressed is actually a myth. These mental health struggles only tend to present themselves if a child experiences an insufficient educational environment, difficulties at home or if a HSC is overwhelmed by environmental conditions stepping from wider culture or society.
Research shows us that HSC are more likely to respond to positive interventions and actually benefit more from a positive upbringing and interventions which are supportive of their growth than their less sensitive peers. This means that, HSC can go on to thrive if they are supported in the right way.
What do Highly Sensitive Children struggle with?
There is a tendency for highly sensitive children to feel misunderstood or sense that there’s something wrong with them. If we don't address these beliefs from an earlier age, they can transfer into adulthood, leading to issues with low self-esteem or confidence. Highly sensitive children can struggle in the school environment because it is often very fast-paced, overwhelming, overstimulating and they might feel the need to act more extroverted or impulsive than they naturally are.
A sensitive child can struggle to regulate their emotions and may require more tools than other children to manage and navigate their emotional and sensory world. This is why it’s so important for us to be acutely aware of the Highly Sensitive Child’s landscape and find ways to help that child express what they feel and need.
When HSC are nourished and supported in their development they can start to embody more of their gifts. Here are some of the many gifts and strengths of Highly Sensitive Children:
Have deep wisdom and are extremely empathetic and intuitive from a young age
Awareness of emotions of others
High levels of self-awareness
High levels of openness
If you’d like to find out more about coaching and mentoring Highly Sensitive Children, check out the 3-month online Professional Training that’s taking place for Empowering Highly Sensitive Children in February 2023 through the Highly Sensitive Human Academy >>
About the Author
Jules De Vitto, MAEd, MSc Certified Transpersonal Coach and Educator
Jules De Vitto has a BSc in Psychology, MA in Education and MSc in Transpersonal Psychology, Consciousness and Spirituality. She is an accredited and certified Transpersonal Coach for HSP, Authentic-Self-Empowerment Facilitator, as well as an experienced trainer and educator.
She is the founder of the Highly Sensitive Human Academy™ which provides quality courses and certified training for Highly Sensitive People all over the globe. She helps those who identify with the traits of high sensitivity to navigate emotional overwhelm, step into their authentic power and align with their true purpose in life.
She is a published author who wrote ‘Resilience: Navigating Loss in a Time of Crisis’ which provides practical resources to cultivate greater resilience and find greater meaning and purpose through times of crisis. She has published her research in the peer-reviewed journal Consciousness, Spirituality & Transpersonal Psychology.