The science of being sensitive

High Sensitivity can be a hard thing to understand. KELLY EDEN delves into this world and reveals that it is not as strange as we might think.

In our society, sensitivity can be seen as a problem or disadvantage. When you have a baby or young child that gets overstimulated easily, has trouble sleeping, and finds it hard to self-soothe, it definitely seems like a problem. But high sensitivity is a normal personality trait of 15-20 per cent of the population and there are many incredible things about raising a highly sensitive child.

What makes someone highly sensitive?
High sensitivity looks different in different people. Highly sensitive children can be confident, shy, talkative, excitable, timid, introverted or extroverted. But there are four areas that all highly sensitive people share:

1. Depth of processing
Highly sensitive people think deeply about things. They are the kids who like quite a bit of thinking time before they make decisions or ask lots of questions when they learn something new. Highly sensitive kids are curious, deep thinkers and will constantly surprise you with their ideas and the little amazing things that they notice in the world around them!

2. Overstimulation
Highly sensitive people get overstimulated easily because of all the deep processing they are doing. Of course, all young children and babies get overstimulated, so the key element here is that they are MORE easily overwhelmed than others their age.

3. Empathy/ emotional responsiveness
Highly sensitive people are extremely aware of their own emotions and those of others. They are very tuned in on emotions. Emotions are the language of highly sensitive people, and because of this, highly sensitive kids are incredibly kind and empathetic towards others.

4. Sensitivity to subtleties
Highly sensitive people tend to notice the little details or make connections that others fail to see. They pick up on subtle cues and see the beauty in things. Because their nervous system is wired to process stimulation deeply, they notice all those little sensations that others don’t seem to.

Highly sensitive people have all four of these aspects. Some other traits or conditions (that could get confused with High Sensitivity) have similar aspects, such as Giftedness, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, Anxiety, and ADHD. Someone with Autism or Anxiety may be easily overstimulated at a party, or a gifted child may process deeply. These conditions, though, have different biological roots to High Sensitivity, but it is possible for a child to be both Highly Sensitive and have ADHD, for example.

Is your child highly sensitive? Here are seven behaviours you may notice:

  1. Time limits/deadlines or harsh correction causes a meltdown.
  2. They ask a lot of deep questions.
  3. They notice when others are feeling down, even if the other person hasn’t expressed it out loud.
  4. They are quite bothered by noisy places (like a restaurant or a busy daycare).
  5. They feel things deeply and are highly emotional.
  6. They may use large words for their age.
  7. They don’t cope well with change or big surprises.

Want to learn more? Check out Dr Elaine Aron’s book The Highly Sensitive Child or highlysensitiverefuge.com if you think your child may be a highly sensitive person.

Kelly Eden is a teacher with a background in childhood disorders and behaviour, a writer, blogger and single mum to two wonderful highly sensitive daughters. Kelly is also a highly sensitive person herself and enjoys encouraging people to embrace their sensitivity as a superpower!
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