About the HSC
You may well be raising a Highly Sensitive Child (HSC). The highly sensitive child discusses the concept of a minority group of people within society who are born with a highly reactive nervous system which makes them sensitive to their environment, their peers and their emotions. Though all HSCs are different, with some being outgoing and others being more introvert, they share several common traits. The best way to find out of your child might be an HSC if to take the online questionnaire.
The most important thing to remember is that being highly sensitive is not a problem that needs to be overcome. Though HSCs are prone to anxiety and depression, theirs is an inborn personality trait that, with the right parenting, can breed incredibly special individuals. In the wrong hands, however, an HSC is at greater risk of developing anxiety and becoming lonely and despondent.
I first realised that my eldest daughter was a little different to most babies shortly after she was born. She, like many, wanted to be close at all times but that need was particularly intense and she was unable to sleep even beside me in our bed. She needed to be physically sleeping on myself or her father which led to 4 months of us sleeping in shifts as she slept peacefully on our chests. She wouldn’t tolerate a pram, so I wore her everywhere in a sling and she quickly became overtired and overstimulated which could result in hours of inconsolable crying. In the early weeks, I felt like I was failing her until I read Dr. Sears’ theories on High Needs Babies. Suddenly, I felt not only relieved that she wasn’t just miserable but also validated in the choices we had made which gave me a great deal of confidence in my abilities to parent her. From there, we never looked back. As she has grown, she has always been quite a unique little character. At 3, she’s already particular about her appearance, never messy and always needing to change her clothes for the slightest bit of dirt. She has never raised a hand to her friends and cries over the plight of others. She has already expressed a desire to be a doctor and get involved in VSO. She is magical and she absolutely blows my mind. On the flip side, she is also very easily emotionally wounded and requires almost constant attention from multiple people which, with another child to consider, is impossible most of the time. Parenting my little HSC is a challenge, but understanding her needs has been the key to helping her fulfil her potential and to be a happy, confident and outgoing child.
As a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) myself, discovering this concept has explained many of my own behaviours and feelings over the years, too. It has been invaluable in relating to my daughter when she needs it the very most.
It’s all in the parenting
Responsive parenting is important in the development of all children, but for HSCs it is absolutely crucial. Understanding their needs and responding appropriately helps them to make sense of their emotions, to process them and eventually it gives them the tools to use them in positive, expressive and creative ways.
Whilst an HSC might sometimes appear to be “spoiled” or demanding, often it is simply that they are overwhelmed and unable to cope with their big feelings. A gentle voice guiding them through what they are feeling and how best to process those feelings can make the difference between a supposed behavioural issue and a positive learning experience. Often they may not appear to be listening, but will surprise you by repeating what you were saying at a later time and date meaning they are taking it in for a time that they feel more able to process it.
An HSC may seem to be clingy which can become problematic around pre-school time for parents who must return to work. Each HSC is different and the pace at which they develop will vary. Whilst some are ready for nursery under 1 year old, some will be reluctant to go to school until they are 7 or 8 years old. The answer is not always simple, but options do exist for parents who work who also wish to home educate their children. Allowed to go at their own pace, an HSC will in time become more confident in going it alone. Any sooner and they risk becoming insecure and anxious. Some of the best answers to this scenario come from experienced home educators.
When it comes to HSCs, it is often less about understanding the reasons for their behaviour than understanding their personality and triggers and their reasons may seem irrational at times. That’s not to say that the reasons don’t matter, just that they may not be typical or understandable to you as a parent. Validating their emotions and understanding them doesn’t reinforce their behaviour, rather it is the perfect emotional support to guide them into being more resilient. The understanding and warmth of someone who knows more about the world than we do is a very reassuring thing.
Common triggers include: Loud noises/places, Mess, Scratchy clothes/Labels, Strangers, Other Children, Too much TV, Too much time spent outdoors, Wet clothes, Sand/Odd textures, Surprises, Pain, Chaos and Punishment.
Identifying your child’s triggers is important in knowing how best to support them. By avoiding conflicts you needn’t worry that you are creating a fussy or spoiled adult, instead you are avoiding creating long term negative associations and by gradually encouraging them to experiment when they feel comfortable, and reminding them of their success, your HSC is sure to blossom in your care.