Does your little person seem to struggle with physical sensations like seams and tags? Do they feel and express big feelings? Maybe they ask you lots of questions about what is coming up that day? Combined with anxiety, the anxious highly sensitive child may find the world a big, scary and overwhelming place.
This article by Psychologist Kim Shortridge may help you in understanding your child’s needs, and adapting your parenting to meet them.
Many highly sensitive children tend to have big feelings and specific sensory preferences (and dislikes!). This is because their nervous system is more alert, and quicker to react, to different stimulus.
According to Elaine Aron, approximately 15-20% of people would meet her criteria for being highly sensitive. You can undertake the test on her website here to better understand your child’s temperament and physical experience.
“Highly sensitive” is not a diagnosis or a label. Each highly sensitive child will have a different combination of traits.
It’s important to remember that worries are normal, as they’re linked to our fight/flight survival instincts. If people didn’t have fears, they would make all sorts of silly decisions that put themselves and others in danger.
Your child may be anxious about one particular thing/situation, or they may have many worries. When children are worried, then tend to seek lots of reassurance, ask lots of questions about what’s coming up, complain of physical issues like a sore tummy, and will try to avoid things that make them feel uncomfortable/anxious.
If your child is significantly distressed, or their worries stop them from doing things they should be, then it’s something that can and should be addressed with a psychologist.
Then you have a little person with big feelings! Your child is likely become overloaded with sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings, and will find their emotions harder to regulate.
Sensory overload often fuels anxious thoughts, and when kids are anxious, the reverse sometimes happens. Their anxiety fuels fuel sensory overload.
An example might be a child who doesn’t like seams in socks, and needs to go through 4 pairs before they find a suitable one. This then makes them late for school, which makes them feel worried about getting into trouble or looking silly. They may then try to get out of going to school.
It’s s cycle of sensitivity, anxiety and overwhelm that can repeat over and over in a number of ways.
If you have an anxious, highly sensitive child you may find that they tend to be insightful about their own, and others emotions.
This ability to ‘tune in’ to emotions is great attribute, but when it’s combined with the sensory overload, it can also be highly taxing for them.
Highly sensitive children are often working with limited resources because they have used them all up just coping with the day. If you find that your child holds it together beautifully at school but let’s all of their emotions loose when they get home, it’s because home is a ‘safe’ place for them to be who they are.
But that doesn’t always make things easy for you and the rest of your family.
Children’s needs vary depending on their developmental level. This advice is intended for parents of children who can use and understand language.
Here are some things that you can do to help:
There are many other things that parents and children can do to cope when they are anxious and highly sensitive. This list of tips is obviously not exhaustive. Working out what is right for your child may mean talking to other parents, reading some great books, or talking to a professional.
Occupational Therapists and Psychologists can help anxious, sensitive children in many ways. Children can learn strategies to evaluate their worry thoughts, and come up with more helpful thoughts. They can also learn how to cope with the feelings in their body.
If you think your child is anxious and/or highly sensitive, please feel welcome to contact Kids First Children’s Services to chat about y our child’s needs and find out how we can help.© 2018 Kids First Children’s Services
If you have concerns for your sensitive, anxious child or would like more information about parenting strategies that work, please contact us on 9938 5419 or complete the ‘Contact Us’ form below.
Elaine Aron – http://hsperson.com
Aron, E. N. (2002). The highly sensitive child: Helping our children thrive when the world overwhelms them.
Rapee, R. M., Wignall, A., Spence, S., Cobham, V., & Lyneham, H. (2008). Helping your anxious child: A step-by-step guide for parents (2nd ed).
American Psychiatric Association. (2014). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental health disorders (5th ed). Washington DC: Author.