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What a highly sensitive parent needs to know

About a decade ago, a friend of mine introduced me to the work of psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron. 

In scientific terms, her research is referred to as sensory processing sensitivity and also known as highly sensitive person. 

What fascinated me the most was that analysing before acting or reflecting on life's experiences deeply is not a disorder but a trait 20% of humans are born with. 

Animal lovers may find it interesting to hear that over 100 species including fruit flies, crows, cats and horses were observed to have brains that work a little differently.

Why is this relevant for parenting?

In a family of 5, statistically one member is born to be more aware of life’s subtleties and their senses such as: 

👐🏻 touching

🧏🏻‍♀️ hearing

👃🏻 smelling 

👁️ seeing

🍽️ tasting

may be heightened. 

When a child is exposed to loud noises, strong smells, unusual food, violent images or sports that can inflict pain - he or she may have a strong reaction. 

What I am learning is that this minority of people can be seen by society as weaker and are told to:

🛑 toughen up 

🛑 grow a thicker skin

🛑 stop being so soft

🛑 get over it or 

🛑 stop crying. 

When these demands are possibly being made in schools, sports, homes and public places a highly sensitive child and person may start to fall for the lie that there is something wrong with them. 

Listening to others’ beliefs over and over can cause low self-esteem. 

What if this one fifth of the world’s population was not seen as inferior or needing to adapt but considered to be as courageous as the normal sensitive 80% fellow human beings?

What if it took a lot of strength to be required to fit into a world that is built for extroverted fast-acting adventurers where one constantly feels to be a step behind?

What if there was a home on this planet for this smaller cohort (who needs to turn within to recharge their social battery) because their contribution was vital for humanity’s evolution?

This bestselling author explains that a herd of 100 deer arriving at a lush green meadow, relies on its 15-20 members to stay back at first and analyse the possibility of:

🌿 the grass being poisonous 

🌿 predators lurking or

🌿 considering other dangers the herd majority doesn’t pause for. 

If one of the above was to endanger the 80 quick action-takers, its fellow pro and con ponderers would ensure the survival of the group. 

When working with a client who is highly sensitive or whose child has this innate personality trait, I often hear that it comes with the ability to:

👞 put oneself into others’ shoes easily

👞 have compassion and 

👞 high empathy. 

What a parent needs to know about this gift to observe all of it and not to miss a thing - is it calls for more private space & downtime. 

If a child comes home from a birthday party and shares the colour and patterns of others’ socks, the underlying request a parent could hear is:

time for more tranquil and calmer activities to avoid over-stimulation 🙏.

A mother once shared with me that her daughter simply didn’t enjoy being in a big crowd or busy streets.

We worked on her having the ability to let her mother know when her limit was reached. 

❓Does it mean this mum is overprotective?

❓Should the daughter not learn to be resilient and bear the discomfort?

❓Isn’t this how ‘snowflake generation’ was raised?

Loads of good questions I have heard over the years and I am grateful for. 

Sometimes asking a counter question to see the longterm impact can be helpful. 

Before boundaries can be taught or set in place, we need to give ourselves permission to explore alternative messages to what we heard growing up. 

The long-term result of traditional parenting where a child is talked out their feelings, I am witnessing in adults often leads to:

🔴 rage & anger 


🟢 not knowing that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. 

On the other hand a feeling of safety, allows for the opportunity to keep testing the waters further 🌊. 

One of my children is teaching me that it is ok to not push beyond my limits and that there is a difference between having high standards and trying to be perfect. 

What is your definition for striving for quality?

When I feel overwhelmed, start procrastinating or become demanding in my parenting - my sensitivity usually wants a word with me. 

This quieter more introverted voice doesn’t always get heard because the program of old where might is right and shouting & overpowering tries to dominate my inside.

Even though I don’t always practise it successfully, my striving is to be firm and kind.

When change is needed, like:

🧡 truly allowing our sons to be soft

🧡 to allow our daughter to pick her own friend

🧡 to allow ourselves to withdraw when outside voices are too much

… we may feel we don’t belong in this chaotic ever-faster moving world where it seems to become impossible to keep up. 

What if the introverted few and especially our children showed us that real progress happens when we give ourselves permission to slow down? 

Slowly, the snail reaches the finish line 🐌.

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