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Tips for Raising a Highly Sensitive Child

What is a Highly Sensitive Child?

A highly sensitive child, often referred to as an HSC, is a child who possesses a heightened level of sensitivity to their environment and emotions. Although not considered a disorder, an HSC possesses a nervous system that processes stimuli in different ways than their less-sensitive peers. In this way, they can be considered neurodivergent.

Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them (2002), reports that up to twenty percent of children can be classified as being highly sensitive.

highly sensitive child

Common Traits of Highly Sensitive Children

What does having a highly sensitive child mean? Many parents may not immediately realize their child has the following diagnosable and sometimes challenging characteristics:

  • Increased sensitivity to stimulating environments than their peers 
  • Difficulty with socialization
  • Easily overwhelmed 
  • Strong sense empathy and compassion
  • Intense emotional reactions, both positive and negative
  • Preference for familiarity and a sense of security therefore often fearful of new environments and/or people
  • Increased self-consciousness 
  • Easily offended
  • Intense need for control and rigidity in decisions
  • Prone to emotional extremes and “meltdowns”

Not all personality traits of an HSC are so challenging. When an HSC is nurtured and assisted in managing their “inner worlds”, they can also possess advanced abilities in:

  • Empathy
  • Creativity
  • Innovation
  • Attenuation to detail
  • Humor

Highly Sensitive Child Parenting Strategies 

Despite the potential challenges of life with an HSC, there are some ways to effectively comfort them and encourage healthy social and neurological development.

Avoid Over-stimulation (Both Socially and Physically)

Over-stimulation is a frequent occurrence for Highly Sensitive Children because avoidance of all the things that overwhelm them is not an option. This is because they are hyper aware of their environment, taking in every sight, sound, smell, and feeling within their radius. This can look like a keen perspective—or reaction to—others’ emotions, crowded environments, disdain for certain tastes, smells, sights or sounds, or overreaction to visceral sensations such as certain types of clothing or accessories such as eyeglasses or hair ties, or even touch. It takes time and a great deal of effort for them to process this information, even in a peaceful environment. Therefore, noisy, busy, and intensely stimulating situations should be limited. Examples of situations that may overstimulate a Highly Sensitive Child include: 

  • Video arcades
  • Indoor malls
  • Amusement parks
  • Carnivals
  • Airports
  • Unfamiliar environments 

Physical Sensations:

  • Itchy fabrics or tags on clothing
  • Temperature (feeling too hot or cold)
  • Pressure or pain
  • Sounds and lights

Compensatory Strategies for Highly Sensitive Children


Research has shown that spending time in nature reduces stress. The HSC is particularly responsive to natural environments of trees, trails, and mountains. Even looking at photos of nature or listening to nature sounds can calm an overstimulated child. A daily dose of nature is ideal for sensitive children, and investing in house plants or a book of natural photography can serve as a substitute. The success of this strategy derives from the HSC’s tendency to notice the details within the complex beauty of nature.


Immersion in water and listening to water sounds is calming. Whether in nature (lakes, streams, or oceans) or man-made (a bath, shower, or fountain), Highly Sensitive Children are often soothed by water. Overstimulated kids respond well to warm baths or showers, especially when paired with aromatic scents like lavender. Offering a warm bath along with soothing sounds or an audio book can help fend off stressors. 

Quiet Time

For an overstimulated child, taking time alone or with a parent in a quiet room provides an opportunity for deep processing. Highly sensitive children have rich inner worlds that they need to visit frequently. Be sure to let your child know this is not a punishment, rather an opportunity to gather themselves and process their thoughts. Routine quiet time can help prevent current or future over-stimulation. Pay particular attention to the lighting as natural light is best, and avoid strong smells in the room.


A gentle touch from calm hands can be reassuring to an overstimulated child. Whether you hug, massage, pat, or caress, your child may benefit from the contact. It’s important to ask for feedback, “Does this feel good?” “Is this too much (or not enough) pressure?” Some children may benefit from cuddling or a hug, while for others this could contribute to additional overstimulation–consent and communication are key. 


Highly sensitive children have highly sensitive bodies, especially when it comes to sleep. Your child will become overstimulated more easily if they are lacking in sleep or sleep quality. Calming your child with one of the methods above followed by ensuring adequate sleeping hours and sleep quality will greatly improve your child's ability to tolerate stimulation. Invest in blackout curtains, white noise machines, comfortable bedding, and use a structured bedtime routine to help your child sleep. Keeping bedtime and wake times consistent help to regulate sleep-wake cycles, leading to more restorative rest. Always avoid electronic screens for one hour before bed.

Are you Born with HSP or Develop It?

A highly sensitive child can be considered neurodivergent in that their way of processing information is different from their peers. Such personality traits are thought to be present at birth and are expressed as the child grows because of a combination of factors including genetics, evolution, and early childhood experiences. It is also hereditary. A highly sensitive child can be described as having vestigial defense mechanisms from the evolution of our species. An overactive “flight-or-fight” dopamine response is due to a heightened need to avoid dangerous situations. There was a time when this response was necessary for human survival but it’s now known that without help, this can result in anxiety later in life, as these mechanisms are typically unnecessary in our present-time society. 

Do Kids Grow Out of HSP?

Although Highly Sensitive Children will unlikely grow out of their hypersensitivities, seeking professional help to learn coping strategies and self-reliance as the child grows will promote healthy development and success with their unique and often talented temperament. 

Professional Help for a Highly Sensitive Child

Professionals that help support the healthy development of a Highly Sensitive Child include psychological clinicians, social workers, family counselors or coaches, and communication specialists. Such professionals will help educate the child and family about strategies to ensure personal success as the child navigates their environment, social relationships, formal education, and professional careers. Following an evaluation by a professional, a treatment plan will be agreed upon with the parents' approval and the learning process can begin. 

Final Words

Life with a Highly Sensitive Child can seem challenging at times but the strategies we provided in this article will make their life and your parenting more effective and relaxed. Teaching them how to self-manage their sensitivities is essential as they grow more independent. Your child will thrive as a result of you understanding their inner workings, and soon they will be able to use their unique characteristics to reach their fullest potential.

Soundsory Music and Movement Program helps in sensory and emotional regulation. Learn more about Soundsory.

Amy BOREL, Speech-Language Pathologist
Amy BOREL, Speech-Language Pathologist
Amy Borel is an American Speech-Language Pathologist, Writer, Editor, and English Teaching Professional. She graduated with her Master's degree from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan in the United States. Now living in Northern France, she enjoys writing and editing English for French organizations and teaching English to adult students.

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