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Parenting A Highly Sensitive Child Doesn't Have To Be Difficult — Here's What An Expert Suggests

I feel like my husband and I are very emotional and sensitive people. Sometimes intense, if you will. I’m personally scarily empathetic, and my husband is definitely quick to react on his emotions. I don’t know if we’d officially be diagnosed as highly sensitive people, but I was wondering how many of these traits our child may have, and if he’d be considered a “highly sensitive child,” or even just a sensitive child. And more importantly what do great parents do for sensitive kids to make sure they're supporting them in all things?

First of all, what exactly is a highly sensitive child? According to Maureen Healy, author of The Emotionally Healthy Child and expert at highlysensitivekids.com, “Boys and girls who are highly sensitive feel things more deeply and tend to react quickly — in the beginning. They have a small window of comfort. For example, she may not like socks with tight elastic bands or clothes with tags in them. Or he may not like loud noises and crowds such as large birthday parties.” Healy tells Romper in an email interview that she’s describing physical, mental, social, and emotional sensitivities, however, “when people mention 'highly sensitive,' they are typically referring to emotional sensitivity.” And there are definitely things we as parents can do for sensitive kids when it comes to “discipline,” activities, socializing, school, and emotional understanding, according to Healy.

1. Problem Solve Instead Of Discipline

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Healy actually recommends against using the word "discipline," because she says it's an old-fashioned word and she thinks we should be focusing on problem solving rather than punishment. "I also suggest partnering with your child to solve problems, whether it's 'How do we get to school on time?' or 'How can we set rules around screen time?'"

Healy says for one family she works with, she suggested creating a family meeting to discuss and agree to the amount of screen time they were going to have each day — parents and children. "They all agreed to how much screen time they could use daily, and if someone disobeyed a rule — they all already agreed to a consequence," Healy says.

2. Connect With Them To Learn Their Interests

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Healy says every child is different, but many highly sensitive children enjoy the arts, nature, and helping others. "Connect with your child and see what they're interested in. Some things that highly sensitive children often enjoy are the arts (for example, an art museum, learning to paint, dance class), nature (going for a walk, visiting penguins in the zoo, watching a nature documentary) or helping others (volunteering at your local animal shelter, for example)."

3. Don't Force Them On Playdates

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As an introverted and heavily empathetic person, sometimes hanging out with a group of people or even doing anything outside of the house is the worst. When it comes to your sensitive child, Healy says it's important to truly listen to them and consider their input. "If they say, 'I don't want to play with Harry,' then don't set up a playdate with him even though he's your neighbor, and it's easy for you," she explains.

"A highly sensitive child oftentimes has strong preferences, and taking those preferences into consideration — as well as working with your child — is going to be important to build your parent-child connection and learning how to help your child make smart choices," Healy says.

4. Teach Them How To Successfully Navigate School

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When asked how to ensure your sensitive child is comfortable at school, Healy says, "Life isn't about being comfortable. Every child — sensitive or not — needs to learn how to embrace discomfort and find ways to successfully navigate their world. Many schools, for example, allow children to use headphones to cancel out noise in the classroom if he or she is sound sensitive."

5. Help Others Understand Your Child Better So They Can Be Conscientious Of Their Needs

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So how can you help others (and yourself) understand your child better so everyone can be conscientious of their needs? Healy suggests sharing articles, books, and information to help educate teachers and family members on your child's traits and personality. Healy also suggests her book Energetic Keys to Indigo Kids, which is about how to help highly sensitive, yet strong-willed children succeed, she says. "This describes their mindset and strategies to parent them effectively."