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Highly Sensitive Children

I am fascinated by highly sensitive children and adults. Generally speaking, they are extremely creative people, who are usually also perfectionists. They see, hear, feel, and experience things in a way that is much more in tune with the nuances rather than the broad scope. They recreate their experiences through many different types of media, including tantrums.

Every parent of a highly sensitive child I have ever spoken with describes almost unbearable tantrums when their child was young. These tantrums, I theorize, were the child’s method of releasing all of the pent-up energy it takes to filter out the constant sensory stimulation experienced by just being part of the everyday world.

The only antidote to sensory overload is to teach children (and adults) to recognize their own internal cues for when this overload is happening. With the support of caring others, the individual must take ever increasing responsibility over his self-regulation. If the concert is too loud, bring ear plugs or just do not go. If the incense in church is too overwhelming, make you sick, headachey or even nauseous, leave before it is used.

Related to that, parents and caregivers must be ready to “listen” for different methods children use to communicate their feelings of overwhelm. While initially this may be the dreaded tantrum, all caregivers must respect when the child uses actual language and learned vocabulary to express how he is most comfortable.

There are different theories about how highly sensitive child copes with these sensitivities in adulthood. After having observed and talked to thousands of children and adults, I believe that people never really “get over” their sensitivities. Rather, we structure our worlds so that they feel comfortable, safe and free of, or with minimal exposure to, those sensory stressors. As adults we can do this. And as young children’s caregivers we can provide sensory-sensitive environments that allow children to express their creativity without tantrums.

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