Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Parenting Your Highly Sensitive Child

by Jen Perry, MA, MSEd, LPC

Is your child highly sensitive? Does your child seem easily overwhelmed and over-reactive? High sensitivity is a personality trait distinct from other personality traits like introversion or agreeableness. High sensitivity means a person has a sensitive nervous system and processes sensory information more deeply and intensely than their less sensitive peers. They have a keen awareness of the world around them and their inner worlds, noticing many details that go unnoticed by others. They literally see, smell, hear, taste, and feel more in their environment than others. They are often very empathetic, so they are also picking up and processing subtle emotional tones of others. They can't turn this off ~ it is integral to how they experience the world. Perceiving more in the world and experiencing it more intensely, children with high sensitivity easily become overwhelmed and appear to overreact to everyday situations. It isn't hard to imagine the parenting challenges this presents. (Uncertain if your child may be highly sensitive? There is an online test here:

Highly sensitive children often have parents that worry something is "wrong" with their child, after all, their child's peers seem to be handling challenges in the environment just fine. Because high sensitivity occurs at a rate of only 15-20% of the population, many people with high sensitivity carry feelings of there being something "wrong" with them their whole lives. When parents are educated about high sensitivity, they have a profound opportunity to support their children in developing greater life-long self-acceptance, since many of these negative beliefs begin in childhood. If you think that your child is highly sensitive, the researcher of this trait, Elaine Aron, PhD, has written a book called The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them. Educating yourself and your child about temperament and personality traits can help make your journey together far less confusing and conflictual.  Without an understanding of this personality trait, these children are at risk of being seen as abnormal or their behaviors misconstrued as behavioral problems motivated to "manipulate" the parent. As a result, many parents worry that something is "wrong" with their parenting, their child, or both.

Compounding the parenting challenge is the fact that highly sensitive children respond poorly to conventional parenting wisdom. Remember, these children are taking in more sensory and emotional information and processing it more deeply than others. They can't turn this off - it is a personality trait and integral to how they experience being in the world. Children with high sensitivity often take their parents words to heart and can become very hard on themselves as a result. Harsh or shaming parenting can compound their feelings of "wrongness" and can be harmful to their self-esteem.

Fortunately, there are parenting strategies that can help children and their parents better understand themselves and how to be highly sensitive in a world where 80% of the population isn't. Parenting techniques that are based in empathetic responding can help a child not feel "wrong" and can help create a sense of being on the same team between a parent and child. Jamie Williamson has written a beautiful little book, Understanding the Highly Sensitive Child: Seeing an Overwhelming World Through Their Eyes that can be helpful to parents who struggle to see the world through the eyes and experience of their highly sensitive children. Additionally, seeing yourself as your child's emotion coach to help them understand themselves and the world and framing challenges as learning opportunities to help a child grow instead of mis-behavior in need of punishment is incalculable in its positive impact on the child. Two of my favorite authors and researchers in brain science supporting these gentler, more peaceful parenting techniques are John Gottman, PhD, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child  and Daniel Siegel, MD, No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture your Child's Developing Mind.

Raising confident, healthy, and happy kids is the goal of every parent. Parents of highly sensitive children may need extra support in understanding this personality trait. Education is important so that they can strive to meet the needs of their highly sensitive child instead of attempting to control their behavior with the expectation that they become like their less sensitive peers. Recent brain science and research has given us insight into how to best support all children in growing in understanding of themselves and the world around them. By keeping calm, helping an overwhelmed child calm themselves, connecting in the spirit of teamwork between parent and child, responding empathically and empowering the child to grow into peaceful solutions to problems is a set of skills that can be learned and practiced.

Great parents get great support - there is help out there in your parenting journey. Jen Perry is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Parent Educator and Peaceful Parenting Coach with her practice at The Resiliency Center in Flourtown. She loves working with parents of highly sensitive children. More about Jen and her work can be found at

Debunking the Myth of Sensitivity

by Brittiney George

Contrary to popular belief, being sensitive is a gift, not a curse.  It does not mean you are weak.  It does not mean you’re a cry baby, an exaggerator, or a wimp.  You have a gift, the gift of connection.  It means you are highly aware of both your external and internal surroundings.  When someone else smells smoke, you already can see, hear, and feel the fire.  This can be upsetting to the one that only smells smoke, because we often assume that if we can’t see it or feel it, it must not exist.  This same experience can be scary for the one that senses the fire.  It can be crazy making….Does no one else see or feel the way I do?  Statements like:
·      “Stop exaggerating.”
·      “You’re overreacting.”
·      “You’re too sensitive.”
·      “You’re too much.”
can creep in around these experiences and begin to physically and emotionally take their toll.  I often see clients survive by learning to shut down, shut off, hide, disconnect, and to devalue and mistrust their internal cues.  While this works in the short term, long term it can create physical pain, and a deep sadness and longing for “something different”.    Reconnecting the body and mind through transformative touch and talk is a wonderful way to begin to gently explore coming back to one’s senses. 

A session is like settling into your skin after having experienced a lifetime of things getting under your skin.”-Joe Weldon, Co-Founder of The Somatic Therapy Center

Finding a way to create clear boundaries to avoid overstimulation of the senses, and learning to trust your instincts again, is an invaluable tool in being able to reap the benefits of a highly sensitive system.  Come explore ways you can value the wonders of your gift.


Brittiney George, BS, CRS, CST-L3, ICI, CEIM, is a Movement Practitioner offering Somatic Therapy, and gentle, exploratory movement classes at The Resiliency Center.  She also co-leads Connection, Expression and Movement (CEM), a monthly workshop series focusing on body-mind integration.  For a complimentary 55 min. Rubenfeld session contact Brittiney at 610-389-7866 or

Understanding the Gift of High Sensitivity

by Elizabeth Venart, LPC

If you are a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), chances are that you grew up being called “too sensitive”, “too deep”, and “too emotional” by people who didn’t understand you. Most people are not highly sensitive and can’t comprehend that feeling everything around you as if it were you is not a choice but an inborn gift you had no power to turn off. High sensitivity is a gift that brings wisdom, deep compassion, an ability to understand complexity and multiple perspectives, and a deep sense of how and why things are connected.  But, it also brings its struggles.

The fifteen to twenty percent of people who have an inherited trait of high sensitivity have highly sensitive nervous systems and process information deeply. In addition to feeling the moods of others, HSPs observe the world around them, tuned into the nonverbal and unspoken, observant of subtle changes in the environment, deeply moved by the arts and music, and able to form strong connections with animals and the natural world. They ask the tough questions and have uncanny insights into patterns of behavior.

Because empathy happens automatically for the HSP, boundaries are challenging. An HSP feels the sadness of their opponent who is losing a game, connects to the wound underneath the angry mask of a teacher who is yelling, acutely sense the overwhelm of a parent whose attention is desperately wanted but feels out of reach, . . . It is hard for HSPs to stay present for their own emotions and advocate for their own needs.  It is as if the barrier that others have – to keep perspective on “what is me” versus “what is you” doesn’t exist. They feel what others feel, sometimes bombarded by the intensity of an emotion (that is not theirs) without being able to identify its true source. An HSP walks into a bar and. . . .feels the mood of the place, senses the depressed old man at the bar, notices the fake quality of the laugh across the room. 

HSPs contemplate the deepest questions about meaning, justice, right and wrong, compassion – and share these deep questions as soon as they are able to speak – if they feel safe to ask. Highly Sensitive Children can be unnerving to adults, because they see and understand things far beyond their years. They often see things adults cannot – or that adults wish they didn’t.  
Noticing so much, they can get overwhelmed, overtired, exhausted, and inconsolable if they don’t have the quiet time their sensitive systems demand. 

HSPs are often shaken by violence in movies, loud noises, bright lights, scratchy fabrics, crowds, chaos, and the push to do many things quickly, all at once. HSPs can get unglued when a lot is happening around them and by any big changes. They are conscientious and work hard to avoid making mistakes. Striving to avoid overwhelming situations, they often need time to themselves after a busy day, to be quiet and get relief from too much stimulation. They are also more sensitive to hunger, have more allergies, and are more sensitive to medications, caffeine, and alcohol. 

It is challenging for HSPs to make it through their childhoods without internalizing the criticism from the 85% that are not highly sensitive – and this goes double for highly sensitive males (the trait is just as common in boys as girls) who are taught to be “tough” and whose ready emotions are often scorned and ridiculed. Many HSPs internalize this scorn and struggle with an inner critic who tries to silence and squash what they know and what they feel. 

Researcher Elaine Aron first discovered and wrote about the trait of high sensitivity nearly twenty years ago, and several books have been written and communities formed since that time. Yet many highly sensitive persons (HSPs) are unaware that their experiences are normal and even a sign of giftedness. 

The highly sensitive long to be understood and to connect deeply with others, but, too often, they have trouble identifying other HSPs and, over time, learn to keep their experiences and gifts to themselves. Finding support and a community of other HSPs is important on the journey to empowerment and acceptance. If this description reminded you of yourself, a child, or a loved one, take the quiz (online at, check out the links, and consider joining us for our workshop on March 1st. 

You and your gifts matter. My work supporting HSPs in embracing their gifts, releasing their burdens, learning to set healthy boundaries, and stepping into their power brings me tremendous joy and meaning. If I can support you on your journey, please reach out to connect at or 215-233-2002. You can learn more about me on my website at