You’re too sensitive. You cry too much. You shouldn’t be so upset about that.
Perhaps you’ve made similar comments to your child. Maybe they’ve even been said to you, leaving you with feelings of guilt and shame.
Psychologist and author Elaine Aron estimates 20% of people are highly sensitive. This God-given trait is found in both males and females, across all cultures. But being a highly sensitive person in our very insensitive world isn’t always easy.
In her book “The Highly Sensitive Child,” Aron writes, “Having an HSC is a great blessing … to have an exceptional child you must be willing to have an exceptional child. You have one.”
Highly sensitive people process stimuli in a more intense and heightened manner than most. Things like a loud room, bright lights, stubbing one’s toe or critical comments are all felt more deeply. They tend to notice more and reflect deeply before making a decision. They are empathic, smart, creative and more easily overwhelmed than most.
You’ve probably heard of some pretty amazing highly sensitive people: Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Walt Disney, just to name a few.
I confess, I didn’t know being highly sensitive was even a thing until God blessed me with a highly sensitive child. But never underestimate the power of God and his ability to teach you a thing or two about his own image.
Looking back now, it’s easy to see the signs of her high sensitivity as early as the first months of her life. She had acid reflux as an infant, which translated into lots of crying! It seemed only I could comfort her, and even I had a tough time doing so.
I remember when she was just a month old, someone wanted to hold her and she wasn’t going to have it. I’ll never forget when they told me she was “too young for that.” Looking back, it’s clear this was all part of her sensitive nature, which helped create a bond between us early on.
My daughter taught me what it means to cling to the Lord. Joshua 23:8 says to cling to the Lord, to hold fast to Him. So many times, when she clung to me I was reminded how my Lord wants me to cling to Him.
She was a few years old before I discovered that so much about her is simply an extension of her sensitive nature. To say she can be anxious is sometimes an understatement, and she hates change. I have to admit, these things certainly try my patience.
It’s not easy when your child is easily overwhelmed and worried about things most kids don’t even notice. Yet, the positives of her high sensitivity are profound. She is extremely intelligent and has one of the most compassionate hearts I’ve ever known. She can spot the shyest kid in the room and will go over to make friends in an instant. She’s a deep thinker and loves big!
Yet, from the outside looking in, it may seem like the highly sensitive person is a crybaby or attention-seeker, but that is far from the truth.
Jeanette Hanscome, a Christian author and speaker, is highly sensitive and says being so hasn’t been easy. “Every time someone attached the word to me (‘you’re very sensitive’), even if I knew they didn’t mean it as a put-down, I saw myself as a wimp,” she said in her blog, Confessions of a Highly-Sensitive Person. “How refreshing to know that sensitive is simply the way some of us are wired. Jesus wept. David spewed out every emotion and thought to God. And God created each of us exactly how He wanted us.”
I’ve experienced how overwhelming life can be for my highly sensitive child many times. And I know what the “world” thinks about highly sensitive people. Our culture tells us that everyone should fit into a nice little box. But I’ve learned from my daughter that sometimes we don’t all fit in the same box. And that’s OK. After all, we are God’s workmanship, and He doesn’t make mistakes.
As parents, we must teach our children how to communicate and how to deal with their feelings. This is vital because if we don’t, the world will. Unfortunately, many people were never taught what to do with their feelings, which pushes them toward anxiety and depression.
I’ve talked with several Christian parents of highly sensitive children, and they agree valuing and validating the highly sensitive child is important.
“Bringing up a success to match a failure is important for wiring your child’s brain for self-esteem,” Aron writes.
Let your child know you understand them. Being highly sensitive can be lonely—your child wants to know they are not alone. Even in disciplining, I’ve learned the power of validating feelings. I’m a more “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” type, but my daughter has shown me the importance of seeing things through someone else’s eyes.
Just because something isn’t cold/painful/etc. to me, doesn’t mean it isn’t reality for her.
Regardless if your child is highly sensitive or not, I encourage you to look at them as the God-given reflection they are. We were all made in the image of God. Consider how you can help your child discover their unique God-given gifts and to use them for His glory.
Let’s do everything we can to nurture those gifts so they value themselves as sons and daughters of the King. After all, they were made in His image.
“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).
Amy Potter, a member of Southeast Christian Church, is a prayer warrior, wife, mother, teacher, worker, writer, and a few other things – a Supermom.