Perhaps you took the self-test for a Highly Sensitive Children (HSC) on Dr. Elaine Aron’s website, and you know this child is different from your other children. Perhaps your first clue was the way in which he/she would remove any article of clothing that wasn’t comfortable. How your child especially dislikes wet or sandy bathing suits, or refuses to wear socks and underwear, and has a meltdown almost every day after you pick him/her up from preschool. It seems you are the only person they feel safe enough to have meltdowns in front of. That is actually a testament to how much your HSC child loves and trusts you. They feel safe enough with you to share and purge their overwhelming feelings.
Empath Children or Highly Sensitive Children have more delicate nervous systems and get quickly overwhelmed by too many stimuli. Some examples of stimuli include: fluorescent lights that are too bright, loud banging noises outside the window from a construction site, the tag in their pants is uncomfortably rubbing on their skin, or a friend at school or a teacher hurt their feelings; just one of these makes for prime conditions for a meltdown. If they are hungry to boot’ it could last another 20 minutes until you can get some food down their throat. I see these meltdowns as a way of purging their nervous systems from the day’s upsets.
These seeming annoyances aren’t the only things that Empath Children are known for. They are remarkable souls who came here as a soul group to help heal and change our world. They are born to be healers, counselors, and change agents. There are many types of personalities both introverts and extroverts. As babies, they were so alert it was almost freaky the way their gaze penetrated your soul. The standard five senses aren’t the only senses they use. They can also feel what others are feeling, and many can read your thoughts, or see things we don’t understand, such as spirit guides, angels, spirits or auras.
I was offering guidance and support to a customer who is an Empath. She described some of her daughter’s idiosyncrasies that can only mean one thing. I was helping her identify the unique traits that most HSC/Empath children share. Like most good parents, she wanted to know how she could help her daughter, what she should expect, and how to make things run smoothly and ultimately raise a resilient child with coping skills. This is what I told her:
#1). The most important thing to remember is there is nothing wrong with your HSC! These children do not need fixing. This is not a diagnosis, they are not damaged or broken goods. Quite the contrary, they are unique, intelligent, talented and gifted beings and how you parent them, how you support them will lay the foundation for their future success and their future self-worth. As a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) myself, I can remember feeling very out of place, different, and sad most of the time. It can be painful to live as an Empath when surrounded by people who are not. Note: The terms Highly Sensitive Person or Child and Empath are used interchangeably, please see this prior post that explains the difference between HSPs and Empaths.
#2) Do not expect to get much education, support or understanding for your HSC from the western medical community. They may even suggest medicating them because they can often display signs of generalized anxiety, constant worry, even panic disorder. The tendency to catastrophize is part of the HSC nature. It’s as if their little nervous systems want to prepare them for the worst possible scenario any chance it has. My daughter’s friend is also a HSC. She is always afraid of being late, so she is always on her mother about time, needing to leave now in case there is traffic and on and on. If this took place in front of a Western medical professional unfamiliar with Highly Sensitives, they could misinterpret it many different ways. The most common is something called Sensory Processing Disorder, which is common in children on the autism spectrum. This is not the same thing. It’s possible your child could have sensory processing disorder and be Highly Sensitive at the same time. SPD is marked by oversensitivity to things in the environment. Everyday sounds may be painful or overwhelming. The light touch of a shirt may chafe the skin. Others with sensory processing disorder may:
- Be uncoordinated
- Bump into things
- Be unable to tell where their limbs are in space
- Be hard to engage in conversation or play
Clearly, this is not the same as being Highly Sensitive but it’s common for a doctor or medical professional to assume this by your description of your child. Luckily, Empath Children respond very well to alternative healthcare and homeopathic or naturopathic treatments. Food sensitivities are also very common so if you suspect them, have your child tested. It will make such a huge difference in their behavior. I recommend getting the ALCAT test done, which also tests for allergies to preservatives and additives. Here is their website, https://cellsciencesystems.com/patients/alcat-test/
#3) Sleep, getting to sleep, staying asleep, transitioning into sleep, getting through the night without nightmares could prove a challenge for your HSC and you as well. Transitions are hard for HSCs. Transitioning from school to home can be difficult. At first they say they don’t want to go to school, they cry and have a meltdown then when you go to pick them up, they don’t want to leave. They could be laughing with 3-4 friends when you pick them up, have a huge smile on their face, but by the time you both are in the car, your child is crying and sobbing saying what a horrible day it’s been. I call this the Highly Sensitive Meltdown. Below are things to assess before engaging too deeply with your HSC in that state:
#4) Is she hungry aka HANGRY? Low blood sugar effects HSC more than the average person. In our case 70% of meltdowns could be avoided entirely if your HSC has healthy snacks every couple of hours. Are they tired? This is a no-brainer. Are they picking up the feelings of everyone around them? Is the sadness even theirs? Most Empaths act like emotional sponges and absorb the energy field around them. Since emotions are energy, they pick them up, whether it’s sadness, anger, jealousy or despair. Many possess the phenomena of clairsentience, which means clear feeling, or they can clearly feel what others are feeling. This is overwhelming when it happens to an adult, let alone a child. Your HSC needs lots and lots of compassion and understanding. It’s a lot to try and process such big emotions on their own. When my daughter states that she feels sad but doesn’t know why, I ask her to close her eyes, take some deep breathes and listen for that whisper within. I ask her, or have her ask: Is this my own feeling? 9 times out of 10, it is not hers. Once confirmed that it belongs to someone else, she either imagines flicking it back to the person, or pulling it up and outside of herself and throwing it onto a fire, or putting bubble wrap on top of it and smashing it up. Let them use their imagination.
#5) Dislikes yelling, commotion or arguing. If you happen to be like most, average families, some yelling and arguing is going on. Once you notice the reaction your Empath Child has to it, I bet you use your voice less harshly in the future. I know it’s hard, especially at the moment. I will be the first to admit, raising kids can be a total pain in the a** at times. Raising an Empath or a Highly Sensitive can be worse. If you are an Empath on top of it, I know how you feel, and I know it’s not easy. It can be so annoying that you want to scream. Please see this post I wrote to remind you of the rewards and benefits, the gifts that come with being entrusted to raise a gifted Empath,
#6) You, the parent will learn to advocate and your child will count on you to continue to be their “translator or go-between” for many years to come. Do not listen to other parents, who ignorantly and rudely try to give you parenting advice or tell you what you are doing wrong. My Empath child dislikes competition or being judged in any way shape or form. She did a gymnastics camp one summer and was allowed to miss the “talent show” every Friday where they performed. My former friend lectured me on “if she misses a talent show now, what will she want to miss in the future.” As if I am going to force my child, traumatize her, to go up in front of a bunch of strangers just so I could follow the crowd, follow the lead without questioning if it is helpful or harmful to my child.
#7) Never tell your child, or let anyone else tell them, that he/she needs “thicker skin” or that he/she is “too sensitive.” They do not need to be like everyone else. Quite the contrary, more people need to be like your HSC. They are kind, considerate of others, usually have the best manners (expect other parents to comment on how polite your HSC is on play dates and sleepovers), they are the epitome of putting themselves in other people’s shoes. That is what makes them so conscientious. Their uncanny ability to sense the emotions of others makes them great therapists, counselors, healers, visionaries, dreamers, poets, artists, animal rescuers and activists for all that is unjust in this world. Picture a world where the media is not making stupid people famous, but instead is reporting on the random acts of kindness, or brave, heroic, kind and loving acts probably carried out by an Empath.
#8) Must Use Gentle Disciplinary Measures with an Empath Child- They cannot be disciplined in the same way other children are... It’s essential for me to note that the word discipline means to teach and not punish. Punishing your HSC could be extremely damaging. Especially if they perceive they are being punished for being who they are. Asking my HSC to stop crying or stop having a meltdown is akin to asking her to be a redhead instead of a blonde. If I talked about her being a redhead all the time, she would begin to think there is something inherently wrong with her, especially if I can’t accept her for who she is. This is something I have to work at too.
#9) Downtime is a Must! Most Empaths will tell you that it can be overwhelming when they have too much to do in too little time and do not have enough downtime. This is the same for children, especially in an era where they are overscheduled, to begin with. We have our kids signed up for things like team sports, or afterschool dance classes, or afterschool programs such as Girls Inc. or Boys & Girls Club. Of course, many of these things are a necessity for working parents, but take that into consideration on the weekends. I let me daughter lounge in bed for the entire morning if she wants to on the weekends. Eventually, she will get sick of it and go outside on her trampoline to burn off energy. She is an only child, so she has lots of alone time where she almost always comes up with a creative project to do. Basically, the idea is to have them be bored. Try not to overschedule play dates or sleepovers on the weekend. Keep it to one sleepover a weekend, and it’s totally ok for her not to play with friends at all one weekend here and there.
#10) One thing less to worry about in the teenage years: Sensitive Empaths are cautious. They are careful of getting in trouble, they couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing someone. They are cautious of hurting themselves so they won’t be driving crazy, and they are careful about how things will affect them so they won’t jump head first into trying alcohol or drugs. Especially the more and more you talk to them about these things, they will even have some great excuses for avoiding a situation like being offered alcohol or weed. With that said, Highly Sensitive Empaths are at a greater risk for Substance Use Disorders due to the feelings of calm or euphoria that drugs produce. Start teaching them coping skills now. Teach them how to meditate and relax on their own, so they feel empowered to change how they feel naturally, and they learn that they can be in charge of how they feel. I know, I know, it sounds like a lot of work, but I can guarantee you it will be worth it. You are already a special and unique parent, you were chosen to raise this gifted soul!
Exercises and Meditations
Here is an exercise I do when my daughter is super stressed during the day. It’s called “Dial it Back.” Ask her to close her eyes, take some deep, slow breathes. Then ask her to imagine a dial, like the one on the stove. You may want to show her before you start. Age appropriate, you can ask her to choose who holds the dial for her….is it a unicorn or a fairy? A puppy or a horse? Of course, boys may want to imagine a dinosaur or a superhero. Whatever it is, ask them to hold the dial in front of them. Ask your child to imagine either the fairy or themselves dialing it back from a 10 to a 1. As their dial goes back remind them that so is their stress and anxiety. You want it to be at least a 3. If it is higher, take them through it again.
A Nighttime meditation we do is counting backward from 10 to 1. I always say that “by the time you hear my voice say the number 1, you will be fast asleep, sleeping well, all through the night, with no nightmares or waking up….” As I start with the number 10, I ask her to look back at her day and chose the 5 things she is most grateful for. Sometimes she says it out loud and other times she keeps it to herself. Then I say you are going deeper and deeper into a state of relaxation, feeling your toes scalp first, then going down to the neck, the arms, all the way to the toes before we get to one. For example, I say, “Number 5 you continue to go deeper and deeper into a state of relaxation, preparing for a great night’s sleep, now you feel all of the muscles in your torso completely relax, your back is totally relaxed and loose, preparing for sleep now….you feel so tired, your eyes are heavy, your head and neck are heavy and hard to lift off of the pillow.
“Now, for continuing to go deeper and further into this relaxed state your hips and thighs are completely relaxed.” I am also usually rubbing her feet with Magnesium Cream | Aid with Sleep and Emotional Fatigue. The magnesium helps with relaxation and sleep. Magnesium works really well on Empaths, and the skin is the best delivery system because it only takes what it needs.