Parenting a Highly Sensitive Child

Parenting a Highly Sensitive Child

Does your child often observe first in social situations and join later? Does she like her shoes tied a certain way or ask for tags to be cut out of clothing? Does she seem to identify how you are feeling very quickly or ask a lot of deep questions? Have others labeled your child as “emotional”? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may be parenting a highly sensitive child.

Dr. Elaine Aron is a Clinical Psychologist and researcher who first coined the term “highly sensitive child.” She reports that these children are born with a sensitive nervous system that is quick to react to both external and internal stimuli. According to her research, highly sensitive children make up 15 to 20% of kids. Things such as lights, sounds, smells, and even the moods and emotions of other people appear to affect them differently than other children.

Characteristics of a Highly Sensitive Child

Highly sensitive children share some key characteristics. If your child is a highly sensitive child, they may:

  • Be bothered by things like seams in socks and tags on clothing
  • Be easily startled by loud noises, bright lights, changes in temperature, or crowded places
  • Dislike changes in plans or big surprises – whether positive or negative
  • Be very aware of the emotions of others
  • Be easily dysregulated and have strong feelings
  • Ask a lot of deep questions and be very contemplative
  • Observe before interacting, especially in groups or with unfamiliar people

Parenting a Highly Sensitive Child

Parenting a highly sensitive child can be both rewarding and frustrating. We’ve compiled a list of strategies that may help.


Every child is different and there is no “one size fits all” roadmap to parenting. Even siblings growing up in the same home can have very different temperaments and personalities. The most important thing you can do as a parent is accept your child for who they are an be curious about what makes them special. In doing so, you will start to understand the unique needs of your child.

Frame the sensitively as a super power

Children who are highly sensitive are uniquely impacted by criticism, defeat, and the emotions of others. They are also typically very bright, curious, and empathic. These characteristics can make them great listeners, hard workers, and overall good people. Looking at these positives can help parents move from frustration to fulfillment.

Partnering with your child

Harsh discipline with a highly sensitive child will likely backfire by eliciting emotional meltdowns. Partnering with your child includes understanding their triggers and helping navigate them, collaborating on rules and boundaries, and modeling effective emotion regulation skills when upset.

If you think you may have a highly sensitive child, we encourage you to try these strategies. It is important to note that the term highly sensitive denotes a set of traits and behaviors and does not make up a diagnosis.