Highly sensitive children

Relocation can be a worry for expats if their child is shy and withdrawn, maybe overly anxious, or has frequent emotional outbursts and nightmares. It’s possible their child is highly sensitive, an inherited trait shared by 15–20% of the world’s population.

Not a disorder

In her book The Highly Sensitive Child, Elaine N. Aron explains what it means to be highly sensitive (HS): in very broad terms, from birth, you are wired to notice more in your environment than most people and to deeply reflect before taking action. It’s not a disorder or a disadvantage since up to 20% of the population is highly sensitive and in terms of human evolution, it’s wise to have a large minority that reflects before acting, noticing potential danger and creating good strategies to avoid it, in contrast with the bolder and more outgoing majority.

Advantages of being HS

Parents of a Highly Sensitive Child (HSC) can relax and start noticing the advantages of this innate temperament: being reflective, intuitive, creative, cautious and conscientious. Aron’s advice: “To have an exceptional child you must be willing to have an exceptional child.” This means embracing your child’s wonderful sensitivity and exploring ways of helping them thrive in a world that belongs to the outgoing majority and promotes all forms of overstimulation. Also, parents should keep in mind that enough downtime is essential for HSCs to process all the stimuli from the outer world. When this need is respected, HSCs thrive and aren’t distressed at all.

Relocating with an HSC

For expat families relocating with such a child, our Global Connection coach and HSC specialist Auxilia Tromp advises: “Firstly, be aware that you can be overwhelmed with the move yourself, and children sense this. It’s important to be balanced and well fed, so don’t hesitate to find support.” Coaching, or getting in touch with peers (for example by making use of Global Connection’s Members Directory) are ways to get support. Other steps that expat families can take are acknowledging their child’s feelings so there is room for dialogue, preparing a special space at home for downtime, and creating meaningful family rituals that reaffirm their identity such as reading or playing a board game. “In the end,” says Tromp, “the biggest gift is having available parents who help you understand yourself and the world around you.”

Sources: The Highly Sensitive Person, Happy Sensitive Kids, Psychology Today

Photo: Susana Fernandez – Flickr

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