Empaths, Dictators, and Silent Observers: A Quick Guide to Understanding Highly Sensitive Children

High spirited.

Strong willed.


Prone to tantrums and meltdowns.



A child who matches any of these descriptors could be highly sensitive, and  Highly Sensitive Children are uniquely challenging to parent. They often don’t respond well to old school discipline, and it can be hard to find solutions that works. They often leave their parents feeling exhausted, frustrated, and questioning their own worth.

What does it mean to be Highly Sensitive?

I often mention Highly Sensitive Children in my day to day conversations, and I’m invariably met with a look of confusion or a knowing nod. In driving these conversations deeper, I’ve learned that many people think they know what highly sensitive means, but most people don’t have the whole picture.

People hear the word “sensitive” and equate it with emotional sensitivity. They think hurt feelings or dramatic reactions. While those things are markers of a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), they’re not the only traits that make up this temperament, and they’re certainly not the most significant. A Highly Sensitive Child (HSC) can also be highly persistent, highly empathic, or highly intuitive.

The key characteristic of an HSC, though, is the fact that their nervous system takes in more information than a typically processing person’s. Regardless of how their sensitivity presents, these are kids who notice everything. They’re listening even when you think they aren’t. They take time to observe before they jump into a new situation. They process things deeply and get overwhelmed easily. They are quick to pick up on other people’s expectations and are experts at complying, which means they have excellent conduct at school but huge meltdowns at home, where they feel most safe.

Does this sound familiar?

Highly Sensitive People make up 15-20% of the population.

That’s close to 1 in 5 people, at least. That means if you grew up in a family of four, it’s quite likely that someone in your nuclear family is highly sensitive. If you teach a classroom of twenty-five kids, roughly five of them will be highly sensitive. It’s incredibly common, it’s normal, and it’s valuable– especially if we recognize and support it. High Sensitivity is a powerful gift that comes with a steep learning curve. HSCs need our support in understanding and harnessing the power of their gifts.

High Sensitivity is a temperament trait.

That means it is present from birth throughout a person’s life. The way we educate, respond to, and parent HSCs determines whether or not they will learn to fit into society while harnessing the power of their sensitivity or conform to societal expectations by suppressing their gifts.

High Sensitivity provides an evolutionary advantage and is present across species.

Elaine Aron, author of the books The Highly Sensitive Person and The Highly Sensitive Child, explains the advantage by examining the role high sensitivity plays in the survival of deer. She explains that a typically processing deer would approach a meadow, look around once or twice for predators, then proceed to the meadow to eat. A highly sensitive deer, on the other hand, would make certain that the area was predator-free before they moved forward. If there were predators in the area, the highly sensitive deer would survive the typically processing one. If there were no predators, the highly sensitive deer would get a little less grass than the rest of his family.

Understanding all of this can transform the way you view your child.

Often that is enough to begin to ease some of the challenges you face as a parent. When it’s not, I’ve got you covered. One on one coaching is a lifeline for many parents of HSCs. If the standard parenting advice just isn’t cutting it anymore, I’d love to connect with you. It’s easy to get started. Just schedule a free one hour consultation and we’ll see if we’re a good fit.

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