According to psychologist Elaine Aron, a “highly sensitive child is one of the fifteen to twenty percent of children born with a nervous system that is highly aware and quick to react to everything.” These children, as well as highly sensitive adults, process information more deeply, immediately notice subtle changes in their environments and become easily overwhelmed by high levels of stimulation. They tend to behave conscientiously, think deeply before acting, and are highly sensitive to the emotional distress of others.
In her book, The Highly Sensitive Child, Aron describes these children as having a blend of different temperament traits, ranging from “difficult”—i.e., active, emotionally intense, demanding, and persistent—to “almost too easy to raise”—i.e., calm, obedient, introverted, and shying away from novel social situations. Nevertheless, all are highly sensitive to their emotional and physical environment. Rather than being viewed solely as introverted, inhibited and fearful, Aron’s work has emphasized how high sensitivity can also be a positive and adaptive trait. For instance, highly sensitive individuals tend to be especially creative and intuitive and have wisdom and empathy for others.
If you are a parent wondering if your child is highly sensitive, Aron offers an online questionnaire on her website.
For more information, the following resources are available:
The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron
Understanding the Highly Sensitive Child: Seeing an Overwhelming World through Their Eyes by Jamie Williamson
The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron
Helping Highly Sensitive Kids Thrive by Maureen Healy
Sensitive and Extraordinary Kids: The Leila BK Blog