So, when Patrick and I first started dating, he was reading a book called The Highly Sensitive Person. This was a prophetic moment for my relationship with him. He was, indeed, highly sensitive (in temperament). I should have read that book cover to cover, but I didn't. I skimmed. Now, I have had his children and it appears our daughter favors his temperament.
So, I went to the Highly Sensitive Child Website and took the Highly Sensitive Child inventory. I had to practically RUN out and buy the book. Holy crap. This child is highly, highly sensitive. On the inventory and she scored a twenty-two out of twenty-three possible! So, what does this mean for parenting her? For raising her? For her challenges in life? I think this excerpt from the website sums it up best:
So, what now?
First, appreciate that this is a wonderful trait. It is no illness or syndrome. Nor is it something new I made up or "just discovered." It is an inborn temperament or style that is found in about twenty percent of children and of nearly all animals. Anything so persistent is not abnormal. It represents a strategy of taking everything into account before acting (the other, more common innate strategy is to act quickly and be first, then think later). The trait serves an important purpose for the individual sensitive person and for the larger society--for example, sensitive persons sense danger and see the consequences of an action before others do.
Unfortunately, the trait has been somewhat misunderstood in our culture, so that most psychologists and parents tend to see only one aspect of some sensitive children and call this trait shyness, inhibitedness, fearfulness, fussiness, or "hyper" sensitivity. If one could see inside the mind of a sensitive child, however, one would learn the whole story of what is going on--creativity, intuition, surprising wisdom, empathy for others...
But, for all of that to blossom, they absolutely must be raised with understanding. Otherwise, as adults they are prone to depression, anxiety, and shyness.
So, the second "what now" might be to read The Highly Sensitive Child. I wrote this book because so many adults were telling me that their childhoods were excruciatingly difficult, even when their parents had the best intentions, because no one knew how to raise them. Parents and teachers told them there were "too sensitive" or "too shy" or "too intense." They tried to change and could not, and so felt increasingly isolated or ashamed. My hope is to spare some children such unnecessary suffering and the world the waste of so much talent, because HSCs have a tremendous amount to offer the world. But they do need special handling. They need to be appreciated, to have their special needs and sometimes intense reactions and behaviors understood, and, when correction is needed, they need to be handled with special care so that they do not become anxious or ashamed of their failure.
This book is rooted in years of my experience as a psychotherapist and consultant to HSPs and parents of HSCs, plus interviews with parents, teachers, and HSCs themselves for the book. Then there are my experiences from my fumbling efforts to raise an HSC before I knew what that was. And there's what I know from having been an HSC myself.
Again, few parents and teachers understand this trait-–and as a result, HSCs are often mislabeled as "problem children" (and in some cases, misdiagnosed with disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder). But raised with proper understanding and care, HSCs are no more prone to problems than nonsensitive children and can grow up to be happy, healthy, unusually well-adjusted and creative adults.