Raising A Highly Sensitive Daughter
Updated: Aug 29
From the time she was a baby, I knew there was something very unique about my daughter. She was much different than other children. She didn't like to go to sleep. She was very aware of how others perceived her and she would cry when people seemed to laugh at her. Her language abilities were highly advanced. By the time she started talking, it was clear that she was a deep thinker and felt emotions at great depth. My daughter is a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) or empath.
According to hisensitives.com: "The highly sensitive person (HSP) has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment"
It should have come as no surprise to me that my daughter is an HSP since I am one too. In fact, being an HSP is my therapist superpower. Even so, being an HSP doesn't mean that I know how to raise one. I had to learn that through trial and error and I am still learning.
What I've Learned So Far
In order to better understand my daughter (and myself), I studied up on HSPs. I learned that there are 4 common characteristics that define HSPs. These are: Depth of processing, overstimulation, emotional responsivity/empathy, and sensitive to subtleties. Being an HSP can feel like you have an extra antennae, an extra ability to sense the world, read the room, and perceive multiple details all at once.
Let's cover each trait briefly and I'll explain how they have shown up in my daughter and/or myself:
Depth of processing
For my daughter (and myself), this shows up in really good intuition and understanding of the nuances in daily life. We think about things very deeply. Small talk is hard for us. We are aware of the complexity of life and try to figure it out, all the time. At 4 years old, this results in my daughter asking literally 1 million questions a day. She also loves books and being read to. She loves complex stories and asks many, many questions while she is being read to. My daughter understands adult conversation remarkably well and has picked up on a lot of social and societal information despite limited exposure. She is the definition of a sponge.
Both my daughter and I become easily overwhelmed. We are like a sensitive instrument that gets damaged when there is too much going on. We prefer to be in environments that feel safe and comfortable to us. This is due to the fact that we notice everything and this can become tiresome in complex/overstimulating situations. High levels of stimuli exhaust us. My daughter is very sensitive to loud noises which gave us our first clue that she was an HSP.
Both my daughter and I feel things incredibly deeply. For me, I have had to learn to manage my emotions and remind myself that it isn't the end of the world when I am feeling something difficult. My whole life it has felt like I was born without skin, every single thing affects me on a deep level. My daughter can become subsumed by her emotions. She needs a lot of support from her parents and other adults to manage them. She also becomes incredibly excited and elated about positive things. She cries when she sees other people get hurt, especially people she loves. She shares her food and belongings with others because she wants them to feel good. She deeply wishes for rightness in the world.
Sensitive to subtleties
My daughter notices many things that others miss. She is very adept at noticing patterns and predicting what will happen. No detail escapes her. She is very aware of fairness. I am also good at this and this trait has served me well in my profession and in life in general. I figure people out right away and my intuition is very precise. It is very hard to trick people like us.
Applying What I've Learned
Raising an HSP is not easy. Being an HSP and raising an HSP is especially not easy but being an HSP myself also helps me understand her better. I have learned more about myself while watching her grow up. The way I am makes a little more sense to me now that I see it is something you are truly born with. And it is not a curse, it is a profound gift. Yes, the world feels overwhelming for us and we cannot face every situation the same as non-HSPs but if we can learn to harness our gift, we can use it in amazing ways. For example, my daughter is highly advanced due her sensitivity, she is able to pick up on social cues immediately and she is incredibly kind natured. Being an HSP has allowed me to make sense of complex situations, see the world through other people's eyes, and support them via psychotherapy.
I remind myself often that my daughter has a unique gift and it is important to acknowledge this instead of trying to change her into someone she isn't. She does not like classes. She doesn't like large crowds. She is very particular about who she spends her time with. I honor this. This is what makes her feel most comfortable and there is nothing wrong with that. Society tends to err on the side of manipulating and changing children so they fit into society. Having that attitude with my daughter would be incredibly damaging. My daughter craves acceptance and respect. My daughter will find her own way to fit into society. It may not look the same as other kids and that's ok. The price of being an HSP is being a little different from others. As an HSP myself, I model accepting this fact and thriving despite being a little different.