High sensitivity is a trait shared by 20% of the population, serving a vital function in the survival of the species. Susan speaks about the joys and challenges of heightened sensitivity with Alane Freund, colleague of Dr. Elaine Aron who wrote The Highly Sensitive Person and The Highly Sensitive Child, in anticipation of a Master Class they will be teaching with Dr. Aron. A fascinating look at the gifts of deep feeling and creativity, as well as and the challenges of overstimulation that come with this trait.
Things you’ll learn from this episode:
- Clarification of high sensitivity as a trait, not a disorder
- How parents can manage overwhelm and overload
- The gifts of highly sensitive children
Are you looking for more support and encouragement for your highly sensitive child –
or are you a highly sensitive parent?
Don’t miss our Master Class with Dr. Elaine Aron and Alane Freund!
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Read the entire episode!
Speaker 1: (00:12)
Hello and welcome to the parenting without power struggles podcast. I’m glad you’re here. I’m Susan stifelman. I’m your host. I’m a family therapist and parent educator and the author of parenting without power struggles and parenting with presence. One of the things that I love doing in this podcast is sharing wonderful people with you and that’s what we’re going to do today. I’m gonna talk with family therapist, La and friend who has been a therapist for, Gosh, 25 years and who helps families focus on solutions, particularly related to working with highly sensitive people with parents, children, families, and the clinicians who serve them in her California therapy. Um, Elaine, welcome. Thank you. I’m so happy to be here. Very happy that you’re here because this topic for today is highly sensitive parents and highly sensitive children and you have become really a protege of Dr Elaine Aron who wrote the highly sensitive person, the highly sensitive child.
Speaker 1: (01:23)
And Anne has done quite a lot of research in this field and I bet that’s been a lot of fun for you. I have learned so much. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful working relationship with Dr Aaron and you know, until I met her, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a trait that you’re born with called high sensitivity. Yeah. Well, here’s my story. Um, and then we’re going to launch into how we can help parents support their little ones or their big children or themselves with when they have that trait. But many years ago, like I have, Gosh, it must’ve been 15 or 20 years ago, long time ago, I was at a friend’s house and I saw a book on her coffee table that caught my eye. It was called the highly sensitive person. So I started flipping through the book and I saw the initials.
Speaker 1: (02:13)
H S P used a lot and my initial reaction was, oh no, please not another label. But I read maybe two or three paragraphs and it was huge. It had, it had really a life changing impact on me because all my life I’d felt a lot of shame around the fact that I was really sensitive, both emotionally sensitive and just sort of being in my body. I would sleep with ear plugs and an eye mask to, you know, cause sound for too loud and light was too bright. I, I would compare myself to other people who could just fall asleep, you know, at the drop of the hat. Um, when people would say mean things either to me or to other people, I seem to take it really hard and have trouble letting it go or not thinking about or just feeling the reverberations of that. And people would tell me don’t take things so hard. But it seemed like my feeling mechanism was just more intense. So when I stumbled on Dr Elaine Aron’s book, the highly sensitive person, it was, it was just kind of cataclysmic because it was this huge realization that maybe there was nothing wrong with me like that maybe I was just one of that 15 to 20% of the population whose nervous systems are supposed to be more sensitive. So Elaine friend, I’m so glad you’re here. And let’s start by just talking about what it means to be highly sensitive.
Speaker 2: (03:40)
Well, you know, we have four main characteristics of highly sensitive people and children. So they have an acronym, d, o e s or does, and the first one is deep processing and deep thinking. These are children or adults who just think more than the average bear and are very thoughtful about their approach to life. If you’re thinking so much, you may have noticed this in your own life, Susan. You can easily become overstimulated or overwhelmed by all that thinking. Sometimes it can turn into worrying and sometimes it’s just tremendously accurate problem solving, but it’s a lot to be thinking all the time. The way we process that, all that deep thinking and that overwhelm is through having strong emotional reactions for e. So if you have a more finely tuned nervous system, you’re thinking a lot about stuff. You’re getting overwhelmed. The way you discharge it is through having strong emotions and it’s a positive thing.
Speaker 2: (04:41)
In fact, highly sensitive children and adults are emotional leaders. They’re the canaries who let us know what’s really going on in the world. The S is sensitivity to subtle stimuli and that means you can think about these children. They notice every little thing. Just like you with your eye mask in your ear plugs, you notice every little thing. I’m getting ready to travel and I’m co I carry duct tape. This is one of my helpful hints and I put a little piece of duct tape over that flashing light on the smoke detector and that red glowing light over the television in the hotel room. Wow. It’s a miracle worker.
Speaker 1: (05:21)
Well, this is great. And so everyone, if you’re listening, you may yourself be identified or be thinking, Oh, maybe I’m on that spectrum. Highly sensitive. Or maybe my child tell, I’m gonna read a few of the things from h s person.com where there’s a test and online test people can take, I’m just going to read maybe a dozen of the qualities. There are more, but these are from the checklist. I am easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input. I seem to be aware of subtleties in my environment. Other people’s moods affect me. I tend to be very sensitive to pain. I’m particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine. I’m easily overwhelmed by things like bright light, strong smells, course fabrics or sirens. I have a rich complex inner life. My nervous system sometimes feel so frazzled that I just have to go off by myself. I startle easily.
Speaker 1: (06:16)
I get rattled when I have a lot to do in a short amount of time. I make it a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows. When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment, I tend to know what needs to be done to make it more comfortable like changing the lighting or the seating. I notice an enjoyed delicate or find sense, meaning smells, tastes, sound, works of art. Being very hungry creates a strong reaction to me, disrupting my concentration or mood. I mean these are just, I’m nodding my head as I read and maybe Thomas knew our too. So allayed. You want to add anything to what I just said and then let’s talk about some of the,
Speaker 2: (06:54)
I have to latch onto the hunger thing. We are. So many of us are so sensitive to blood sugar fluctuation. And if you think about those children, I remember one time somebody said, but nobody else takes food to the park for a four hour time at the park. And I thought, well, you know, everybody else should, we need to fuel our children’s bodies. But for a highly sensitive child, if you don’t have those snacks, you’re headed for a meltdown because they notice, you know, like I said, they’re the canaries. They notice when there’s something amiss.
Speaker 1: (07:30)
I mean I have, I have nuts in the basket of my bicycle. Please come out for a long ride. So I, yeah, I probably relate to all of this. So let’s talk about some of the joys and the gifts and then we’ll talk about some of the challenges normalize for parents, some of what maybe is a little bit hard for them as they raise these kids.
Speaker 2: (07:49)
Well, you know, the deep thinking thing, I love that in a child. And I think most people do. Most adults just love those children who ask really insightful, thought provoking questions and notice little things in the world that you would expect them not to have any awareness of. They seem, well they do. They have more empathy. That’s another part of the e. Those emotional reactions are also just lots of empathy for the world around them. And I always tell parents don’t expect it for the siblings. That’s unfair. But maybe for other children or the environment, we might be raising little environmentalist among our highly sensitive children because they might be really worried and thinking about plastic or litter. That was the big thing when I was growing up I, I was so tuned in, I could not believe someone would litter and it hurt my feelings when it happened.
Speaker 2: (08:42)
But boy did I pick it up. Um, so these children, you know, Susan, not everybody wants to raise a special person or be one, you know, don’t you sometimes maybe think, how should it be easy just to float through the world without worrying or thinking or having strong feelings about everything. I mean there are times when I feel that way. And um, also, you know, parenting a pretty intense, sensitive tuned in child. It’s exhausting and you know, it takes more work and at the same time we are raising children who are gifts to the world because they’re the ones who are going to notice the little things and make the changes.
Speaker 1: (09:33)
Absolutely. And you know, I always believe that we get the perfect child for us. Whether you as a parent are highly sensitive and you’ve, you know, been blessed with a child who’s similar in temperament to you or your um, you know, of the 80% and you’ve got this little delicate sort of sensitive canary that you’re raising. Um, either way. To me there are so many opportunities to grow when we are parenting to become more of ourselves, to face the things that are unfinished or unhealed in us. And our children are often the catalyst for that. What are some of the ways that our little live in gurus as Jack Kornfield called them, um, motivate us as parents? What are some of the challenges that these sensitive kids bring to us as parents that we can hopefully grow through or at the very least, you know, find our way navigating through when we’re frustrated or impatient with them.
Speaker 2: (10:32)
Well, you know, transitions are a big piece of the puzzle for sensitive children and because they need so much more time for their transitions, they slow us down. Have you ever heard that if you get stuck beside behind someone’s slow on the road, it means that you need to slow down in your life? Well, our sensitive children slow us all down. They will be the child in the classroom, say in the preschool, kindergarten or any any year classroom who lets the teacher know that things have gotten a little too chaotic or a little too loud or even too boring because they always let us know what is needed. It’s back to that emotional leadership.
Speaker 1: (11:21)
That’s really a very interesting and cool way of looking at it. And then we know that some of the other areas where it can be a little trickier for some of these sensitive children are separations or new situations, birthday parties. Can you speak to that?
Speaker 2: (11:37)
You know, when I was a child, I hated going to birthday parties. I was that weird kid. Why doesn’t she want to go to chuck e cheese? What’s her problem? Why doesn’t your child like birthday parties? Why does she ever go? Is she too shy or too much of a loner? You know, it was my self preservation. I didn’t want to sit on balloons to pop them healthy for me. You know, as a sensitive parent, you would think who had grown up as a sensitive child that I would understand that still. Oh, I wanted my child to have a birthday party every year. And he hated them too. And you know, it’s, we do really have to know our children. And you know, I always tell parents that I consult with, especially if they’re sensitive, but any tuned in parent, they know what the right thing is.
Speaker 2: (12:33)
You know, if you just slow down and quiet and listen to your intuition, which we kind of have gotten away from in this modern world, you know what your child needs. And I think the trick is to watch, observe and listen. And at the same time they are not delicate flowers. They sensitive children. You know, the only negative aspect of being highly sensitive is overstimulation. And when your child is overstimulated, your life is hell was fucking so, you know, I do a lot and help my clients to a lot to prevent overstimulation. [inaudible] how do you do that? You might ask, best way that you do that is you create the right Alchemy, the right chemistry experiment, I would say, of food, sleep slash downtime and exercise sounds like a good recipe for the adults. Do. Right? And if you, if everything is right in that way, the sensitive child is a dream to be with. Yeah. But then life happens and it can’t always be perfect.
Speaker 1: (13:48)
Right. But you know, part I loved, I loved the acknowledgement of the importance of rest and slowing things down and food and some of the basic elements that just create more padding for more sensitive nervous systems that allow us to be a little bit more brave and a little bit more sturdy and durable so that we can have new experiences because the goal isn’t to shelter or cuddle the sensitive child to hide them off in a corner because the world feels a little bit too busy. But it’s to help them develop the qualities and the, and the abilities and the resources within themselves to engage with the world in a way that’s stimulating a PR appropriately stimulating and you know, and helps them keep discovering new things and becoming more themselves and more manifest their creativity.
Speaker 2: (14:42)
And you know, highly sensitive children because they’re noticing so much. Sometimes it’s hard work to stay one step ahead of them or to keep up with them. And so we need, we, we parents also need enough downtime and enough tag teaming and enough rest to be able to approach them by being very present. Because, you know, my parents that I work with, they always say, if I am 10% less present, my sensitive child knows it. There is no wiggle room. How do I, how do I survive parenting like that? You know? And, but that’s what the world is like. So we train our children that sometimes you may need to entertain yourself and you’re capable of doing it. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Speaker 1: (15:26)
Big Fan of helping children discover that even when life isn’t going the way they like, that they, they can be adaptable, that they can feel sad or disappointed and still be okay. And that when we jumped through too many hopes hoops or twist ourselves into pretzels to try and make sure they’re never unhappy, we actually don’t serve them because ultimately we do want our kids to become resilient and able to, you know, ride the inevitable waves of life, the ups and downs.
Speaker 2: (15:57)
Absolutely. And you know, family vacations are really important part of life, right? And those are, can be very challenging for sensitive children. Um, what else at school activities, field trips, that kind of thing. That would be really hard possibly. And different and overstimulating for a sensitive child, those things are all still possible. What they need, just like I need before I go on a trip is some downtime, some quiet time, some talking through what it’s going to look like. Maybe taking a comfort item with them. Um, you know, and also to not have high expectations afterwards. Um, so you can do all those things that maybe not every day. Yeah.
Speaker 1: (16:45)
Yeah. Realistic expectations. I love this quote. I once heard lower your expectations, you’ll achieve more
Speaker 2: (16:53)
and face far less disappointment. Exactly. So
Speaker 1: (16:59)
Elaine and I are super excited because with Dr Elaine Aron, we’re going to be teaching a class that you might find interesting. If this is an area of interest to you and you’d like to dive deeply into this, then you can check out the class. We’ll be teaching on highly sensitive parents, highly sensitive children. And the information is on my website, Susan stifelman.com. Um, Elaine, let’s wrap up with a tip and then I want to make sure people know where to find you and we’ll, uh, kind of just remind people of a few things about the, the podcast series.
Speaker 2: (17:33)
Sounds good. So my number one parenting tip is falls into that category that what is good for sensitive children is good for all children and the, the ticket is structure, rhythm and routine. And when you have more structure than you think you need, then everything goes way more smoothly. This means that we will, um, have a plan and let our children know what the plan is and then stick to it when we have to change it. We change it with structure as well, and the children do so much better.
Speaker 1: (18:14)
That’s, that’s really great. You know, one of the things that, one I, I do a lot with prince chores or bedtime and rituals are just so beneficial for kids because then the rules aren’t changing every day. And kids do relax when there’s structure. Even when you have a chaotic household and there’s a lot of change that routinely happens, you can create stability by ritualizing and creating structures, so thank you. Thank you so much Elaine. Tell people how they can find out more about your work please.
Speaker 2: (18:42)
Well, you can reach me at heart and mind, equine.com that’s my website and it’s heart and mind written out equine the word for horses.com
Speaker 1: (18:55)
great. Awesome. Thank you so much for being with me today.
Speaker 2: (18:58)
It’s been my pleasure
Speaker 1: (19:00)
and everybody thank you for being with us today. I hope you’ve enjoyed our conversation. I encourage you to subscribe to the podcast where you will suddenly find new episodes on your phone or however you listen to podcasts. They’ll just appear. We’d love it if you’d like to leave a rating or review, and if you have a question that you’d like me to answer, please visit Susan stifelman.com/podcast and of course you can find out about the other programs that we firstname.lastname@example.org including the monthly membership.
Speaker 2: (19:30)
Speaker 1: (19:32)
All right, everyone. I look forward to joining you on our next episode. Thank you again, Elaine, and meanwhile, remember that no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness and joy. I promise you they’re there. I’ll see you next time.
Speaker 3: (19:56)