Do you have a Highly Sensitive Child in your Classroom?

Photo credit: nick.amoscato / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: nick.amoscato / Foter / CC BY

Given the statistic that 15-20% of the population are Highly Sensitive, you are almost certainly teaching a few Highly Sensitive Children in your classroom.

Why it’s important to recognise the Highly Sensitive Child

You may ask yourself why it’s so important to identify which children are Highly Sensitive. After all, you already treat each child in your class as an individual according to their needs. The sad fact is that many children are given labels: shy, inhibited, fearful, fussy, hyper-sensitive, too intense, or even worse, are being diagnosed wrongly with a sensory processing disorder, when really they are just Highly Sensitive. Yes they do need special care, but there isn’t anything wrong with them, and a little understanding of their trait will help them truly blossom.

At their best, the Highly Sensitive Child tends to be creative, intuitive, suprisingly wise & empathetic towards others.

However, the scary fact is that Highly Sensitive Children that weren’t fortunate enough to be raised with understanding are more prone as adults to suffer from depression, anxiety and shyness. As education takes up such a large part of our early lives, a supportive environment in schools is key to helping them become well-balanced Highly Sensitive adults.

How do I identify the Highly Sensitive Child in my classroom?

You can find a full checklist on Elaine Aron’s website, High Sensitivity is just part of the child’s personality & may manifest in different ways according to the child, but here are some things to look out for:

  • their arrival at school may be accompanied by tears &/or tantrums
  • in new situations, they tend to need more time to observe before feeling comfortable
  • they like to think through questions before responding to them
  • they can be easily distracted by noise, bright lights & movement
  • if uncomfortable with something, they can be hesitant to voice how they are feeling
  • they respond best given time & gentleness to explain themselves
  • Highly Sensitive Children can be perfectionists & feel like a failure if something they work on is less than perfect in their eyes
  • they daydream as a way to disconnect when feeling overwhelmed

What can I do to help the Highly Sensitive Child thrive in my Classroom?

  • don’t put them on the spot – set them to work in smaller groups & give them time to prepare
  • provide downtime so they have a chance to deal with all the sensory stimulation of the classroom
  • designate a small part of your classroom as a ‘Quiet Corner’ – a space for them to retreat to when things get too much – provide cushions, headphones, drawing pens & paper
Photo credit: US Department of Education / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: US Department of Education / Foter / CC BY

  • when correction is needed, handle them with special care so they don’t become anxious or ashamed of their failure – remember that they will feel any reprimand far more than a non-Highly Sensitive Child
  • ‘partner’ them – ask for their thoughts, how they think an activity went or what could be improved
  • give them choices – Highly Sensitive Children need to know they have a voice & a choice, otherwise they can become upset & frustrated
  • check that they are on the same page as you – they tend to dramatise things & can see things differently. It pays to check they have understood things the way you meant them to
  • at playtime, be mindful that the Highly Sensitive Children may be overwhelmed by the noise, moods and feelings of the other children – give them a safe space to just observe, or to play in smaller groups. They’ll join in with the others when they are ready.

These are just a few of the things that will benefit the Highly Sensitive Children in your care, & it may be that you are already implementing many of them. My hope is that you find the information in this blog helpful as a starting point. Please share your experiences and questions in the comments below, and any other ideas you have! The future of our very precious Highly Sensitive Children is in your hands.


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