The No.1 Reason Why HSCs Find Making Decisions Hard (and why that’s a good thing!)

HSCs Can Really Take Their Time When Making Decisions…

Dog and hydrant

“You have probably noticed that trying to get a HSC to decide something quickly is like trying to walk a male dog quickly past fire hydrants” (Elaine Aron )


If you have a HSC this is likely to be an all too familiar and often frustrating experience,  especially when the decision is something as seemingly small as what to have for breakfast (when it’s the same choices everyday!),  what flavour ice-cream they want, which shoe they prefer or which film they would like to watch for movie night.

Deep in Thought

Deep in Tought

Often this seemingly endless processing happens without any conscious awareness, but it’s not unusual for HSCs to ask for more time to decide, or to seek help with a decision.

The Reason Why this is So Hard…

The key thing to remember is that Highly Sensitive individuals are those who are born with a tendency to notice more in their environment and deeply reflect on everything before acting.

So the question about what to have for breakfast may prompt thoughts about:
  • how hungry they are,
  • how they are feeling and how this is affecting what their taste-buds and their tummy want,
  • how quickly they can eat whatever it is so they can get back to that book or game they are enjoying
  • whether they are in the mood for hot or cold, or sweet or savoury,
  • …recollecting what they had yesterday,
  • …if it’s something that there’s not much left of, whether they want it today, or whether they’d rather save it for tomorrow because it’s a particular favourite and tomorrow they will have more time to enjoy it as it’s the weekend.
  • the fact that they don’t want or feel like any of the food that is on offer, so how are they supposed to choose?…
  • …and so it goes on.

For big decisions you can add into the equation the fact that the decision may also lead to a change, something that many HSC’s also find inherently difficult, because they naturally think through all the possible meanings of that change, both good and bad.

Walt Stoneburner / Foter / CC BY

Walt Stoneburner / Foter / CC BY

An agitated HSC is showing clear signs that the decision is starting to overwhelm them. At this point, as parents, we can often make the situation worse by becoming impatient and trying to hurry the HSC to make a choice: we want to get on with everything else in the day and we just don’t ‘get’ why it is so difficult. For the HSC, this is emotional information they need to process on top of everything else, which can ultimately completely freeze their ability to make a choice at all.

(Ever had those situations where you have spent what felt like hours trying to help your  HSC make a choice, only to walk away empty handed? I know I have!)

You can also find that even after an HSC has made a decision, they may still be reflecting on the choice that they didn’t make, worrying about whether they have made the right choice.

There are things we as Parents of HSCs can do to help.

Five Handy Hints to Help your HSC

As a parent it can be exasperating, and it can be tempting not only to ‘hurry’ your HSC along, but also to avoid giving your HSC any choice at all, to ‘save them’ from the difficult process they seem to go through.

However, one thing that is common to HSCs is that they respond better to being partnered than being ‘told’ what to do. Giving them some element of control in decisions that affect them is really important to their self-esteem, and to their ‘buying-in’ to the decision, however big or small.

So here’s what I have learned:

  1. Be patient, don’t rush them– give your HSC the time and space to make the decision. If you can, plan ahead a little: if you are buying an ice cream, for example, let them look at the choices before you get in the queue so they have time to think about it before the pressure of having to commit.  If you allow them time and space they will usually get there in the end, and will feel much more confident in themselves having done so.  If you rush them they can get the message that there is something wrong with them because they can’t decide as quickly as other people, and that they are therefore failing in some way.  This can in turn lead to feelings of shame or embarrassment which may make them less inclined to try next time.
  2. Limit the choices: I usually offer a choice of two which works well most of the time.  It is worth remembering that when mulling bigger decisions, HSCs often find making smaller decisions on top of this just one thing too many, and even choosing between two options can tip them over the edge. In this situation it can be helpful to pick one thing you know they like, but rather than making the decision yourself and just giving it to them, ask them if this is what they would like.  This means they don’t have to sift through the full list of what might be on offer, it allows them to say ‘yes’ if it’s what they want, or to ask for something else if it isn’t.  They’ve still made the choice, but you’ve made it manageable to start with.
  3. Acknowledge when they are struggling, reassure them that it’s OK to want to reflect, perhaps  offering suggestions, asking them questions or even creating a list of ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ to help them to make the decision.  But try not to make the decision for them.  The more practice they get, the more they will realise that they can make decisions, and that most of the time it’s OK to take your time.
  4. Look for the ‘Un-Do’ option: If it’s possible to do so, identify a way that the HSC can ‘undo’ their decision if it doesn’t work out.  I have often found that my HSC wants to try new things, or new flavours of food, but is worried about what will happen if he tries it and doesn’t like it. I now always try to allow the choice to ‘back-out’ if it’s appropriate, or with food, I encourage him to try his new flavour, but then choose something myself I know he will like, so that if he doesn’t like his choice he can swap.  This ‘safety net’ is rarely, if ever, used, but the fact it’s there just helps give the confidence to come off the fence and make a choice!
  5. Provide re-assurance. If necessary, talk through the ‘what-ifs’ and help your child to see that uncertainty is part of life, they can’t know how something will be until they have tried, and that’s OK.  Reassure them that sometimes things don’t work out, and talk to them about how they would cope if that happened, so they can see that they will still be OK, and that they have your support, even if the decision turns out not to be a ‘good’ one.

A Final Thought : Above all, consider this: Yes it can be incredibly frustrating, particularly when it feels like an eternity before the seemingly small, day to day choices are made BUT… this natural tendency for deep reflection when making decisions leads to thoughtful and considered decisions, which is a GREAT thing, and something we should be celebrating and encouraging.

HSCs rarely make ‘bad’ or ‘stupid’ decisions for themselves, and I for one believe the world could do with more people like that in it.

Want to find out more about the Highly Sensitive Child?
Come along to one of our forthcoming Workshops  or take a look at How We Can Help.
Got a story about your HSC?  We’d love you to hear from you!




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