The Highly Sensitive Child

Highly sensitive individuals are people born with a tendency to notice more in their environment. They are the ones who reflect deeply on everything before acting, who cried lots as newborns and who suffered from cholic.

Although their ears, eyes, sense of smell and taste buds may not be better than normal, their way of sensing their environment is more sensitive.


  • Their brains seem to process information more thoroughly.
  • They seem more affected by pain, medication and stimulants.
  • Their immune systems are more reactive and they are more prone to allergies, stomach aches, headaches and upset tummies.
  • Food is normally too spicy for them, and places they visit ‘smell weird’.

Their whole body is designed to detect what is happening in the outside world. Therefore, they get overwhelmed by much more stimulation than their systems will allow. They have to create a defense mechanism to protect themselves from over stimulation and often they are reactive in a less sociably tolerable manner. They won’t enjoy camps, partying and sometimes even dating. They avoid being irritated or overwhelmed by resisting new situations and will throw a temper tantrum, have rages and melt downs, to protect themselves from these situations.

Many well meaning parents cause tremendous pain by not understanding these “difficult children” and treating them totally wrong, thereby causing serious adverse reactions, which snow balls. With gentle and sensitive guidance, they can be very cooperative.

As a result of their sensitivity, they tend to be empathetic, smart, intuitive, creative, careful and conscientious, but on the down side, they are easily overwhelmed by high volumes or large quantities of input (experience) at once. They get over stimulated and are easily upset.

For highly sensitive individuals, restaurants are too noisy and birthday parties are too busy. They would rather engage in chess, which requires deep cognitive engagement. They will ponder on social dilemmas; focus on “what would happen if…”; and they will imagine what their cat’s thoughts are. They will notice when the bed sheets have been changed. They feel stronger and more intense emotions, but they also suffer more intensely than others. They are bestowed with rich inner lives and are normally very conscientious for their age.

About 15% – 20% of people are born highly sensitive and traditionally these people become scientists, counsellors, theologians, historians, lawyers, teachers, artists and healthcare professionals.

Answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ the following statements, to determine whether your child is highly sensitive:

  • gets startled easily
  • complains about scratchy clothing (seams in socks or labels in T-shirts)
  • does not enjoy big surprises
  • learns better from a gentle correction than strong punishment
  • doing mind reading
  • uses mature, big / sophisticated words for their age
  • sensitive to the slightest uncommon odours
  • has a clever sense of humour
  • seems intuitive
  • battles with sleep onset after excitement
  • does not adjust easily to changes
  • needs to change wet or dirty clothes often
  • very inquisitive
  • tends to be perfectionistic
  • notices distress in others
  • prefers quiet play
  • asks provoking and deep questions
  • sensitive to pain
  • irritated by noise
  • notices subtleties (notices changes in appearance or routine)
  • cautious (won’t engage unless the situation or safety is checked or verified)
  • feeling of uneasiness with strangers
  • experiences deep rooted feelings

If the answer was ‘yes’ to 13 or more statements, out of 23, then the child is probably highly sensitive.

No psychometric test is accurate enough to guarantee this diagnosis, however, even with only a few positive statements, one may assume a high probability of being highly sensitive.


Dr A Peché

082 335 6133