The Highly Sensitive Child

Highly sensitive people (HSP) experience life with all five senses on overdrive.

I have researched this over the past few years, and find it fascinating.


Highly sensitive people wear their hearts on their sleeve


Until I was in my late 30s, I knew something was different about me, but couldn’t really figure out what it was. When I was 9-years old, a psychiatrist believed it to be an avoidance disorder and noted an inferiority complex. I don’t think either were on the nose. I am a HSP. And I raise a highly sensitive child. It's not a diagnosable condition. It's a personality trait that affects what we feel, think (we never stop thinking), and how we react to stimuli.


Hayes and me, two HSPs with a special bond from the start


I deeply desire to help my child to navigate life and school with his enhanced senses, especially because I know how hard it can be. This blog is for him and, if you are the parent of a highly sensitive child, it is for you and yours, too.


SCHOOL


In elementary school, highly sensitive children can sometimes slip through the cracks, because they are not necessarily hyperactive. If they’re not drawing attention to themselves, teachers may not notice that they aren’t concentrating or doing the work they are assigned. The sound of the air conditioning vents going on and off, other children talking, the sound of the teacher’s chalk tapping the chalkboard, and the sights of another class walking by their classroom can all rattle a highly sensitive child’s ability to focus on the task at hand. The child’s brain is processing so much information that it cannot tune out the riff raff and focus on the task at hand. HSPs fire on all cylinders because everything is stimulating. Here are two things that have helped us with school:

  1. Noise-canceling headphones

My son was not getting his assigned work done during class. Packing a pair of noise-canceling headphones in his backpack and communicating with the teacher for approval to use them helped him to block out noises and concentrate. His teacher reported that he likes to keep them on during lunchtime, too. Obviously, this isn’t great for his social skills, but if it helps him to peacefully eat a sandwich during cafeteria chaos, we’re okay with that, too. (At night, he sleeps with noise-canceling headphones, too. More on sleep to come).


First day of third grade


2. Extra time on tests


No longer is a medical evaluation required to diagnose a child as having special needs which qualifies them for helpful considerations for test-taking. A “504” can be assessed at the school. Formerly, this would start with the school counselor, but the process has evolved at many schools and now may start with the vice principal or a hired specialist. After the 504 is deemed necessary, a highly sensitive child may receive extra time on tests or other testing environmental changes that may help him or her perform optimally.



ZZZZZZZZs


Sleep, quality sleep, makes life much easier for highly sensitive people


Sleep is extremely important to highly sensitive children. It gives their rapidly-growing bodies and brains a chance to rest and reset after being hyper-alert to sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and touches during every waking hour. HSPs benefit from more sleep than the average person. But the problem is that sleep can escape them if the conditions aren’t just right. The glow of the red sensor on a smoke detector or a slight gap in the curtains where the light peeks in are disruptors. Like the story of “The Princess and the Pea,” they may be tossing and turning all night if the mattress is “lumpy.” Here are two things that have helped us with sleep:


Moxie Luxie blankets are worth the price. Courtesy photo

  1. Moxie Luxie weighted blanket

I hadn’t known what to think of the weighted blanket trend until trying a Moxie Luxie weighted blanket. Seriously, this is the most comforting blanket I’ve ever enveloped myself in… so it was with sacrificial love that I gave it to my son. I expected the blanket to feel heavy, like armor locking you in one position. That’s not the case. The weight doesn’t impose heavy pressure. It feels more like a hug. You can toss and turn as you will (and HSPs will), but the blanket soothes with soft texture and gentle touch.

This Moxie Luxie weighted blanket was a game-changer for my son. He’s 9-years-old, and, until using this blanket, he would get up most every night and wander to our room for company. (Although I love his company, after 7am is preferable).

This luxurious ten-pound weighted blanket has helped soothe him to sleep and keep him sleeping comfortably in his bed until morning time. It’s still an early morning rooster call (his name is Hayes, and we nicknamed him Hayeserator, then, within his first year, ‘Rator the Rooster), but so long as he’s sleeping in his own bed during the wee small hours of the morning, I raise my hands up to hail the Moxie Luxie weighted blanket.


Jamie Furniss, founder of Moxie. Jamie initially created the Moxie Blanket as a solution for her young son, who would have nightmares regularly. Courtesy photo


*For 15% off the price of your Moxie LUX, use promo code BBenten at checkout. I do not receive a kickback on your purchase. I asked Moxie for a discount code, altruistically, to help you afford this blanket that I really believe will help your child, as it has mine. And, FYI, I paid for mine, too. Worth every penny.


2. Blackout curtains


There is a difference between room-darkening curtains and blackout curtains. For HSPs, there’s a “world” of difference between these two. 100% blackout curtains are hugely helpful for sleep for highly sensitive children. Be sure to read product descriptions carefully. Highly sensitive children benefit from bedrooms with zero light piercing through above, below, or in-between curtains.


*A hack when you're staying at a hotel: hotels are notorious for having a gap between the curtains. Take a pant hanger from the closet and bind the curtains together in the middle.



FITNESS


High volume physical activity benefits highly sensitive people


Physical activity can really help HSPs feel like they can escape sensory overload and live in the moment to the fullest. I vividly remember in grade school wanting to be good at sports. But I would overthink every single activity: what if the ball hurts when it hits my arms (volleyball), are other players going to be mad at me if I don’t bump it over the net (volleyball), I don’t want to touch other people (basketball), pressure-pressure-pressure at the free throw line (basketball). Where I would end up, every sport, every season was in the company of other young women who were cut from the athletic team: off-season. Off-season was where students would go who had no place on the team, and the one thing this group did was run. Maybe it was just small town Texas, because as I talk to other adults it doesn’t seem like “off-season” was a universal hyphenated term. If your school didn’t have it, I can just say that if you showed up to your morning physical education class and were segregated out of the gym, where things with balls happened, and moved outside and told to run 2-miles and come back when you were done, you were on off-season. Off-season taught me how to be the best of the worst. It taught me that, with running, it didn’t matter if I wasn’t coordinated enough to dodge balls coming at me; I was courageous enough to run fast. I learned to give my utmost in runs because no one else could assist, derail, or get in my way. My gutsy runs were a beautiful blend of pain, perseverance, and peace all at the same time. I found confidence and joy in running that I carried with me through off-season, high school, college, graduate school, and, well, to and through now.


Sports and fitness are not always the same. There are athletes who aren’t fit and there are fitness enthusiasts who aren’t athletic, but the joy of movement is what binds both. I believe that my son is on course to follow in my footsteps: enjoyment of fitness, but quirkiness with sports.


Playing in the San Gabriel River with his sister is "sneaky fitness" for Hayes


In any case, he is his best self at the end of the day when he has gotten plenty of physical activity. Right now, we fill that with playing hide-and-go-seek, tag, running laps around the track, swimming, rucking, and doing yoga. When he’s old enough, he may choose other activities, and I’ll support it.


Hayes likes to hike ahead of the pack, climb like a monkey, and surprise us down below


For now, I help administer his activities. Here are tools that help us.

  1. Yoga Wheels

Yoga wheels will help your child to roll into supportive backbends. They also help to learn inversions, which are especially appealing to my highly sensitive child. Hayes could spend an entire yoga session working on his inversions. Typically, a set of yoga wheels come with three wheels. That's beneficial, because I'll take the big boy; Hayes will use the medium wheel; and when his sister joins us, she uses the baby wheel.


I finish Hayes's yoga sessions with 5:00 of savasana, a relaxing resting pose. I place the Moxie LUX weighted blanket over Hayes’s body, an eye pillow over his eyes, an acupressure neck support on his upper back, diffuse essential oils, and administer a cranial massage.


2. Rucking

A ruck is a backpack capable of holding weight-- heavy weight. Hayes's dad rucks with a GORUCK rucksack. I use a child carrier and load 40lbs of sister-weight. Hayes rucks with a backpack with a bag of rice. Rucking as a family gives us the opportunity to walk, talk, and reap the benefits of social, emotional, environmental, physical, and spiritual wellness.


We will be attending the first GORUCK fitness festival, Sandlot JAX, in Jacksonville, FL April 22-24, 2022. The creator of Pokemon Go, John Hanke, is one of the speakers. Hayes's enthusiasm may be partial.


Rucking Garey Park in Georgetown, TX



GENERAL ACTIVITY


One day, over virtual school in 2020, we played hooky, rented a kayak, and hit the lake


For non-exercise extracurricular activities, highly sensitive children may gravitate toward gaming devices, but it is the worst thing for them (honestly, it is the worst thing for all of us). What’s interesting is that a lot of the compulsion to play video games is the feeling of mastery. It behooves us to help him master other things so that the device loses its power. My husband and I have had to join forces to knuckle down and implement a 1-hour/day screen time policy per day for my son. If we left him to his own choices, he would be on his electronic device from dusk till dawn. As much as we want him to use his imagination and engage his creative brain, he just as much wants to outsource those things to the game-makers. Here are two things that have helped us with making right-brained activities fun:

  1. Joggling Board

A joggling board is a nostalgic bench that rocks from side-to-side. Hayes enjoys drawing and coloring pictures of characters he makes up, inspired by AmongUs and Friday Night Funkin’. As he sits and creates or colors the images, he shifts back and forth on his joggling board. The Joggle Factory is a family business that produces handmade joggling boards. The founders, Chris and Kristi Outland, have received rave reviews on their joggling boards, not only from highly sensitive children but also children with autism and ADHD.


An autistic child living his best life on The Joggle Factory's joggling board. Courtesy video


2. POPDARTS

PD Nation is on a mission to fuel creativity and challenge abilities in a world that isolates us with devices. POPDARTS bring friends and family of all ages together to compete in dart games. The darts can suction on to most smooth surfaces.

What has been really useful for us is that the game set comes in a portable mesh bag, so I bring these things with us anywhere that Hayes needs to be patient. We’ve used them in doctors’ office waiting rooms, on an airplane, and frequently use them at home on our back door~ as the antidote to “I’m bored.” The game’s scorekeeping component is fun and competitive for the whole family.


Patience is not a strong suit of HSPs. On plane trips, we occupy the row and play POPDARTS. Courtesy photo


Navigating the everyday as an HSP can be challenging, but it’s also pretty cool. We only get one run through life. Taking the highest of highs cloud-high is a euphoria reserved for the highly sensitive people. And the more difficult parts of life, at least we experience them fully, deeply, and pensively. I hope my child grows up to perceive HSP as a gift. And over the next nine years that he’s under my roof and my care, I will do my best to make life as manageable as possible for my highly sensitive child.




Brook Benten, M.Ed. (BB) is a fitness professional in Austin, TX. She is a Master Trainer for Johnny G Spirit Bike and Prevention Magazine fitness contributor.


You may connect with her on Instagram, her fave social platform. You can also find her dodging politics on Facebook, running on Strava, poorly hashtagging on Twitter, and applauding boss babe career achievements on LinkedIn.


Brook is an ACSM Exercise Physiologist with a Master's of Education in Physical Education with emphasis in Sports and Fitness Administration.


She is a HSP, raising two silly, kind, fun-loving whipper snappers with all her heart.


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