4 Signs Your Child Has A 'Highly Sensitive' Brain, According To Parenting Experts

Parenting a highly sensitive child takes a patient, open-minded approach.

little blond girl in a red scarf Janko Ferlic / Pexels

Just as kids need to learn how to tie their shoes, cook spaghetti, and parallel park the family car, parents have to learn to let go. Yet, sometimes, our kids seem so vulnerable that letting go is unthinkable.

But what they could really use isn't a shoulder to cry on; rather, children want advice on navigating a world that rarely caters to emotionally sensitive individuals.

If you suspect that your child might have a highly sensitive brain, your approach to parenting can adjust accordingly. The trick is to recognize the signs of a highly sensitive child.


What is a highly sensitive child?

A highly sensitive child, also called an HSC, is a child who has heightened sensitivity to the world around them, whether it's social, sensory, emotional, or a combination.

Highly sensitive children tend to be attuned to the emotions of other people and are more empathetic as a result. They also react strongly to stimuli, like loud noises or certain smells.

Because of their sensitivity to stimuli and emotions, they may cry easily, find their surroundings overwhelming, need to recharge after being in a chaotic environment, and have the ability to reflect deeply on their own experiences.


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To help identify the signs a child is highly sensitive, we reached out to a panel of YourTango parenting experts for their insight.

Here are 4 signs your child is highly sensitive, according to parenting experts

1. They are precocious and extremely aware or responsive

When your child’s behavior is suddenly uncharacteristically different, it likely is inexplicable to both of you. It may be that their hypersensitivity triggers their reactivity.


Reactivity is signaling to you that something is different. The reactive behavior seems incomprehensible due to your non-experience, so you can only follow the breadcrumbs.

Perhaps clues have been showing up since birth via demonstrations of early, uncharacteristic motor skills and sensory engagement. Perhaps your child was a notably happy or distressed baby. Perhaps they demonstrated advanced babbling or speaking.

As toddlers, they may surprise you with their level of awareness and responsiveness, while you’re thinking, “How could they have known that?” You might easily feel self-consciously unaware in comparison. Sometimes it may seem like they’ve been here before.

Here are some questions that may act as clues to your child’s highly sensitive brain:

  1. Do they appear to inexplicably fear certain ordinary objects, people, or things?
  2. Do they seem more attuned to nature and natural rhythms?

4 Signs Of A Highly Sensitive Child, According To Parenting ExpertsPhoto: Monstera Production / Pexels

Perhaps you’ve been camping and noticed unusual sleep habits — switching to sleep at sunset and naturally awakening at sunrise.

Beware of recently emerged parental discord as your child signals sensitivity by swiftly mirroring back to you what they are picking up from your own distressed behaviors. This can result in medication for the identified patient in the family, being prescribed to control a seemingly otherwise uncontrollable child.


But your child is better served by empathy for something you cannot experience. Instead, focus on the awe of your adult self interacting with a child who is also your highly engaging and interesting offspring.

Dr. Liz Zed, certified mentor coach

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2. They startle easily or are strong affected by teasing

Do you have a child that can't stand to wear certain clothes because the material is not soft enough for them? Do they startle and cry out when someone comes up behind them to give a hug?

Are they always insisting that teasing is not nice and cries when a sibling teases them? Are they very bright and teachers often praise you as parents when you go into a school meeting about your child?


These are signs a child is highly sensitive. And, most likely, you may be highly sensitive as well.

Perhaps your child is teased by a neighborhood kid who lives down the street, and comes home crying every day. When you cuddle and hug your child, but also make them go back outside, over the years they learn to stand up for themselves. It's the right balance of love and push to the outside world.



Here are a few techniques to help a sensitive child grow up safe and end up thriving:

  1. Make sure they know that you realize they are sensitive, and that it's not only okay but sometimes wonderful.
  2. Tell your child that you realize how hard it is to deal with being very sensitive, but you truly believe they have the capacity to handle life. On the other hand, teach them what they need at the moment to function in a world where many are not sensitive.
  3. Teach your other kids, if necessary, to not tease or startle. It will make them nicer, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Dr. Barbara Becker Holstein, psychologist, author, and filmmaker

3. They are frequently overwhelmed by external stimuli

One concern for highly sensitive children is that they may be easily overwhelmed and feel anxious.

Many highly sensitive adolescents have developed psychological problems, some of which have led to these children becoming involved in substances early in their lives. An underlying struggle they have due to their “highly sensitive brain” is not being able to soothe themselves.



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Here are a few signs that children with a highly sensitive brain are struggling to self-soothe:

  1. They become easily overwhelmed by loud noises and confusion. They may have a difficult time engaging in boisterous activities and instead try to remove themselves from the situation — even if it's a pleasant event, such as a party — by leaving the room, putting on headphones, needing to become involved in a video game, or needing to draw.
  2. They eat large amounts of carbs, particularly sweets, as a way to calm themselves with food.
  3. They experiment early in life with drug and alcohol use.

One of the biggest signs of a highly sensitive child is how they cope in these ways due to being overwhelmed by taking in too much sensory input — sights, sounds, smells. This needs to be understood by parents and caregivers, not punished.

Patricia O'Gorman, psychologist, life coach, and author


4. They can be overwhelmed by empathetic responses

Highly sensitive children are intensely affected by others' pain; they absorb their emotions and feel it as if it's their pain.

4 Signs Of A Highly Sensitive Child, According To Parenting ExpertsPhoto: Jordan Whitt / Unsplash

Whether their friend's dog is missing, someone is crying on a television show, or they learn about something troubling or tragic on the news, you will notice that they are also deeply upset. They might withdraw in sadness or well up with tears, overwhelmed or flooded by unexpected feelings.


They may also become totally overwhelmed by their own inner emotions. But while it can be overwhelming, this propensity to tune into others helps sensitive kids to be empathetic listeners, great friends, and champions for those in need.

Lisa Petsinis, ACC, CDCS, CLPC, career and life coach

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Carter Gaddis is a writer and editor who spent 24 years as an award-winning sportswriter for newspapers in Florida and for various online publications, including ESPN, Parenting Magazine, and the St. Petersburg Times.