My son was three and a half years old when we discovered he was highly sensitive. We didn’t know much before that moment, and even after we’d read the books and articles and community discussions, we still didn’t feel like we knew enough. One thing we’d known all along however is this: Parenting a highly sensitive child is hard.
For those readers who don’t have highly sensitive children, I know what you’re thinking. Parenting is tough, period. And I can’t but agree with that argument. I also have a non highly sensitive child, and things can get rough with him. Like really, really rough. But the rough I get with my non highly sensitive son is typical parenting rough. His behavior is textbook infant / toddler / little boy / younger sibling. Yes, he is very unique in many ways, but those generalized rules you read in parenting books work with him most of the time. His older brother however has defied every rule and logical pattern since he was born, which, back then, basically meant no one could help us or show us the way. We were on our own, desperately trying to figure things out.
Then we found out, thanks to Elaine Aron’s incredible book, that our son was simply a highly sensitive child, and things started to fall into place very quickly. We also learned that although we were in the dark for so long, we did know that we had to use an approach that was different from what everyone else seemed accustomed to. That’s when things started to get better, and a little easier for all of us. It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened.
Three years later, it almost feels like my son has transformed into someone else. Someone more confident, more assertive, more carefree; someone who is more sociable than I could ever be. Some days I forget the struggles we faced not long ago. I forget that we were lonely because we couldn’t be around anyone. I forget that our little boy drove us to our wits’ end over the most trivial of things.
Some days, my husband and I wonder, is it possible he’s no longer highly sensitive? Has he grown out of it?
The obvious answer to that question is no. One does not grow out of genetic programming. But it’s easy to forget that as we grow, many aspects of our behavior, thoughts, and attitude change. Our experiences mold the way we think and express ourselves in different situations.
A lot of people sincerely ask me if sensitive children “grow out of it”, and I can see where they’re coming from, especially when all they know—or think they know—about “sensitivity” is that it makes people cry and overreact. To them, sensitivity is weakness, and that’s all. They look at your sensitive child, perhaps while he/she is being difficult, and think, “Oh, well I’ve never seen adults cover their ears and cry because the music is too loud, so this must be something kids grow out of.”
As children grow, they change; they’ve had more time to learn about themselves as well as their surroundings. They become more mature and their behavior develops into something more socially acceptable. With the right support from parents, older kids become more familiar with the magic of self-control and how to use it. But no one ever grows out of being highly sensitive. High sensitivity is not a flaw, it’s a character trait you're born with, and like most other character traits, it has both a beautiful aspect and sometimes a less attractive aspect. It’s not something that dictates how we behave but rather affects the way we feel and how we view the world.
Sensitivity is not weakness; it is the power to see more clearly. Sensitivity does not lead to tears, but rather to kindness and empathy. Sensitivity is not isolating; it helps us form stronger, more meaningful bonds with others. In my opinion, it is our only hope for a better future for humanity, a quality no one should ever grow out of.
It’s one thing when a friend, relative or parent claims our kids will grow out of their sensitivities. And it’s a whole other thing when a teacher, caregiver, or doctor insists they will. Our highly sensitive kids need us to understand what they’re going through. They need us to love and support them, and take their struggles seriously, no matter how small they might seem. Assuming they’ll “grow out of it” is denying them what they need to grow into healthy and happy adults. If the people they depend on most brush them off, assuming they’re just spoiled little brats, hungry for attention, leaving them to question themselves and face the world alone, they will grow up to have problems that years of therapy can’t fix.
So let’s get our facts straight before it’s too late. I am starting with myself.
Has anyone ever told you your child will grow out of his/her sensitivities? I’d love to hear your stories.