upset child covering earsFor many children, birthday parties are exciting. They’re a great way to blow off steam, usually involving cake, presents, toys, games, and a big crowd of enthusiastic kids. But for highly sensitive children, parties and similar events can be overwhelming. The heightened energy, loud noises, and rush of excited children may make your child want to retreat to a quiet room, or even go home a bit early.

It is not uncommon for a child to be highly sensitive. Researchers believe that 15-20% of the population are considered “highly sensitive”. Highly sensitive children are in possession of a gift, in that they may notice the sound of a bird they’ve never heard, or might delight in the smell of bread baking. However, when confronted with a crowded, loud, bright, or otherwise overstimulating situation, a highly sensitive child may become stressed and may ask to leave. In a worst case scenario, he may have a bit of a meltdown. There are ways to help your child cope with his highly sensitive nature.

Crowds are perhaps one of the most prevalent triggers for highly sensitive children. The rush of people, the cacophony of upset child cryingvoices, and the rising temperature can be very overwhelming for a child who is sensitive to stimuli. This doesn’t need to prevent your child from engaging in popular activities. You may just need to make adjustments. Head to the children’s museum in the late afternoon, instead of in the morning, when most families arrive at the front doors in a rush. Take advantage of concerts and kid-friendly events that take place outdoors, in a wide open space. Avoid the mall on sales-heavy weekends.

Your child may feel less anxiety in a particular situation if she is given choices. If you ask your child whether she would like to go to a movie, explaining to her exactly what to expect from the sights, sounds, and special effects, or whether she feels like going to the zoo, describing to her the various exhibits, some indoors and crowded, others outdoors and peaceful, she’ll be able to weigh her options and will feel more empowered even if her movie or her trip to the zoo contains the occasional overstimulating moment.

Downtime is key for highly sensitive children. Some kids may thrive on rushing from gymnastics to shopping to lunch and then a trip to the playground, but your highly sensitive child may enjoy one activity in the morning, followed by some quiet time at home. This downtime allows him to recharge his batteries, relax, and refocus. Remember to speak with your daycare provider or preschool teachers about the possibility of building in a bit of quiet time when they notice that your child is becoming overwhelmed.

Embrace creativity! Many highly sensitive children will become instantly relaxed when allowed to spend an hour painting quietly, listening to their favorite music, or helping you to decorate at home. Allowing a child to focus on a creative task is soothing and lets your child let go of outside stimuli, homing in on her own ideas and abilities.

Just like any creative task, time spent in nature is very important for highly sensitive children. A walk through a wooded area, an hour or two relaxing in the park or your backyard, or a stroll by a waterfront, all allow your child to pick up on the beauty of the natural world, which is normally just stimulating enough to capture a child’s interest, but not so overwhelming as to cause anxiety.

Highly sensitive children notice, experience, and revel in sensations and sounds that many of us barely notice. This makes them attuned to their environment and the people around them, which is a wonderful thing. Too much stimuli, however, can prove overwhelming, so your task as a parent is to help to guide them through the world without taxing their nerves. Of course, if your child experiences anxiety and over-stimulation, let them know that they will be OK, you are there for them, and that anxiety is common and not dangerous. Letting your child know that it’s OK to be himself is key to his self esteem and coping skills.