6 Signs Your Highly Sensitive Child is Overwhelmed (aka Their Bucket is Full)

Highly sensitive children (HSC) process the world around them intensely so they are often more quickly overwhelmed than other children.

Here are six ways you can recognise that your HSC has reached their limit, or in other words when their bucket is full and they need your help. (Remember that all children are different and so the extent to which an activity, event or environment overwhelms a child also differs, and how that overwhelm manifests itself differs too.)

6 Signs Your Highly Sensitive Child is Overwhelmed (aka Their Bucket is Full)

1. Your Child Retreats to a Quiet Space

A child may retreat to a quiet space and express the desire to be alone. Creating a space they feel comfortable in, where they can go to as and when they want will help them deal with their emotions. It may be their bedroom, or elsewhere in the house.  Use a Happy Sensitive Kids door hanger to help them communicate that they need peace and space without a long discussion.

Should you be outside your home, identify an area when you arrive in a new place where your child can retreat to if they need space. Agreeing on a safe, quiet place before the need arises may ease your HSC’s mind a great deal.

2. Your Child Displays Big Emotions Without Obvious Reason

Your child may suddenly display emotions that seem disproportionate to something that just happened or they just experienced. A meltdown or tears may seemingly come out of nowhere, but is actually the result of a build up of emotions over a period of time. A common example is a meltdown once a child reaches the safety of home, triggered by the wrong word uttered by a sibling at the end of a school day. At that point it’s the build up of stimulation from the classroom, rather than the comment from a brother that’s behind the big emotions but a HSC no longer has control over their emotions – and their bucket spills over.

3. Your Child Shows Anger

Your child may suddenly become angry, go into an (unexplained) rage or even be aggressive. This is especially true for young children who cannot yet regulate their emotions or put them into words. Walking around with a full bucket is frustrating and tiring – an overstimulated child who cannot understand why they are feeling the way they do often ends up resembling a volcano. This is common in our house around bedtime when one of my children realise that their bucket is still full – and sleeping just isn’t an option yet – there’s lots of stomping and frustration coming out.

Helping your child out their anger or frustration in a controlled manner will ensure that nobody gets hurt! Think about things like a punch bag, a cushion or pillow to hit, a football to kick or get them screaming as loud as they can – or simply a hug.

4. Your Child Cries Uncontrollably

Your child’s frustration, anger or overwhelm may also show itself in the form of tears, lots and lots of uncontrollable sobbing. It’s heartbreaking to watch, but holding your child whilst they out their feelings with tears can be exactly what they need. Don’t tell your child to stop crying, instead let them know you are there for them as soon as they’re ready to talk, if they want to. Sometimes a child reaches the point where they simply cannot take anymore – and have no control over their emotions. In these situations there’s nothing worse than being told there’s no need to cry…….

5. Your Child is Hyperactive

Your child may literally bounce around the house, with energy that feels like it knows no bounds. This is one of the reasons that highly sensitive children are often mistaken as having ADHD for example, where in actual fact a classroom is just too stimulating for a child.

Often a HSC will be a model pupil in school and will sit still and do what is required – holding all their emotions, experiences and thoughts in. This bottling up will manifest itself in some way – and that may be with hyperactive behaviour. Channel that energy into activities that will help your child release everything that has been bottled up during the day – running, football or creative expression. Finding what works is trial and error.

6. Physical Ailments

Our bodies are masterful at letting us know when we have had as much stress as we can take. If your HSC starts complaining about physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches then listen. Whilst they may not have a virus or sickness as such, what they feel is real. Their bodies are not coping and physical ailments that disappear quickly are a telltale sign of feeling overwhelmed. Some children even get an unexplained fever, particularly towards the end of a school week. Give them the time and space to recover. The overwhelm is real.

In all cases it may seem, particularly to the outside world, that your child is acting up and displaying unacceptable behaviour. Being told by others that you are making a fuss of your child, spoiling your child or allowing them to get away with undesired behaviour, makes parenting a highly sensitive child tough. Comments from ‘helpful’ bystanders will certainly make you doubt yourself and your parenting skills. However, if you can learn over time exactly what lies behind your HSC’s outbursts and behaviour and you will be able to intrinsically trust your instinct and support your child accordingly.

6 Signs Your Highly Sensitive Child is Overwhelmed (aka Their Bucket is Full)


About Amanda van Mulligen

Mother, writer, author, blogger. Born British, Living Dutch. I have three Dutch sons and a Dutch husband and I blog about Turning Dutch and raising highly sensitive children.
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18 Responses to 6 Signs Your Highly Sensitive Child is Overwhelmed (aka Their Bucket is Full)

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  13. Ana says:

    Dear Amanda, I found this site yesterday while seeking help with my 4 year old daughter. Everyone says she’s just like me “sensitive” but I lacked information, awareness and above all ideas to help her. So a very big thank you!! It all makes more sense now! Yesterday afternoon was spent nicely playing Peppa Pig snap and memory games; no crying or hitting her brothers!! She doesn’t like the “early bird” service at school, starting at 8.30 and then going to her classroom at 9am. This morning she suggested that one day we could go to early bird and the next I can wait with her in the playground until 9!! I was both amazed and shocked. So I agreed (will need to “manage” with my boss), but I really feel we’ve made progress. As I am very sensitive as well, having to manage her crying fits everyday and the domino effect this has on her twin brothers of 2 and half, if I am honest, made me dread going home sometimes! I already have more ideas to make things a little easier while at the same time giving her the tools she needs to manage her emotions and live in this mad world!! Many, many thanks!!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Sarah says:

    Just to give you an update…your advice helped me put the behaviour into perspective. Thank you! I have since found a much better place to park the car and we can now walk to and from school along a lovely leafy back alley, well away from the busy road. The children can run freely, pick blackberries along the way, watch hens in a back garden etc etc. we are all much more relaxed and their behaviour is (except when over tired!!!) transformed!
    I have found a calming music for the car when we need to sit quietly when overdone/over excited…Magic! It’s brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Sarah says:

    Thank you for this. Just what I needed to read after 4 days in a new school for my 2 HSCs. My 7 year old daughter is the hyperactive type, which I am learning to understand and deal with. She is beginning to accept a massage before sleep, which helps. My 4 year old son has been very aggressive when I pick him up, which I find very difficult to deal with when walking down a busy road. Any tips for dealing with biting and kicking and “wild” behaviour before we get to sanctuary of car and home are welcome!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • My 4 year old comes out of school very cross – and his listening skills disappear completely……. which indeed is not what you need when crossing roads etc.

      Try hugs. Try deep breaths (make it a game) and let him know that you get it – that it’s been busy/noisy/overwhelming and his bucket is full. Mine often just needs to be left alone so he walks a few steps behind us home (we walk home).

      Maybe in the car try a relax CD (there’s a link of the resources page) or calming musics or sounds.

      Or of course preventing an overflowing bucket is better – see if there are opportunities to recharge during the school day so he doesn’t have to bottle up his emotions.


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