As the parent of a highly sensitive child (HSC) what should you share with their teacher? Parents are worried about slapping labels on their child’s heads, or being THAT parent. At the end of the day you have to be the best advocate you can be for your child, particularly young children who can’t explain their emotions or speak up for themselves.
Remember that teachers are not mind readers and, in general, are open to your guidance when it comes to getting the best out of your child.
I have been in one to one discussions with teachers and school counsellors more times than I can remember about my three highly sensitive children; here’s a list of 25 things that have been helpful along the way.
1. Your Child Has an Instruction Manual
Tell your child’s teacher about your child’s sensitivities and how they may manifest themselves in the school environment. Is your child overstimulated by noise, visual stimuli, changes in routine, surprises? You don’t need to put a label on a child to explain how your child best operates.
2. Seating in a Classroom is Important
A HSC can easily be distracted and bothered by the slightest thing in the classroom. Think about things like entrances to the classroom, the whirr of computers next to them, bright lights overhead, a classmate that hums to himself whilst working being placed next to a HSC.
There are many factors to consider, depending on the particular sensitivities of a child. You can read more on this topic here.
3. Exams and Tests Don’t Always Reflect Ability
Highly sensitive child aren’t always able to show their true abilities through formal testing. The stress of having to perform often means a HSC loses their ability to shine. A teacher really needs to get to know a child to be able to assess their true capabilities and understand if a test reflects actual ability.
A good teacher will be able to help find the key to unlocking a HSCs potential – but it helps if they know that they need to look for it.
My youngest is a perfectionist and thinks so deeply about test questions that he ends up confusing himself; his test results don’t reflect the level he attains in the classroom under normal conditions. Thankfully his former teacher realised this and made sure his new teachers were made aware of this.
A friend shared that her daughter’s former teacher helped her child by encouraging her to take a walk outside around the school to calm her before a test. The results showed that it helped.
These kind of insights and support is exactly what a HSC needs.
4. Tone of Voice Matters
Ofen it’s not what a teacher says, but how a teacher says something. A harsh tone or a loud voice will often make a HSC crumple inside and the message will be lost. A soft, calm approach works better with a HSC.
5. Sweeping Punishment Impacts Greatly
When general accusations are aimed at a class a HSC will take them to heart and feel guilty, even if they have done nothing wrong. Telling offs or punishments given to an entire class will have a disproportional affect on a HSC. I can remember this feeling from my own school days – and that is going back some years…….
6. Your Child is Probably Not the Only One
15 to 20 percent of the population is highly sensitive. The chances that your child is the only highly sensitive child a teacher has in their classes is small. Awareness helps a child greatly.
7. A HSC is Slow to Warm Up & Adjust
Many HSCs are cautious and prefer to first observe and learn how things work before they dive in. This shouldn’t be mistaken for apathy or disinterest. Forcing a HSC’s involvement whilst they are getting used to a situation can be damaging. This is particularly true with a new school, class or teacher.
8. Communication Lines Need to be Kept Short
A HSC thinks deeply and is affected by all manners of external stimuli. For a teacher their overwhelm may not be visible. It’s common for a HSC to feel so stressed about school that they become deeply unhappy and resistant to going to school. Physical ailments (headache, stomachaches) are common.
Keeping the lines of communication short with a teacher is vital if a HSC is to thrive in school.
9. A HSC is Different In School Than at Home
I was shocked to learn from my son’s coach that it’s not considered the normal scenario that a child is different in school than they are at home. However, in my experience, this is often the case with a HSC.
At home a child feels safe and free to be themselves, which often they do not feel at school. It’s important that a teacher knows that the reserved child they see in their classroom does not represent the lively, eager, spontaneous, outgoing child you see at home.
10. A HSC Needs a Gentle Approach
This applies not just to a tone or volume of voice but to criticism, correction and reprimands. If you push a HSC they will inevitably back off completely. If you harshly criticise a HSC they will feel like a failure and may not make another attempt in the future. In short, a teacher needs to know that your HSC will react more positively to a gentle approach.
11. A Reset Takes 20 Minutes
Once a HSC is overstimulated it takes twenty minutes for a child to calm completely and get back to a state where they are able to absorb information and work. Twenty minutes is a long time in a classroom so it’s obviously better to avoid overstimulation in the first place. Regular periods of quiet time built into a day will help.
12. Don’t Label a HSC as Shy or Fearful
There is a natural tendency for a HSC to observe before jumping in, of fully considering all sides of a discussion before talking. Labeling a HSC as shy or fearful may stick and they may start to believe it themselves.
13. HSCs Need Time to Deal with Changes
If a teacher knows that a schedule will be turned upside down, or there is something out of the ordinary happening in class a HSC will deal better with it if they are forewarned. Think about things like class outings, celebrations, guest speakers, planned cancellation of classes or a substitute teacher.
14. Less is More When it Comes to Friendships
Some HSCs need help on a social level as they can be slow to make friends. However, one close cherished friend is often enough for a HSC, rather than a large group. Any help a teacher can give to help a HSC make contact with others if they are struggling is welcome.
15. HSCs are Generally Creative
HSCs see the details and the beauty in every day things around them. They are moved by music, love being in nature and are creative. This should be harnessed wherever possible in the school environment.
16. Building Trust is Vital
Without trust a HSC will not share how they are feeling, or what they are struggling with and most HSCs are difficult to read (mine are in a classroom in any case). It’s important that a HSC feels they can trust a teacher so that they are comfortable sharing.
17. School Must Feel Safe
For HSCs the classroom and school in general feels overwhelming and uncomfortable. Small incidents can seem huge to a HSC who takes things personally so the feeling of safety is easily compromised. A teacher’s help is often needed in this area.
18. Positive Feedback Works Wonders
HSCs don’t take criticism well but truly beam from the inside out when they feel they have done something noticeable. Keep feedback positive wherever possible, and give it when it is due.
19. HSCs Function Better When Tasks are Broken Down
Overwhelm. It’s a word I have used lots in this post. School is a place of real overwhelm for a HSC and when it comes to school work and assignments overwhelm features highly.
My children used to got to a Dalton school where day tasks and weeks tasks needed to be organised and planned, and then carried out. The work itself wasn’t an issue for my eldest but the planning and the how turned out to be a huge source of stress. Once the teacher took the planning away from him he was a different child in the classroom.
Making each step of a task clear to a HSC helps enormously.
20. HSCs Need Challenge
HSCs are often bright children who understand things quickly. However, this isn’t always visually evident and made less obvious by the fact that their concentration may drift during a repeat explanation. It’s not disinterest of a lack of comprehension – they got it the first time and a teacher loses their attention if they hear the same thing over.
My eldest’s teacher cottoned on fast to how quickly my son picks things up so sends him back to his desk to get on with the associated work whilst she goes through things again for those who need it.
My other two sons have also been given different workbooks to help challenge them; I was so happy to learn that the teachers had even ordered additional material for my youngest son because they saw he needed something extra.
This individual approach keeps my sons interested in their school work. They need challenge or school becomes boring.
21. Look After Yourself
If a teacher is feeling stressed, under the weather or just not themselves a HSC knows it. They pick up on emotions and worry or will be distracted.
22. Small Things Seem Big to a HSC
A fleeting comment from a classmate, a cross word from a teacher, a small shove in the hallway – these are all huge things for a HSC. Believe them when they say an incident feels important – hear them out and don’t dismiss them. Help them close out the incident and move on.
23. Overwhelm Builds at School and is Released at Home
It’s important to know that a HSC has a brilliant poker face – it may seem that little affects them in school but it all builds up and comes out at home. There are often tears and tantrums after a busy day in school but no signs of any issue whilst at school. A parent needs a teacher to believe and understand that.
24. Use a HSC’s Emotional Insight
A HSC is like a sponge when it comes to emotions. Their insight in a classroom can be enlightening as they sense when others are uncomfortable, or struggling or if there are underlying reasons for a behaviour. Consider a HSC as the equivalent of a canary in a mine – if they are not okay, others are probably not okay either.
25. There are Resources to Help Teachers Understand HSCs
Elaine Aron‘s book ‘The Highly Sensitive Child’ (Amazon US link here, Amazon UK link here) has a section at the back written specifically for teachers. Get a copy of the book and share it with your child’s teachers.
Another read I highly recommend gifting to anyone who is involved with your HSC is Jamie Williamson’s ‘Understanding the Highly Sensitive Child: Seeing an Overwhelming World through Their Eyes’ (Amazon US link here, Amazon UK link here). This is a quick, easy and brilliantly insightful read to help people understand what highly sensitive is, and how it effects a child.
Share articles that you think sum up your child. Share links with your teacher that may help them get to know your child.
- The Perfect School for a Highly Sensitive Child
- 7 Tips to Help a Highly Sensitive Child Flourish in School
- 5 Ways for a Highly Sensitive Child to Get Quiet Time in School
- When Our Quiet Children Get Lost in the Noise of Their Classrooms
- 7 Reasons Your Highly Sensitive Child Struggles with Gym and Swimming Lessons
- Highly Sensitive Children Through the Eyes of a Teacher
- 21 Ways to Recognise a Highly Sensitive Child
- Highly Sensitive Children Seem Like a Teacher’s Dream – But They Are Not
The more understanding there is in the classroom for our HSCs, the more comfortable they will be sharing the beautiful positives of being highly sensitive.