How do you know your child is “highly sensitive”?
Your Disney trip with your highly sensitive child deserves to be magical, and you can work on minimizing the meltdowns by planning ahead. But what does “highly sensitive” really mean?
The word sensitive can have a negative connotation. Some stereotypes include: someone who is too emotional, has no coping skills, is fragile, weak, uptight, and has no “thick skin”.
A more positive way to frame being highly sensitive is to say they are highly aware. Because of their heightened awareness, there is way more sensory input coming in via touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste than for your average child.
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Here are 7 signs that your child might be highly sensitive or highly aware:
1. Loves routines
Highly sensitive children thrive with predictable schedules and routines. Since they tend to startle easily and don’t enjoy surprises, it is helpful to have a clear plan. K loves knowing our weekly schedule and discussing the day ahead. Now that she understands the days of the week, she feels more in control of what’s happening.
Example: Sunday is church. Monday afternoons is ballet class. Thursday after school is swim class. If there are any changes, she copes much better if we give her a heads up instead of springing it on her at the last minute.
Related: 18 Essential Items to Pack for Highly Sensitive Kids at Disney World
2. Notices Any Change in Odor
I am often getting dinner prepped in the late afternoon while J is napping and K is playing in her room. When she comes down the stairs, she is amazingly accurate with identifying what I cooked that day. She is the first to point out if something is stinky or if something smells delicious.
Highly sensitive children often have a stronger sense of smell and have the potential to be bothered by it more than your average child.
3. Prefers Quieter Environments
Loud, noisy, chaotic places can be too much for highly sensitive children. K is usually so busy taking in everything around her that it becomes really hard for me to even get her attention! She hears conversations around her, notices the crying babies, hears the slamming of doors, and recognizes songs playing in the background.
It is hard to focus in environments like this, and after being exposed to a high level of noise for awhile, highly sensitive children need a bit of a sensory break.
Related: How to Prepare Your Highly Sensitive Child for Disney World
4. Is a Perfectionist
Because K is so aware of everything, she also notices any “mistakes” or anything that is “out of place” in her mind. This makes her very particular about how things should be. It is a way for highly sensitive children to feel a sense of control, in a world where there is so much that is unpredictable and unknown.
5. Has a High Level of Empathy
Highly sensitive children not only have a heightened “sensory” experience, they are also very attuned to others’ emotions. K is the first to notice if someone is hurt or upset, and she feels things very deeply. Even when watching TV shows or movies, she will get tears in her eyes if someone is sad, and she will cringe and turn away if there is a lot of conflict or fighting. Not only that, she will ask me a million questions afterwards to help her “process” what she experienced.
Related: 7 Reasons Why You SHOULD Take Your Highly Sensitive Child to Disney World
6. Is Cautious and Takes Time to Process Before Making a Decision
Trying new things is hard for highly sensitive children. They need to observe other kids doing it first, think carefully about the pros and cons, and if they decide it’s something they want to do, they will proceed slowly and carefully.
When we first started swimming lessons for K, she was not very excited about it. It took her months before she would even put on her goggles. And it took even longer before putting her face in the water. Swimming was a new experience with so many unfamiliar sensory sensations. But with patience and continued exposure, she became more confident and eventually was able to swim the length of the pool with no flotation device! Proud mom moment.
Related: 14 Reasons Why Disney World Can Be Hard for Highly Sensitive Kids
7. Notices Subtle Details
Highly sensitive children will notice the subtle details that most others will miss. It could be things in their environment; they will be the first to know if something was moved to a different spot in a room.
They also pick up subtleties in other’s reactions, whether it is a change in facial expression or tone.
For example, K was the first to ask about a scab on her uncle’s knee–something no one else saw.
She is also the BEST at the game Color Brain (we have the Disney version), which is a game where you have to answer fun Disney questions with the correct colors. The color of Elsa’s cape during her coronation? The color of Buzz Lightyear’s hood? The color of Prince Philip’s cape? She got it all! Clearly, it is a game made for kids with great memory and who notice all the little details.
Now that you know and understand some of the signs of a highly sensitive child, you can better prepare for your Disney vacation. You can try to accommodate some of their needs into your vacation plans, so that your kids will, not only tolerate, but ENJOY their trip to the most magical place on earth!
Less emotional and sensory overload equals fewer meltdowns. And fewer meltdowns means less stressed parents and families. A win for everyone!
If you’d like more information, you can find a simple “test” to see if your child might identify as highly sensitive right here.
Do you see any of these signs in your children? Have you heard the term “highly sensitive” before?
If you’re planning a trip to Disney World with your highly sensitive kids, you are NOT alone. Join me in my private Facebook group for exclusive tips and freebies, and find community with other Disney-loving families who have highly sensitive children.