Author Archives: Leila Boukarim

About Leila Boukarim

I'm Leila, and I am the mother of a highly sensitive child. In my blog I openly discuss the challenges that we face and the things we do to try and bring out the best in our sensitive and extraordinary child. The topic of high sensitivity is still unknown to most, making it especially difficult on our highly sensitive kids to fight their way through life while being completely misunderstood. My goal is to reach as many parents I can, and to bring to light the fact that these children are not just normal. They are better than normal. They really are extraordinary.

A Journey of Discovery – Parenting a Highly Sensitive Child

It’s been five years since we found out our son was a highly sensitive child. Five years of learning. Five years of growth. Five years during which he has changed so drastically we can hardly remember what it was like to struggle with the trivial, every single minute of every single day.

I recently started doing something I’ve wanted to do for a long time—get parents of highly sensitive children together physically, and just talk. Talk about how they found out, when they found out, what led them to their discovery, how they felt about it, what the process has been like. Talk about how they’ve felt on this journey, how their lives have changed, how lonely they have been. Talk about it all. The big, the small, the ugly, the petty; all of it.

A Journey of Discovery - Parenting a Highly Sensitive Child

The experience has not only been very rewarding, but extremely humbling. The stories that were shared over coffee took me back to a time when we had to think about everything, and I mean everything, to make sure our child was happy and to avoid—or at least minimize public scenes.

But the human memory is a funny thing, especially when it comes to children. It seems nature designed us to persevere and try again no matter what, and that can be easier when you can’t quite remember the difficulties that once left you paralyzed with hopelessness. But no matter how scary a birth story is, no matter how many years you survived on no more than a couple of hours of sleep a night, no matter how many parts of your body no longer function the way they should as a result, you do it again. It’s weird, and it’s magical. Our survival as a species depends on it.

I look at my son today and, after sitting through stories from parents who are just starting on their journey, stories that can easily be ours, I try and think about and appreciate where we are now, and what it took for us to get here.

And after all, how can I possibly forget a time when my husband and I would constantly whisper, whether our son was asleep or not, simply because we had gotten so used to being quiet. How can we possibly forget the nights when we put him in his stroller and walked laps around the house, singing and counting and praying, and begging the universe to have mercy on us and get him to sleep. And how can we forget the sound of the creaking that came minutes after he’d finally dozed off, alerting us to a baby who was ready for another hundred laps.

How can I forget the struggles that seemed to be ours and ours alone, like the unpredictable flush of a public bathroom and the anxiety it caused. Or the terrifying sound of the hand dryer. Or how nothing we did was enough to convince him that the slide at the playground and the coin-operated kiddie rides at the mall were safe.

How can I forget the tears and screams we had to endure, and grew to expect at every birthday party, and every gathering, and every time someone walked up to us a little too enthusiastically to say hello. And the anger and resentment I felt in the moment, and the gut-wrenching guilt that followed when all was finally quiet.

There was a time, a very long time, when we couldn’t leave our son with anyone in the evening and go out. A time when we had to lay in a tiny bed waiting for a restless child to drift off to sleep, for as long as it took. A time when we had to turn down every invitation that came our way, until they just stopped coming. A time when going out for lunch on the weekend was such an impossible feat that it just wasn’t worth the effort.

A time when we worried about why it was that no one seemed to understand what we were going through. A time when we blamed ourselves for our situation. A time when we were desperate for answers that no one seemed to have.

But here we are today, still very much on a journey of discovery, learning, and growth, a journey still filled with challenges, but five years later, everything is different. Our son has transformed into someone more carefree, more adventurous, more daring. Someone sociable and confident and approachable. He can be loud, and wild, and absolutely hilarious.

People always ask what caused this transformation to take place, and I can never give one answer because there isn’t one answer. But things did start to improve significantly when we found out he was highly sensitive, and then again when we found others who understood. If I’m sure about anything, it’s that those two things changed our lives. I often wish I had stumbled on them sooner. What a difference it can make to know, to understand, and to be understood.

If I can offer other parents anything during those coffee morning chats, I want it to be just that. I’ve been where they are now and I know how grey the sky can seem. And if can offer some kind of reassurance of a light at the end of the tunnel, through the sharing of our own stories of darker times, through a glimpse into a possible future; if I can give even a shred of comfort by showing them they are not alone, by listening to their worries and by nodding at their stories because they are also my stories, then I am happy. Then I know I am doing what I need to be doing.

Because there was a time when I would have done anything for just that.

For online support groups, I highly recommend you join these two:
– Happy Sensitive Kids (private Facebook group) run by Amanda van Mulligen
– Highly Sensitive Children – Closed Group for Parents (private Facebook group) run by Brenda Dronkers
And if you are based in Singapore (that’s where I am), please join our group here. I would love to chat with you over coffee. Wherever you are, try to find other parents going through the same thing. Things have changed so much over the last few years, and the chances of finding support groups are now in our favor. 


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There’s No Such Thing as “Too Sensitive”

I have been wanting to write about this seemingly little thing that happened, a little thing that’s stayed with me for years. After a few failed attempts of turning it into a story that could be told, I decided to give up on the idea altogether, and just hold on to the warm feelings this memory always triggers.

And then I read it, a beautiful line in a beautiful book that almost seemed like it was written for me, about my little story.

To all those who've pointed their fingers at the daydreamers, the criers, the lovers, the feelers, telling them they were "too much"; to those people I say, there is no such thing as "too sensitive". (Quote by Matt Haig, The Humans)

We get so busy, all of us, with the tasks and duties and mindlessness of everyday life that we forget what it is to be alive. We forget to really live. And then at the age of forty, fifty, sixty, if we’re lucky, we realize we’ve been missing out and that life is fragile and fleeting and we worry it might be too late to change. So we teach ourselves about meditation, and mindfulness, and living in the present. We try to be more aware, more grateful, more “in the moment”. Until we forget again.

But then there are those who have not missed out on as much. Those who seem to daydream too much; who stop to look and notice the beauty in what surrounds them; who feel love and pain so intensely it’s unbearable; who are moved by a song, a flower, a sentiment.

Those who’ve been accused of being too sensitive.

A few years ago, I took my highly sensitive little boy to the beach. I was worried about it being a windy day and thought the waves might frighten him. But when we got there, he marched into the water, with me following close behind, ready to take on the Mediterranean. When normally he couldn’t stand getting his face wet, he accepted the salty water when hit his eyes and found its way into his mouth. He was happy.

But unlike all the other children, he didn’t laugh or scream or splash. He gazed and admired. Looking very serious—as he often did—it almost looked as though he was pondering life’s great mysteries and magic, and perhaps he was.

And then it happened, that seemingly small thing. My son leaned back and stuck his foot out of the water only to find a single, pink petal sitting on his little heel. I would imagine most people, big or little, would’ve thought nothing of this, and that wouldn’t be crazy. In that moment, I remember smiling, possibly wondering where the petal had come from and then moving on very quickly to the people who were with us and the chatter that was taking place. But my son kept looking at it in awe and with such strange appreciation.

This little event left such a huge impression on my son that over the next few months, he would bring up “the time he found the petal on his foot” rather than “that day at the beach with friends” or “the big waves that splashed me in the face” or nothing at all. And every time he talked about the petal, he did so with meaning. To witness such a tiny person be so aware of the magic that surrounds us is a privilege I don’t take for granted. To be so naturally sensitive to life and be so attuned to all the wonder it brings is a gift. It’s something many people are striving to be.

And if they’re not, they ought to.

To all those who’ve pointed their fingers at the daydreamers, the criers, the lovers, the feelers, telling them they were “too much”; to those people I say, there is no such thing as “too sensitive”.To all those who've pointed their fingers at the daydreamers, the criers, the lovers, the feelers, telling them they were "too much"; to those people I say, there is no such thing as "too sensitive".The quote I used is a piece of advice given by an alien who lives on Earth for a while and learns what it is to be human, and to live and die. Here are some of my favorite pieces of advice for humans in Matt Haig’s The Humans If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you do!


Shame is a shackle. Free yourself


Don’t worry about your abilities. You have the ability to love. That is enough.


Be nice to other people. At the universal level, they are you.


You shouldn’t have been born. Your existence is as close to impossible as can be. To dismiss the impossible is to dismiss yourself.


Happiness is not out here. It is in there.


If there is a sunset, stop and look at it. Knowledge is finite. Wonder is infinite.


No one is ever completely right about anything. Anywhere.


Your brain is open. Never let it be closed.


Everything matters.


Don’t ever be afraid of telling someone you love them. There are things wrong with your world, but an excess of love is not one.


Obey your head. Obey your heart. Obey your gut. In fact, obey everything except commands.


Be alive. That is your supreme duty to the world.


Most humans don’t think about things very much.  They survive by thinking about needs and wants alone. But you are not one of those. Be careful.


No one will understand you. That is not, ultimately, that important. What is important is that you understand you.


Politeness is often fear. Kindness is always courage. But caring is what makes you human. Care more, become more human.


If you think something is ugly, look harder. Ugliness is just a failure of seeing.


To like something is to insult it. Love it or hate it. Be passionate. As civilization advances, so does indifference. It is a disease. Immunise yourself with art. And love.

Read the complete list here.

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Dear Teacher, Our Highly Sensitive Children Need You

It’s back to school for us over here and for many people around the world. While I have to admit it’s a relief the long summer break is finally over, my worry suddenly seems to be overshadowing my contentment. Instead of enjoying the peace and quiet I’ve been craving for the past thousand weeks, I find myself drowning in the fear that this school year won’t go the way we desperately want it to.

There was a time when our highly sensitive child detested being around people, especially little ones, and so by association school was a miserable place for him to be in. However, as he got older and matured, and with the loving support of some of the incredible teachers he’s had, school has become something he actually looks forward to.

From my own experience and from the stories I hear from parents on an almost daily basis, I can say with rock-solid confidence that a teacher can either make or break a child. A teacher who fails to cater to her/his students’ individual needs and cannot accept the simple fact that there is no “one size fits all” solution can destroy a child’s entire academic career. A great teacher, on the other hand, one who devotes her(him)self to understanding every child, encouraging each one to be the best they can be, that teacher can give a child wings to fly.

In other words, a teacher can make the whole difference.

So, on the first week of this new school year, I want to call out to the teachers of the world and ask them to hear my plea as the mother of a highly sensitive child. We all want the year to go well, and I believe most of us are willing to work together with you to make that happen.

Dear Teacher, Our Highly Sensitive Children Need you

Dear teacher, when things get rough, and we all know they will, I lovingly ask that you remember this…

(1) You will have highly sensitive children in your class. With 2 out of 10 people having the high sensitivity trait, chances are you will have at least one child in your class who is highly sensitive. Depending on the child’s age, temperament, classroom, and many more factors, this child might be the one who prefers to sit in a corner alone, or to read instead of play, or not put up their hand even if they have the answers. These kids may be too kind and gentle for their own good sometimes. They may get emotional faster than most and even cry when it may not seem there’s anything to cry about. Please look out for them. They are there. And they need you.

(2) Please understand what high sensitivity is. I don’t mean this in a condecending way at all. The thing is though, with sensitive children, getting it right with them from the beginning can help them live a more care-free kind of childhood and grow into happy, confident adults. On the other hand, getting it wrong can set them up for failure and misery later on which even years of expensive therapy may not fix. There are plenty of resources to help, and if you’re short on time, there are quick, comprehensive guides and even a documentary that will give you a very good summary in an hour or less.

(3) Give them time and space. They’ll come around. It is true that high sensitivity is not something you grow out of, but it is something you learn to live with. The more you understand yourself and your environment, the better control you gain over your emotions. Simply put, if you let your sensitive children be, even if it means they’re missing out on classroom activities, they will eventually be ready to join you. And they’ll most like do it very well.

(4) Show them you understand. This one’s hard because it can be frustrating having to accommodate one child’s needs while you have twenty others (or more!) to tend to. Sensitive children are so sensitive that they can sense your frustration and disappointment. Please be patient with them. Not only will your support and understanding not go unnoticed, but it will go a long way towards building their confidence and self-esteem. Every time you let them know it’s okay, you get it, they grow a little more. Nothing can be worse than feeling alone and weird at school.

(5) Use gentleness in your approach. Highly sensitive children respond very well to a positive and gentle approach to learning. Similarly, a tougher attitude involving negative feedback or consequences can have a detrimental effect on a sensitive child. The reason for this is sensitive children are very aware of themselves and their performance and tend to be hardest on themselves. The last thing they need is someone else to tell them they’ve failed. That’s not to say however that feedback should not be given; on the contrary. It’s more about the delivery and the balance between “firm” and “nurturing”. (I’m still working on that one myself.)

(6) Just because their hands don’t go up doesn’t mean they don’t have the answers. The fact is, most highly sensitive children detest the spotlight and avoid it whenever possible. Unlike more outgoing children who enjoy attention and praise, a sensitive child can be satisfied with simply knowing the answers to your questions and keeping that knowledge to him or herself. Our son has had teachers who knew when to call on him and when to leave him alone; thanks to their gentle and intuitive approach, those teachers really helped him to work on his assertiveness and comfort with speaking in front of a group.

(7) Yelling does not help. Smiling does. The general atmosphere of the class can greatly affect how a sensitive child feels at the end of a school day and their willingness to go back. I remember teachers who were not necessarily mean, but were loud and ‘frowny’ by nature. A lot of students thought they were hilarious, but other students, including myself, felt threatened and simply could not function in that teacher’s classroom, even though we weren’t personally targeted. Gentle, ‘smiley’ teachers, on the other hand, can create the ideal ambiance in which a more sensitive, more creative child can flourish.

(8) They need you to notice things, even outside the classroom. School is not just about the classroom. It’s also about what happens outside the classroom that can affect children. Outside, teachers have less visibility and control. And we all know that a lot can happen during recess and lunch breaks. It’s impossible to know what’s going on with every student at all times, but do you notice changes in mood or attitude after breaks? Does your student often seem upset and absent-minded after recess? Then chances are something’s going on and they need you to know. However, many sensitive kids won’t always seek your help, and a lot of the time it’s because they don’t want to “tell” on their friends. So maybe a private, friendly discussion is the best way to get them to open up.

Resources for Teachers, Highly Sensitive Children

On a final note, I just want to say that I am convinced teachers have magical super powers. The effects they have on their students can last forever. They can ensure order in a chaotic environment; they can influence decisions and change minds; they can give their children the strength to do things they never thought they could. Teaching children might just be the most important job there is, and it takes a super human to do it well.

So thank you, teachers of the world, for doing something not everyone can. Thank you for being there for our children.

Here’s where you can find the great resources mentioned in this post:

The Highly Sensitive Child by Dr Elaine Aron

Understanding the Highly Sensitive Child by Jamie Williamson

Sensitive, The Untold Story – A Documentary based on the work of Dr Elaine Aron

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I’m Highly Sensitive, Stop Worrying About Me

A letter from a highly sensitive child

Dear Mom, Dad, Teacher, Neighbor, Friend, Random Passer-by… Dear World,

I want you to know, I am highly sensitive. You may not fully understand what that means, and I don’t blame you because I myself don’t quite get it yet, and I may never fully comprehend why I am the way I am. But I also want you to know that I’m okay. I see the way you look at me; I hear you whisper things about me, things that I insist are not true; I know you worry about me and wonder if there may be something wrong; I know you secretly wish I could be different, perhaps because you think it might be better for me.

I'm highly sensitive, stop worrying about me

But World, here’s the thing. There’s nothing wrong with me. I am highly sensitive, and that is not something that needs to be remedied. And please don’t assume that I am weak as a result, because I can assure you I am not. I realize that I don’t behave like many of the children you’ve seen, and I may not meet the expectations so many book have reinforced.

I know it would make your life easier if I just went with the flow and did things the “right” way, because then you wouldn’t have to try and understand me; because then, you wouldn’t have to go out of your way to accommodate me and my needs. Because then, you wouldn’t have to worry about me.

Well, I feel like I need to tell you, World, I’m highly sensitive. Stop worrying about me.

Some things don’t bother you, but that doesn’t make it wrong for them to bother me. I just see, hear and think about things differently.

Just because I’m sitting alone under a tree while everyone runs around at the playground doesn’t mean I’m not having fun. I quite enjoy the quiet and the time to think and observe. It teaches me a lot about you.

I may not put up my hand to answer your questions in class, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know the answers. Most of the time, I do. I just don’t like being in the spotlight.

I may refuse to go down a long, slippery slide or run across a wobbly rope bridge, but that doesn’t make me a coward. I just like to make sure things are safe before I jump in, which some people might say is pretty clever.

You might think I cry often, and that may be so. But that’s because I care a lot, and things hurt me a lot, and my emotions can be so big that they fill me up like an overflowing bucket. It may be hard to believe, but those big feelings may come in handy one day.

If I don’t respond right away, it doesn’t mean I’m not listening to you. I am. And I’ve registered what you’ve said, and I’m thinking about it thoroughly, from a hundred different angles.

Which brings me to my daydreaming. You think it’s a problem because I seem absent. But while you see nothing but a blank face, I am fighting dragons and building castles, flying to space and swimming with sharks. I just can’t be in your world and mine at the same time. (Plus, mine is so much more fun!)

So, World, all I ask of you is to try and understand what it’s like to be me and trust that I am okay, even if I don’t fit your definition of okay. Just show me you’ll love me anyway, and will be there for me even when things get difficult and unpleasant, and have faith that with time, I will learn to process everything you have to offer without becoming overwhelmed.

It will happen, in good time, when I’m ready. So stop worrying.


A highly sensitive child

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How do you tell a sensitive child the truth about the world?

I hate to admit it. It’s fact I like to try and ignore. But let’s face it, at times, the world can be a horrible, scary place.

I want to say that this is especially relevant today, in light of what’s been going on in the US, no matter what your opinions are, but the truth is it has been for as long as I can remember. War, discrimination, racism, sexism, hatred, poverty, desperation, global warming, garbage, species on the brink of extinction; and the list goes on and on and on.

For a person who thinks deeply about everything, and more specifically about the problems of the world, the truth can be cripplingly overwhelming. For a child who starts to ask existential questions even after a seemingly innocent bedtime story, how do you explain any of the awful things going on around us?

When you have trouble dealing with the news yourself, how do you tell a sensitive child the truth about the world?

I was invited to give a talk at my son’s school last week, something I never in my wildest dreams thought would happen. But it did. They invited me because they were interested. And the number of people we had that night was, according to the school, the highest they’d seen to date. That says a lot; it says there are many parents at the school, the parents of most likely 20% of the students there, who want to know what’s going on with their children.

Leila Boukarim Speaking to Parents at the German European School Singapore about Highly Sensitive Children

I will never forget they way my husband and I struggled before we knew our son was highly sensitive. Having answers can sometimes make the whole difference. It gives you reassurance and relief, and from there you can move on to more constructive things. But until you know, you spend most of your time and energy wondering, asking, waiting, worrying… And that’s not good for anyone.

The session went on for about an hour and a half. Honestly, I could have gone on all night. I could’ve told a hundred stories. I could’ve gone into every little detail that drove us to our wits end when things were bad. And if we all got a little more comfortable, I could’ve even cried. And I know there were tears other than mine that needed to be shed because I’ve been there, and I know what it’s like not to know, and to feel so very alone.

There were many great questions after the talk. Some people came up to me later and we talked more privately. I will never forget that night or the things that were said. Some of the parents faces will forever be engraved in my mind, and my heart.

It was one mom who asked me that night how we can go about telling our sensitive kids the truth about the world.

There are some questions people will ask, desperately hoping they will get a clear, straightforward, “that’s the only way”-magic answer. This was one of them. But alas, the kind of answer we so desperately want just doesn’t exist. Some people would like you to believe that there is. But no matter how you frame or deliver the answer, there can never be just one.

So I’m going to speak from experience. And I’m going to speak from the heart. It’s one of the few things I do well.

It goes without saying that some horrors do not need to be shared with kids. But they will eventually be exposed to some things, and they will ask you to tell them what’s going on.  And it will never be an easy thing to do. When they ask about the man sleeping on the street, the child in the wheelchair, the house on fire, the three-legged dog; when they ask about why so many animals are endangered, why Syrian children have to leave their country and find a new place to live, about where we go when we die; it will rip you apart, it will leave you speechless, but you’ll have to pull yourself together and give them an answer that they can comprehend, an answer they will be able to digest.

No matter how hard we try to shelter them, they will eventually figure out that the world is not the bowl of cherries we wish it could be.

How do you tell a sensitive child the truth about the world? - Blog Post by Sensitive and Extraordinary Kids

My son asked me one day if monsters are real. I explained to him that the monsters we see on TV or read about in books are simply a figment of someone’s imagination, meant to entertain us. He accepted that. But then a few weeks later, on our way back home from a long day at the zoo, he said to me after having given it some thought:

“Mom,  did you know monsters really do exist? We’re the monsters. We keep cutting down trees and the animals have no place to live.”

Yes, at the young age of six, my son figured out on his own that people can be awful and inconsiderate and unreasonable. They can be monsters.

There’s no way you can explain why that is, however. It’s just a reality we all have to face. The real question is, however, what do we do about it?

For the highly sensitive, bad news can keep you up at night. It can make it difficult to breathe, or to focus on anything else. I know. It happens to me all the time. The truth can cut like a knife when you care so deeply.

But for the sensitive who care so deeply, the ugly truth can also lead to amazing things. It can drive us to do something about it; it gives us strength to correct as many wrongs as we possibly can. It pushes us forward to offer help when most people can only watch. It makes us want to give as much as we can to charity. Having big feelings can be overwhelming, yes. But it can also be just want this world needs.

That’s what we need to tell our kids. That not matter how young or little they are, they have the power to make this world better, for all of us. And we need to lead by example, and explain to them why we do what we do, and how important it is to help those who aren’t as lucky as we are.

It may lead to tears, or heaviness that lasts for days. But it can also lead to them wanting to take matters into their own hands.

Our son, just two days ago, raised around eight hundred dollars on his birthday to support a charity I’d told him about the day after the fundraiser I’d attended.  Without hesitation, he said he wanted his friends to give him money instead of presents, so that he could help support A Mother’s Wish. And this was not the first time. Last year he did the same to support the Ronald McDonald House Charity. He was turning six then, and it didn’t take any convincing on my part to get him to do it. He wanted to, with all his heart. He chose those charities himself from a long list I’d made for him. He believed in their cause. He wanted to help.

And he did.

We need our kids to know that they will see things they don’t like; they will witness injustice; they will meet people who don’t have the same values they do. But they also need to know that they can be the heroes the rest of us need. We all have the power to make a difference.

It’s just a matter of wanting to.

A great article on the matter is How Far Should Parents Protect Highly Sensitive Children From World News? by Amanda van Mulligen.

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5 Things That Helped our HSC Cope With the World

I have been writing about our experiences raising a highly sensitive child (HSC) for three years now. Not as regularly as I would like, but still. My website stats tell me that there are people out there who are reading, every day, more people than I ever imagined would, and so that must be a good thing. I’d like to think that our stories are helping in some way, to some extent, and that’s all I really wanted. And that’s why I’ll keep writing, openly and honestly.

One thing I haven’t been able to do is offer advice like many articles do. I have very mixed feelings about advice, and although a lot of it out there is helpful, a lot more of it is not.

I got to see firsthand, after having two very different kids, that advice doesn’t often work as a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. What may work for one child may not work for another. What may work for most children, may not work for a smaller group of very normal, and lovely children. And the parents of those children should not be made to feel otherwise when the advice they think should work, doesn’t.

That’s actually my biggest problem with advice, as the mother of a child who belongs to the smaller group.

Many people have asked me what we’ve done to help our highly sensitive son. For those of you have been reading our stories, you’ll know that the little boy who once hated people and couldn’t deal with noise, is now one of the most sociable children I know.

To this day I don’t have any one answer to that question. The changes our son has been through are immense, and it wasn’t just one thing that was responsible for this. I do however have a list of things I know helped, and some that I suspect may have helped.

Here they are, the 5 things that helped our HSC cope with the world.

5 Things That Helped Our HSC Cope With The World, highly sensitive, support, understanding, growth

(1) The Move

When our son was 3, we moved to Singapore, a wonderland for families with young children. As opposed to our daily life back home, we started to spend most of our time outdoors. Since he was tiny, our son was always extremely peaceful when we were outside, in places that of course weren’t crowded or noisy. Singapore is also a very social place where neighbors just knock on your door and kids visit all the time. In the beginning that made him very anxious—it made me anxious as well; I’m highly sensitive too—but in the way that conditioning works, things slowly started to change and he now is the one who goes knocking on doors.

(2) Being There

When we moved I left my full time job and became a stay at home mom. I have no idea if my presence helped at all, but if anything, I was there to take him out all the time. I am in no way suggesting that other parents should consider staying home to be there. Sometimes that’s not really an option. And to be very honest, it drove me absolutely crazy in the beginning, which wasn’t good for anyone. But I’d like to think, now that I’ve been through it, that it wasn’t for nothing.

(3) Finding the Right School

Our son’s first school was a nightmare for all of us. The teachers were inflexible and judgmental. They never missed a chance to let us know how difficult he was. When he started at his new school after the move, he was suddenly surround by teachers who were calm, patient, and allowed him to sit in the “quite corner” of the class for as long as he needed to. The teacher would put him in her lap during circle time if wanted to take part but was nervous. She would meet with me frequently to talk about his development at school and at home, and together we would agree on the next steps. She was firm but gentle. She knew when to gently push him to do something she knew he was ready for. She gave him his time and her love and understanding.

And as I type this, I can’t help but cry, because we felt our life change when we had her in it. I strongly believe, with all my heart, that a teacher can make the whole difference. This one did.

(3) Play Dates

Play dates were something we never had before the move. The opportunity to meet with kids after school was great to help our HSC learn to play with others, starting slowly with one child at a time. We avoided group play dates because those were too much. There was a time when I thought they were useless, watching my son play in one corner by himself and his friend entertaining himself in another. But eventually, one baby step at a time, play dates became more social, and very educational.

(4) Story Books

Since he was very little, our HSC has been inspired by stories. He will often go to the bookshelf and find a story to help him with his struggles. Unfortunately, not many stories speak to the HSC—although today I feel like that number is increasing—and that was when I decided to write stories to inspire him. My first draft of All Too Much for Oliver, which I’ve since published, really resonated with him and he wanted me to read it over and over again. Now I can’t say if that helped him, but I’d really like to think it did.

Of course, I’m not saying your should go write a book for your child, but you can refer to this list of HSC-friendly picture books recommended by mothers of HSC from all over the world. You can also sign up for my other blog where I review books that are perfect for kids like ours.

(5) Knowing What’s Up

When we found out our son was highly sensitive—which was when we discovered Elaine Aron and her book, The Highly Sensitive Child—our attitudes and expectations automatically changed. Everyone at home seemed to calm down and relax about things. Instead of worrying about why he wasn’t doing something yet, we understood that he was taking the time to observe and understand, and that he would go ahead when he was ready.

I really think that when parents are calmer about things, kids will pick up on that which helps them become more confident. The opposite of course is also true. We weren’t horrible parents before we found out, but we were worried and tired, and we were desperate to have “normal” lives. Once we let go of all that and accepted things as they were, things started to change.


I’ll say again that children are so very different, even if they share the sensitivity trait. So what worked for us may not work for other families. Some kids require much more time to adapt and understand themselves, and that’s fine. I will never take credit for the changes our son went through, but I do like to think the support we offered helped make his journey a smoother and happier one.

Now on to you: Is there anything you did that you felt may have helped your HSC grow? There’s a lot we can learn from each other, so I look forward to reading your stories. 

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High Sensitivity is NOT a Disorder – Back to Basics

I’ve had quite a few opportunities to discuss high sensitivity with parents and teachers over the summer holiday, which honestly feels very good for two reasons: one, it’s great to be able to clear up some very common misconceptions about what it is to be sensitive or to have a highly sensitive child, and two, people are actually interested!

I still find it very hard to believe that not long ago, I had no answers to any of my questions regarding my child. None. My husband and I had no clue what was up.

We were constantly struggling to try and answer questions like “Why is he like that?” and “Why won’t he join the other kids?”

Too many times we’ve been told by friends, family, teachers and caregivers that our child was different, that we were encouraging this, and that that was not a good thing.

For years it hurt. It hurt to be blamed for the struggles our child was going through. It hurt to worry and wonder whether there was in fact a serious problem we should be trying to solve or manage. It hurt that we were at a loss.

And after we did find out that our son was highly sensitive, it hurt to get that look from people when we tried to explain there was nothing wrong with our child.

But here we are today, at peace and happy (knock on wood). Our child is more carefree than he’s ever been, makes friends in seconds, and is enjoying life the way we all should. And I find myself at this point, not long after the dreadful sleepless nights filled with questions without answers, discussing this thing called “high sensitivity” with people who want to hear about it.

High Sensitivity is NOT a Disorder - Blog Post by Sensitive and Extraordinary Kids - Leila Boukarim

Earlier this month, I was interviewed by a lovely journalist, Brigitte Rozario, for her parenting site called Thots n Tots. I was asked to explain what high sensitivity was, and how it was different from autism. I’ve also been asked by several people over the last few weeks how sensitivity differs from sensory processing disorder. Those are all very valid questions because after all, even though they essentially very different things, a lot of the behaviors displayed can be very common. But that’s also why it’s a good idea to have our children screened if we feel like they might need more help than we can give them on our own.

The best articles to read on the subject are, in my opinion, those written by Elaine Aron herself. Dr. Aron is the researcher who coined the term “highly sensitive”, has been studying the trait since the nineties, and has written numerous books and articles on the topic. This one sums up the differences very nicely while this one goes more in depth.

To sum things up even further, I have highlighted a few of my interview answers below. But if you have the time, please go ahead and read the whole thing.

What does “highly sensitive child” mean?

High sensitivity is an evolutionary character trait found in 20% of the population regardless of age, race and gender. It is also found in over 120 other animal species. Highly sensitive people are genetically programmed to feel things more deeply and experience the world more intensely due to a highly tuned nervous system. Most importantly, high sensitivity is not a disorder and does not need to be treated.

How is it different from autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder that requires treatment and behavioural therapy. High sensitivity is a character trait that does not need to be fixed. Although some of the behaviours displayed might be similar to some extent, the causes are very different.

Not much is known about it. Do you see this as a problem to parents and children? How?

It is a serious problem not knowing why your child stands out of every crowd and not knowing why that is or what to do about it. When we found out our son was simply highly sensitive, not only did we get the peace of mind that we were desperate for, but we learned how to manage our expectations and how to speak to our child and deal with him in a way that made him feel supported, loved and understood. Knowing what he needed helped us figure out when to back off and let him do things at his own pace. When our attitudes, expectations and behaviour was changed appropriately, our son eventually began to metamorphose into a confident and independent little boy.

Not knowing your child is highly sensitive and setting unreasonable expectations that obviously will not be met can be frustrating to parents and detrimental to a child’s self-esteem.

And, what is your opinion on labeling your child as highly sensitive?

Like most people, I am not a fan of labels. However, I do believe that understanding the challenges your child faces daily and the reasons for this is crucial if we want to help our children. The label should serve to explain to those who play an important role in our children’s development (teachers, doctors, caregivers, etc.) what they need to flourish and why. What the label should not do is segregate our kids from the crowds to which they belong.

Head on over to Thots n Tots for loads of interesting articles. Also please do read the ones I’ve linked to in my post; they are very helpful to those trying to understand or explain what high sensitivity is.

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Clash of the Sensitives

When Parent and Child Are Both Highly Sensitive

My six year old is highly sensitive. He is growing and learning about himself and the world around him. He is constantly thinking about everything, over analyzing every situation and occurrence so that even the most trivial of things become challenging. Because his brain is in overdrive, he has trouble falling asleep at night. Tired, confused and emotional, he tends to get overwhelmed with everything, much too often.

I am a highly sensitive mother of two boys. I am an expat living oceans away from my family, trying to run a house, juggle two jobs, and raise my kids right while desperately struggling to take care of myself and enjoy life’s journey. I think too much. I analyze everything to shreds. I have trouble falling asleep. I am tired all the time. And I get overwhelmed with everything, much too often.

Clash of the Sensitives: When Parent and Child are both Highly Sensitive - Sensitive and Extraordinary Kids, Highly Sensitive Children, Relationships, love

A few weeks ago, my son was making his way through yet another phase. During this unpleasant time, there was a lot of arguing, yelling, teasing, and door slamming. There was defiance, anger, and yes, even tantrums. The storm has since passed, but I find myself thinking about it now, wondering if it was triggered by something specific, fearful that perhaps that something might have been me.

I have spent countless hours over the years asking myself if I’m doing the whole parenting thing right, spending enough time not at home with the kids but rather with the kids. Am I listening as much as I should? Am I giving them what they need? Am I yelling too much? Am I a yeller?

And if I don’t like the answers to those questions, how can I change?

Most days I honestly feel like I have nothing left to give. I am drained physically and emotionally, incapable of even speaking to my husband once the kids are in bed. If I conclude that I in fact need to “give more”, how in the world would I do that?

So here comes the big question: How do you give your highly sensitive children everything they need when you’re not getting what you need?

Too often, I come across advice articles online giving stressed out moms the secrets to a happy life in the form of lists of things to do designed to help you cope with the grind of daily life. One common theme that stands out is “self-care”, and that’s about the only thing that makes sense to me while reading through them. The how-to’s on the other hand, while very sensible and lovely, serve only to plant a seed of doubt in my head that I can easily do without.

Drink a cup of tea in a quiet room. Run a warm bath with essential oils. Exercise. Eat healthy, balanced, warm meals.  Get plenty of fresh air. Yeah, right.

Over the years, I have come to learn that life doesn’t always accommodate routines that are ideal, routines that make room for tea and relaxation and sunshine. The days are long, and they’re full on. There is constantly something happening and things need to get done. There’s no time for loveliness, which is very unfortunate because loveliness is essential.

That’s not to say that I don’t get any pleasure out of life at all. I do. Life is good (most of the time), even if it doesn’t involve candles and sweet smelling oils. With time, we adapt to the pressures of life and find our own little ways to empty our buckets. I have my coping-strategies list, but it’s one that works for me and my lifestyle and my circumstances. It consists of things like listening to music while cleaning the kitchen, drinking hot cocoa on a stool in the bathroom while the kids are in the tub, reading books on my daily commute, and meditating with Andy for ten minutes on Headspace. I can’t claim it works for everyone, but it works for me.

When I get my music, cocoa and ten minutes in the dark; when I empty out my bucket, I’m ready to help my child empty his. Once we’re both calm, we can sit down and talk to each other, share our feelings, discuss what went wrong and how we can prevent it from happening again. We apologize to each other and promise we’ll do better tomorrow. We hug, we kiss, we cuddle, and love washes over us, neutralizing all the negativity that consumed us when things got to be too much for either of us to bear.

The lovely people who brought Dr. Elaine Aron’s work to life last year with their documentary “Sensitive, The Untold Story” are working hard to do it again! This time, they’re working on an important piece called Sensitive In Love, which focuses on highly sensitive people and relationships. It was actually this project that got me thinking about my relationship with my highly sensitive son, one that has come a long way from the day he came into my life, a sweet little stranger, and will continue to change and grow as we both grow together.

Being highly sensitive involves emotions that often feel too big for us to contain, which is why being in a relationship with a highly sensitive person (HSP) or as a HSP (or both!) can pose challenges that are still unfamiliar and misunderstood. Let’s all work together to make sure this film is made possible by supporting it on Kickstarter

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Highly Sensitive Children Will Not Grow out of It

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, they 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 to what everyone else seemed accustomed to. That’s when things started to get better, and 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 were faced with 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.”

Highly Sensitive Children Will Not Grow out of It

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 not a flaw, it’s a character trait you’r 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.

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10 Tips For Parents of Highly Sensitive Boys

It wasn’t long after I read Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Child about three years ago that I found Dr. Ted Zeff’s The Strong, Sensitive Boy. Naturally, as the mother of a highly sensitive boy, I quickly bought and read the book, hoping I would better know how to bring out the best in my sweet child without damaging him. I needed to know that my expectations were realistic and fair. And I was desperate to find out how I could better equip him to deal with a world that expects boys and men to be tough and virtually emotionless.

The Strong Sensitive Boy is based on Dr. Zeff’s interviews of thirty highly sensitive men from five different countries, demonstrating the factors that had the biggest impact on these individuals growing up, such as relationships with fathers, school, making friends, and sports, just to name a few. Reading these men’s stories and finding out what helped and hurt them the most is not only moving, but also helps to open the eyes and hearts of fathers ̶ and mothers ̶ who may be trying to “toughen up” their sensitive boys.

It is true that the high sensitivity trait can be found equally in both males and females, regardless or age, race or culture. And it is true that, because of the heightened sense of awareness that comes with the trait, making it very difficult for the highly sensitive person (or HSP) to filter out all the input from the environment, it is a challenge for both males and females to live carefree, happy lives without getting so overwhelmed with the world. However, because of society’s expectations of men to be a certain way, a way that is more characteristic of the opposite end of the sensitivity spectrum, raising a sensitive boy to be a healthy and happy man can pose a bit more of a challenge.

Here are ten invaluable tips for parents of highly sensitive boys which I really wanted to highlight. There is so much more to take away from the book, but these are points I believe we should always keep in mind, especially when times get tough.

The Strong Sensitive Boy by Dr. Ted Zeff, a Book Review, 10 Invaluable Tips for Parents of Highly Sensitive Boys

(1) Moms cannot, and should not do it all on their own. I know some of us want to, or think we can, but we need to remember we’re only human, and parenting a highly sensitive child can be challenging even for the strongest, most super of parents. As Dr. Zeff so cleverly puts it,

It takes the patience of a saint to be able to always exude unconditional love for your children. That’s why they invented grandmas!

Yes! I can at least speak for myself when I say that there is a point I reach every so often (at times more often than I’d like) when I feel like there’s nothing left for me to give. I am completely wiped out, both physically and emotionally, and will snap at the slightest thing, which needless to say isn’t good for anyone. In his research, Dr. Zeff shows that those highly sensitive men who grew up with loving relationships with females other than their moms had happier experiences as children than those who didn’t.

(2) We need to do our best not to put our sons in situations in which they will be extremely uncomfortable or humiliated.  This of course is true for all children, but with the highly sensitive boy, these situations can seem very trivial to most people, especially if those people are not highly sensitive themselves. Joining friends for a BBQ, getting in the pool, or going to a crowded mall are just a few examples of challenges that aren’t seen as such by the majority of the population. But as parents of highly sensitive boys, it is important we always try to remember what our sons are going through, and remind ourselves that to them, these are real problems that cause real stress.

(3) Dad, your presence might just be the most important influence on a child growing up. Spend special, quality time with your son, doing anything at all. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re present and supportive of  your boy. Your acceptance of your son’s character and your love and understanding will play a huge role in building his confidence and self-esteem. Connect with your sensitive boy, even if your interests are completely different. He needs his father.

Fathers would do well to let go of the cookie-cutter model of masculinity.

And remember, sensitivity does not equal weakness.

(4) Gentle discipline works best with the highly sensitive child. Dr. Zeff points out that boys tend to receive much harsher discipline than girls. While physical punishment is terrible for any child, it’s effects could be devastating and possibly traumatizing for the highly sensitive. Gently and calmly talk to your sensitive boy about what he’s done wrong, and try and work with him to correct his behavior. I do realize this is easier said than done, especially when you have a lot on your plate and emotions are running high, but I have found time and time again that when I take the calm approach to discipline with my highly sensitive boy, the response is always positive. Oftentimes I find that he already knows he’s made a mistake and is upset with himself before I even say anything.

(5) How can we expect someone who is highly sensitive to noisy environments to learn effectively in one? We can’t, and we shouldn’t. That means that the typical large public-school classroom can be extremely overwhelming for the highly sensitive boy. With so much stimuli to deal with, it’s no surprise our sensitive children can’t tune out the noise and focus on what needs to be learned. According to Michael Gurian, sensitive boys crave love and attention in a school environment in which they feel uncomfortable. Dr. Zeff repeats that a boy needs more one-on-one time with his teacher in order to do and feel better at school. Another point that may reflect badly on sensitive children in school is that they are often reluctant to speak up, which may be misinterpreted by a teacher that these children are either not listening or not understanding the subject matter. One thing Zeff says in this chapter about school really resonated with me:

Even one humiliating experience by a teacher could damage a sensitive boy’s entire scholastic career.

Talk to your son’s teachers. Explain to them why your son is the way he is, and clarify what he needs to function better. I have heard of many parents who left schools where teachers and principals did not show any kind of empathy or support towards their children’s needs, and were lucky enough to find better schools for their kids. It’s a lot of work, and sometimes a hassle, but it pays off big time.

(6) Watch out for signs that your son is being bullied. According to  Zeff, sensitive boys are more prone to being bullied because of their quieter, non-aggressive nature, but are unfortunately less likely to ask for help for fear of getting embarrassed or of causing further bullying because they spoke up. Read more about warning signs and prevention of bullying on Dr. Zeff’s site.

(7) Oftentimes, the highly sensitive boy likes and needs to spend time alone. Don’t nag or force your son to “go out an make friends”. Remember that for them, it’s not always as simple as that. However, it is worth noting that having friends can really increase the quality of your son’s life and give him the confidence and strength he needs to face the world, so gently encouraging your son to spend time with a couple of good friends (not necessarily at the same time, of course), while he still gets his time alone is key.

(8) Sibling rivalry is trickier when one child is highly sensitive. We need to be extra careful about how we give out praise to our children, while making sure we don’t use comparisons to make one child feel less worthy than the other because of their nature. While children teasing each other is perfectly normal, we need to minimize teasing that is directed at your son’s sensitivities. It might be a good idea to have a talk with your non-highly sensitive child about what makes your sensitive one uncomfortable, while being clear that these are not weaknesses. Perhaps even discuss the things that make your non-HSC anxious, and point out that this is what his/her brother feels like hen he/she is too loud / physical / aggressive / etc.

(9) Highly sensitive boys are not all the same. We often make the mistake of making generalizations when we discover a major commonality. But just because highly sensitive boys all share the “high sensitivity” character trait doesn’t make them all the same. Don’t assume that just because your son is sensitive, he won’t enjoy certain activities. One thing to watch out for is sports. Dr. Zeff talks about the positive impact that sports can have on a boy’s self-esteem, but if sports are not his thing, don’t force him to join a team!

(10) Body image can be a bigger problem for males than females. Studies have shown than the less satisfied a boy is with his body, the lower his self-esteem. Try to help your son accept the way he looks by listening to him and explaining that the stereotypical image of masculinity the media bombards us with is not real. Finally, try and help him find an athletic outlet that suits him. Dr. Zeff points out that the men in his study who took part in team sports were confident about the way they were built, regardless of their physique. If your son doesn’t feel comfortable in a team, there are always individual sports like running, biking, martial arts, etc.

I could go on and on about all the helpful information Zeff gives us in The Strong, Sensitive Boy, but I don’t want to give it all away. If you have a highly sensitive boy, I highly recommend you get yourself a copy of this book.

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