As any parent will tell you, raising a child is frequently overwhelming. But certain parents face a unique set of challenges, according to psychologist Elaine N. Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Parent: Be Brilliant in Your Role, Even When the World Overwhelms You, out this month from Citadel, Kensington’s nonfiction imprint.
Aron, who has been researching highly sensitive people since the 1990s when she wrote the bestselling The Highly Sensitive Person, says about 20% of people are predisposed to extremesensitivity. Among thekey characteristics of highly sensitive people (HSPs) are processing information more thoroughly than others, being more empathetic and more emotionally responsive, and tending to notice the subtleties of their environments more readily than others.
And while such positive qualities provide HSPs with many advantages, those same characteristics can cause HSPs to become overstimulated. “This is the only aspect of the trait that can seem like a frustrating disadvantage,” Aron says, “but it is simply the price paid for the other aspects.”
For parents who are highly sensitive, Aron says the key challenge is learning to handle the stress and sensory overload that can accompany raising a child. “Noise, clutter, the need to make quick decisions, multitasking, tantrums, arguments,” she says. “We all know the list.”
To help highly sensitive moms and dads avoid burnout, The Highly Sensitive Parent includes chapters on attachment parenting and navigating social situations, a self-examination test, tools for coping with overstimulation, advice on dealing with the negative, ways to manage the increased social stimulation and interaction that come with having a child, techniques for dealing with shyness around other parents, and abundant insight into issues facing highly sensitive parents in relationships.
Despite their potential for overstimulation, Aron says, highly sensitive parents appear more attuned to their children’s needs and emotions. That said, research also shows that highly sensitive parents tend to gravitate toward either “authoritarian or permissive parenting styles.”
“Since these styles are opposites, we suspect it has nothing to do with a philosophy of parenting HSPs tend to adopt,” Aron says. “Rather, we think that when they are overwhelmed, they may be all too aware of their child’s needs and feelings but be too stressed to do anything but give orders to their children or let them do as they wish!”
In addition to the publication of The Highly Sensitive Parent, Citadel is releasing the 25th anniversary edition of The Highly Sensitive Person in May—the book includes a new introduction, new research findings, and a revised chapter on health care and medications. And, in April, the company is publishing the first trade paperback edition of The Highly Sensitive Man: Finding Strength in Sensitivity, which was written by Aron’s protégé, Tom Falkenstein, and which aims to help men accept, embrace, and utilize their sensitivity.
Ultimately, Aron believes that highly sensitive parents can use their traits for the greater good, particularly if they take the time to learn about their needs and are strategic in communicating those needs. “Get all the help you need to stay calm and rested most of the time,” she says. “Step back and see the big picture. Do not compare yourself to those Super Moms and Super Dads who have different nervous systems.” After all, there’s no such thing as a perfect parent.
The Highly Sensitive Parent: Be Brilliant in Your Role, Even When the World Overwhelms You
ISBN: 978-0-8065-4058-0 $24.95
The Highly Sensitive Person: 25th Anniversary Edition
ISBN: 978-0-8065-4057-3 $22.95
The Highly Sensitive Man: Finding Strength in Sensitivity
ISBN: 978-0-8065-3933-1 $16.95