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The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping our Children Thrive when the World Overwhelms Them

by by Elaine N Aron PhD

listed in learning and development

[Image: The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping our Children Thrive when the World Overwhelms Them]

There is an old Bob Dylan song that contains a memorable line about children who are "bent out of shape by society's pliers". It's a powerful metaphor and I was reminded of it when reading this book. It is one of four written by psychotherapist Elaine Aron PhD on the subject of Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs for short) and is aimed at parents of Highly Sensitive Children, whether or not they are HSPs themselves.

To help with diagnosis, Aron provides a useful 'checklist' at the start of the book and goes on to offer insightful suggestions about parenting such a child, for the 'sensitive' and 'non-sensitive' parent alike. The book is organized into sections dealing with various forms of HSC behaviour and how they might be manifested, and has chapters appropriate to different ages.

'Sensitive children' is not a new term, and it has often been used negatively, particularly when used about boys.

Aron's thesis, however, is that the world badly needs such children and this is borne out by the fact that they number as much as 20% of all children. The problem is that the qualities that they possess – creativity, the ability to reflect in depth – are not immediately appreciated: as Aron says, "increasingly, sensitive persons are being nudged out… due to what seems to be a cycle that starts with the nonsensitive moving aggressively into decision-making roles where they… devalue cautious decision making, emphasise short-term profits or flashy results..over a quieter concern for long-term consequences and so eliminate calm work environments and reasonable work schedules." Think of the Government; think of state education, the NHS; Britain's long hours culture – it all starts to resonate somewhat disturbingly.

The book is not really saying anything new – readers familiar with personality profiling tools such as the Myers-Briggs indicator will soon realise that really, Aron is writing about the mismatch between 'intuitive' or 'feeling' types and a world run by 'judgers' and 'thinkers'. However, she does make the material highly readable with lots of interesting examples of case studies which parents will relate to. (She has also provided research references but I found it irritating to have to keep flipping to the back of the book to see if a reference was there; I would have preferred a conventional numbered system.)

As a guide for parents the book is a good introduction to the subject of different personality types, and how to respond to them. It is also a guide to good parenting, HSC or not. The text is peppered with good examples of what to say specifically to children in different situations: "You like it quiet. You always did. You were just born that way." Many parents instinctively react rather than thoughtfully respond to their children's behaviour so this guidance is to be welcomed. Some exercises could have helped here ; speaking as a parent I know it takes a lot of practice to alter familiar patterns, negative though they are!

There is a nod to, and quite rightly, current research into how the brain works and Aron cites examples of adults who come to her in need of a brain 'rewire.' This underlines the basic premise of the book – get it right now and your child will not only be much happier and have higher self esteem, but will also save a small fortune in psychotherapy bills in the future. The importance of saying the right thing in the right way is a thread which runs throughout the book, although some UK parents might find some of the Americanisms a little sugary.

There are also some useful tips for teachers included – and this reviewer particularly liked the author's emphasis on the HSC temperament as a 'difference' rather than a disorder. She advises caution in dealing with some professionals who might be overly quick to apply inappropriate labels. Hear! Hear!

This is a very sane book in what feels to many like an insane world, and manages to combine sound advice with a humane, readable and – dare I say – sensitive writing style.

Mark Edwards
Published by Thorsons/Element
ISBN 0-00-716393-2

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