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Back to School with Highly Sensitive Children

Is your child sensitive to sounds, textures, or even changes in routine? Is he highly observant — noticing when the smallest detail in the room may have changed? Do you notice he’s highly attuned to the emotions and reactions of others? If any or all of these sound familiar, you may have a highly sensitive child (also known as an HSC). And it’s more common than you might think. Up to 20% of children are born with this unique wiring.


boy in brown hoodie carrying red backpack while walking on dirt road near tall trees

Going back to school sparks anxiety and excitement for many children, HSC or not. But preparing your sensitive child for the beginning of the school year may help ease his fears. As a highly sensitive person, parent, and former teacher, here are some strategies I’ve found helpful.

  1. Talk about it. Casually bring up school throughout the summer and all of the fun new opportunities your child will have in his new classroom. About a month away from school’s start, begin ramping up your conversation and getting more specific about your child’s new teacher, classmates, and supplies to buy.

  1. Make preparation fun. Even if your child wears a uniform at school, you can still have fun shopping for new notebooks, colorful supplies, and maybe even some fun shoes. It doesn’t have to be expensive either; you could even try a few different lunch and snack options to put in your school lunch rotation. 

  1. Head to the library. Check out some back to school books at the library to get in the school frame of mind. Try to make them most relatable to your child. For example, if he is entering second grade and is nervous about making new friends, try to find a book that addresses either or both of those concerns. Check some lists out here and here

  1. Visit the classroom. Email your child’s new teacher and ask if you can drop in while he or she is setting up the room. Make sure you keep it casual, focused on your child, and brief as most teachers have enough stress as the school year looms. 

5. Make a book. If you have a chance to visit, take photos of the new room with your child and put them in a book so he can preview his new surroundings in a comfortable environment. If you can’t visit ahead of time, write and draw a simple and positive story about your child’s first days of school and try to visit the school or classroom website together. 

  1. Give the teacher detailed information. No one knows your child like you. Write up a description about your child and highlight his unique HSC tendencies to help the teacher understand him better. Give your contact information and keep in touch regularly to see how your child is doing. The first days are a whirlwind for everyone, so you may want to wait a couple weeks to let your child and his new teacher get acquainted.

  1. Take a break when you get home. Give your HSC time to relax and unwind when he gets home. Give him space to process the school day and reflect before you ask for more details about the day. A snack, a favorite television show, or time with books will help refresh his spirit from the stimulating school day. 

  1. Check yourself. Is your child the one who’s most anxious or are you? Sometimes, we project our own anxieties and fears on our children. Even if we don’t feel like we are exuding stress, our body language and tone may say otherwise. Keep conversations about school light and fun and vent those fears after bedtime.