Is Your Child an Empath?
By Heather Nardi
I was often called too sensitive as a child, which caused me to avoid certain situations or groups, observe more than speak up, blend in with others, and feel lonely even when showing a happy face. I could sense those same intense feelings in my daughter, Ellie, even when she was a young child. As an empath, Ellie could sense stomachaches, aggression, sadness, headaches, and all the emotions that everyone around her was feeling.
An empathic child is a child who is good at reading others’ emotions and adjusting their behavior accordingly. In contrast, a highly sensitive child is a child who feels easily overwhelmed by this process. Have you considered the possibility that your child may be an empath or spiritually gifted? The traits of spiritually gifted and empathic children usually include being sensitive, intelligent, distracted, intuitive, and wise.
The Characteristics of a Highly Sensitive Child (HSC) or Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
Not all highly sensitive children are the same, but your child may...
• Feel things deeply and can be easily overstimulated in their environment.
• Often become overwhelmed by sensory overload. These children dislike loud noises, may be sensitive to tags or zippers in clothing, and may dislike more scents than other children. 1
• Be gifted in many ways: compassion, empathy, creativity, and usually above the normal range intellectually.
• Pick up on subtleties in gesture and tone as well as the words coming out of other people’s mouths. 2
• Feel highly emotional. All kids can be emotional but a highly sensitive child may cry when they are hungry, sad, upset, excited, or happy. They may cry during sad parts in movies or get scared easier. A stern look from you could reduce them to tears.
• Dislike change. While many kids don’t like change, a highly sensitive child will often shut down when forced to change routine. They may get anxious, angry, depressed, or even scared.
• Be hard on themselves, holding themselves to a very high standard. They may beat themselves up about getting something wrong.
• Worry or wonder about things that aren’t deemed age-appropriate, such as death or what will happen when they become adults. They are more sensitive to weather conditions and natural disasters.
• Prefer to play alone. They enjoy quiet, peaceful play.
• Pick up on things other children their age don’t. They can also be very curious and constantly looking for answers.
• Need frequent breaks from the routine busyness of life, especially after a particularly social day.
• Love animals. HSCs often develop a special bond with animals, or are very sensitive to their needs. 3
• Have a keen sense of observation and know how to read people well. They observe character traits and gather an accurate story of who the person is.
• Take things personally. For your child, being highly emotional means everything that happens is personal.
• Be well-behaved. Sensitive kids are well-behaved and also expect to be in similar surroundings. They don’t understand when other children misbehave or aren’t nice to them.
The Empathic Child
In addition to the traits of the highly sensitive child, the empathic child may show some or all of these characteristics:
• Feels others’ emotions as if these emotions were their own.
• Quiet, shy, introverted, withdrawn.
• May be perceived as a slow learner only because the child needs to understand the depth of something first. 4
• Seems to read your mind. Knows what you want before you ask.
The Empathic Spectrum below was taken from The Empath’s Survival Guide by Judith Orloff, MD.
According to Dr. Orloff, “If you think about this distinction in terms of an empathic spectrum, empaths are on the highest end, highly sensitive people are a little lower on the spectrum, and people with strong empathy but who are not HSPs or empaths are in the middle. Narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths, who often suffer from ‘empathy deficit disorders,’ are at the lowest end of the spectrum.” 5
1. Maureen Gaspari, “Highly Sensitive or Sensory Processing Disorder?” The Highly Sensitive Child, April 2, 2019, thehighlysensitivechild.com.
2. Lisa Natcharian, “Why Are So Many Gifted Children Also Highly Sensitive?” Institute for Educational Advancement, April 18, 2017, educationaladvancement.org.
3. Sadiya Qamar (Contributor), “Highly Sensitive Child—Signs, Habits & Parenting,” MomJunction, June 8, 2021, momjunction.com.
4. “Help for Emotionally Hypersensitive Children on the Autism Spectrum,” My Aspergers Child, accessed October 8, 2021, myaspergerschild.com.
5. Judith Orloff, MD, “The Difference between Empaths and Highly Sensitive People,” Dr. Judith Orloff, May 21, 2021, drjudithorloff.com/the-difference-between-empaths-and-highly-sensitive-people.
Adapted, with permission, from The Sensitive Ones: Healing and Understanding Your Child’s Mental Health by Heather Nardi (Wise Ink Creative Publishing, 2022).
Heather Nardi is a writer, speaker, and life coach. Her writing has appeared in Highly Sensitive Refuge, Thrive Global, and Elephant Journal. For more information, visit empathmama.com.