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Hi,

I'm the mom of a Kindergartner who has been very sensitive since... well, since he was old enough to make his feelings known. He's always been extremely compassionate towards animals and babies, for instance, and when he watches something sad on TV, even on a show like Peppa Pig, he can be affected by it for days on end.

Recently, since starting school, really, he has been complaining of... sharing other people's feelings. Like, if he sees his friend fall over and get a scrape, he says he feels the pain. If someone's parent or grandparent is ill, he'll cry about it at home too. If his teacher criticizes him, he feels that criticism for very long.

Could this be hyper empathy syndrome? Did I get that right, that hyper empathy syndrome means you share someone's feelings?

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Hmm... That could be anything from social anxiety to just being very compassionate, and it's hard to know because kids at that age often have trouble putting their feelings into real words, you know? If it seems like whatever your son is experiencing is really affecting his life badly, I think I would start by having a word with his pediatrician about it. 

I'd also be careful to jump to conclusions too quickly though. Kids at that age go through all kinds of phases and stages and I'd be reluctant to label him with anything like hyper empathy syndrome too quickly. 

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Hyper empathy syndrome is overactive empathy, off the charts level empathy. One of the things they always mention is how it can involve feeling physical pain when someone else gets hurt. Your child seems to meet that part of the definition. 

Another requirement, when it comes to diagnosing hyper empathy syndrome, is that the person's overactive empathy and compassion has a great negative impact on their lives. People with hyper empathy syndrome may find it completely overwhelming that they share all these feelings they come across, and can even become depressed as a result. 

I am not sure what I'd do from here in your place, but if your child is hurting, I would try to see what is available to help him. 

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Hmmmm... this is a very tough topic, really. On the one hand, I'm sure seeing your child struggle with existential questions at such a young age is hard and heartbreaking, and on the other hand, you don't want to pigeon-hole him and heap diagnoses on him. 

A friend of mine took her child to therapy, which she was going to for herself, one time, because the child was curious what therapy was. The therapist told my friend that her child was a happy and well-adjusted person, which made her feel good because she was a little scared that her personal mental health struggles had rubbed off on him. 

In general though, I think it is quite likely that once you seek professional help, a therapist will try to find a diagnosis rather than rule one out. Your child might end up with a label he doesn't really have if you go that route. 

I think I'd be looking more towards perhaps parenting books and workshops, or books about handling strong emotions for adults that you can then draw conclusions from. This is hard, though. 

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I hear what you're saying; I do not want to pathologize my little boy in any way, and taking him to therapy could make the therapist look for problems, even if they are not there. At the same time, I am around other children my son's age plenty, and none of them seem to act the way he does. If I am honest, I know in my heart that there is something different about my son. 

I worry for him. If he does have hyper empathy, I just want him to get the help he needs. Early treatment always gets the best results, right?

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I think there's no such thing as hyper empathy syndrome myself. I looked it up on the internet and everything that I came across was less than convincing to make an understatement. 

However, you seem to have a very sensitive and emotional boy on your hands. It might not be culturally acceptable, but I bet a lot of girls would kill for that a little later down the line. Who doesn't like a man with actual feelings? Well, it isn't that they don't have them, but it's that they are trained to not show them from a young age. 

Encourage your son to be in touch with his feelings! That is a great thing!

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I absolutely think (no, KNOW) that some people are hyper empathetic, and it's hardly surprising that that traits shows up in childhood, since I guess it's an inherent part of their personality. Hyper empathy SYNDROME is a different matter, mind you, which is related to brain injury or the brain chemistry being off. Unless you your son had a very difficult birth or something, during which his brain lacked oxygen for a while, I don't think it is possible. Only a few cases of true hyper empathy syndrome are documented. But plenty of people are just very empathetic without there being any pathology to the story. 

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Hi,

Dare I say it? I think young children are often naturally very caring and full of empathy, and that it's nurture (society) that "regulates" this in the end, in other words, they learn to temper those strong emotions or become cynical as they realize that they can't take on everyone's pain or help everyone. Adults are more likely to direct their empathy towards people they know and care about. Children haven't learned to do that yet and care about everyone. 

I don't think it's anything you need to see a doctor about. I think your kid's empathy will find direction later on, just like most people's. 

XX

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