What is hypervigilance?


If a child is hypervigilant, they constantly scan their environment, searching for anything that could be a danger to them or might threaten them.

Hypervigilance is a state of increased alertness. A hypervigilant child becomes extremely sensitive to their immediate surroundings. Though the dangers might not be real, a hypervigilant child will feel alert to all hidden threats and dangers.

The hypervigilant child is always on high alert and this can have a negative effect. Hypervigilance affects how a child interacts with and sees others.

The physical symptoms of hypervigilance can range from mild to severe. The symptoms include jumpy reflexes and overreaction to loud or unexpected noises eg bangs and crashes. Observers may see these reactions as violent or hostile and often do not understand that a hypervigilant child is simply seeking safety from a perceived threat.

There are many associated emotional symptoms too. A hypervigilant child may suffer from mild to severe anxiety, feelings of constant fear, panic and never-ending worry.

A hypervigilant child may begin to fear the judgement of others and may judge others harshly. There can be mood swings and a child might become emotionally withdrawn.

Hypervigilance can easily be triggered when a child feels unwelcome or judged. The same child might become hypervigilant if they hear loud noises including shouting and arguments. The anticipation of physical pain, as well as actual physical pain, can trigger hypervigilance.

Hypervigilant children may try to escape a perceived threat by running from a room and , if this is impossible, they may attempt to hide or use another coping mechanism such as holding on tightly to someone’s hand.