Parenting a Sensitive Child's Heart

How to Parent a Child with a Sensitive Heart

Update: This post has been featured on Huffington Post and Scary Mommy

As parents, we strive to raise children that are kind and compassionate. We want our children to help make the world a better place. It is our hope that we are raising good little people who will grow to do good things. Sometimes, these traits come naturally to a child. However, parenting a child with a sensitive heart can come with its own set of challenges.

How to Parent a Child with a Sensitive Heart

How to Parent a Child with a Sensitive Heart

How to Parent a Sensitive Child

As a teacher, I have had years of experience with students who were a bit more sensitive than the rest. I treated them with “kid” gloves, so to speak. It is important to nurture their sensitive heart in order to ensure that they could learn to their fullest potential.

As a mom, I realized early on that my daughter is one of these children with a sensitive heart. She is inherently sweet, but she feels things deeply. There is a hyper-awareness of the feelings of others. This empathy can be great, but also painful at times. There are a few things you can do to nurture your child’s compassion while protecting their fragile little hearts.

Role Play

I am a big fan of the art of role play. It is a great way to talk through and act out situations that are difficult for your child to understand. This is a great strategy to use if you are trying to teach your child to have a bit more empathy, as well.

For the sensitive child, role playing is a wonderful way to demonstrate that everyone is going to be okay. Going to the doctor’s office, for example, is a great situation to role play. It is very helpful for all kids to know what to expect, but for the sensitive child, they may have a hard time seeing other kids that are sick.

My daughter will stop wherever she is if she hears a baby or child crying. She becomes worried or may even begin crying herself. We act out babies crying with her doll. I explain that maybe the baby is hungry or tired. We rock the doll or pretend to give it food to show that the baby will be okay.

It is important for sensitive children to see that people do experience illness, sadness, or frustration because these emotions are a part of life. However, it is also important for these children to see that people will be okay and that are ways to heal if they are sick, injured, or hurt.

Use the Power of a Hug

Toddlers are notorious for their tantrums and meltdowns. However, I have recognized that my daughter will melt down when she is overstimulated or feeling overwhelmed by her emotions. While I did discover one fantastic magic potion for toddler tantrums, I have another trick that really works! A hug.

That’s right, I said “a hug!” Simply asking your toddler if they want a hug can have a wondrous calming effect. For the sensitive child, if they sense your frustration at their behavior, it will only cause them to shut down further. Instead, offer a hug. The physical contact will provide the comfort your child really needs.

This small act will also show your child that a hug can also be very effective in helping someone else who is hurt or upset. Part of what affects sensitive people so deeply is a feeling of helplessness. However, a hug is very healing. There is even scientific evidence that proves it! Check out this article on the Huffington Post about the healing power of a hug!

The Power of a Hug

Teaching Your Child to Problem Solve

The emotions of a sensitive child can become like a runaway freight train on track for disaster. Being sensitive and empathetic are positive qualities to possess, but can cause a negative impact if they are not properly managed.

Problem Solving: Talking About Feelings

Even at a young age, it is important to keep the lines of communication open with your child. Toddlers may have difficulty articulating their feelings because they are still developing their vocabulary. This is where you grab your trusty picture book. Picture books are perfect for encouraging dialogue about how your child feels. The following are a few of my favorites:

*The following are affiliate links to Amazon. There is no additional cost to you, but I may earn a small commission.

The Way I Feel by Janan Cain

I love this book for the illustrations. Even toddlers can relate to the pictures. You could also take photographs or video of your toddler to compare. This book also covers a wide range of emotions which helps your sensitive child understand that all of their feelings are normal.

In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek

This book is ideal for the child who feels emotions deeply. It explains how the heart “feels” as happy and light or heavy and dark. It addresses the feelings sensitive children experience in a very kid-friendly manner.

Don’t Feed the Worry Bug by Andi Green

I actually think this book is equally good for parents as it is for kids! It talks about what worries are and how to keep them from getting out of control. Worrying is definitely something sensitive children struggle with. Beginning the dialogue early about emotions and worries will help you find real solutions right from the start.

Problem Solving: Finding a Positive Outlet

Feelings are a natural and normal part of life. It is important that your child feels safe in expressing both their positive and negative emotions. These emotions can seem so overwhelming when children are little, so offering a positive outlet can be very helpful. Here are some ways your little one can put all of those big emotions into something positive:

  • Pretend Play
  • Arts and Crafts (Drawing and Coloring)
  • Playing Sports
  • Drama/Acting

Problem Solving: Helping Out

One way I help my sensitive child is to allow her to help me or help others. This can be as simple as asking your little one to bring you a tissue if you have a cold or to help with household chores if you are feeling stressed. Interacting with a pet is a great way to teach empathy and compassion and I have learned that helping with our family dog is a great way to channel my daughter’s sensitivity.

Interacting with a pet is a great way to teach empathy and compassion and I have learned that helping with our family dog is a great way to channel my daughter’s sensitivity. My daughter is in charge of feeding our dog her meals, but also the simple act of petting our dog is very calming when she is feeling worked up.

In the classroom, I often ask my sensitive students to be my “teacher’s helper”. They love putting those feelings to work in a positive way. These are the same students who love to help a struggling peer or sibling, so put them to work! Just be sure to let them know how much you appreciate their compassion and willingness to help.

The Highly-Sensitive Child

I love my daughter’s sweetness and sensitivity, but as a highly empathetic person myself, I know that there can be some struggles as she gets older. Right now, my daughter’s sensitivity means that she is full of hugs and kisses for anyone who needs it. She is careful to give her toys equal attention and is even happy to share her toys with friends. These are wonderful qualities to have, but these feelings can also manifest themselves into stress and anxiety.

For further reading on parenting the sensitive child, check out these articles:

The Highly- Sensitive Child
The Highly-Sensitive Child by Psychology Today
Happy Sensitive Kids
Parenting the Highly-Sensitive Boy
How to Help Your Sensitive Child

A Final Note for Parents

Be patient and gentle with these little sweetie pies. This does not mean to avoid discipline. In fact, sensitive children may have an easier time if they know that there are structure and rules in place.

Also, think positively. Instead of thinking of your child as the occasional drama queen or king, remind yourself that being caring and compassionate are wonderful qualities to have.

Parenting a Sensitive Child

Parenting a Sensitive Child

How to Parent a Highly Sensitive Child

Do you have a sensitive child? What parenting tips do you have? Please comment and share below!

20 thoughts on “How to Parent a Child with a Sensitive Heart

  1. Thank you for your post. I needed it today. I’m convinced my children are sensitive so these tips are great reminders for my parenting. I especially appreciated the tip on hugs.

  2. Oh, I love this! My husband and I are currently expecting our first little one, so I don’t have any experience yet, but I myself am a sensitive person, and I know that a lot of these would have helped growing up! When I get emotional and sensitive, a hug really does fix a lot of it! 🙂

  3. What a great post! I´m currently struggling with my younger son (4yo) who seems to be very sensitive. I mean, totally different from his brother, so I´ve never encountered such “problems” until now.
    I´ll try to apply some of your ideas as soon as posible.

    1. Everyone says that each sibling is so different. I see that with siblings I teach all the time. I see sensitive boys really struggle sometimes because they are often expected to be “strong” (which they are in their own way!) I would love to let me know how these strategies work for you and your sweet little man! Thank you so much for stopping by!

    1. Role playing really does work, especially when these little ones don’t quite have the words to describe what they are thinking and feeling. Let me know how it works! These sweet little lovies have a rough go sometimes! Thank you so much for reading!

  4. I love this! Especially the role play. I have found my sensitive daughter does much better when she knows what to expect, even if we are entering a situation she hasn’t seen or “played out” before. I can tell she becomes anxious entering that situation and it helps tremendously if we take a few minutes to explain what kind of things to expect. Sounds simple but in the hustle of life I have forgotten this before and it resulted in a melt-down of overwhelming emotions when she wasn’t sure what to expect.

    1. I have noticed the same, Rhonda. I think that even taking the time to say, “I know this makes you feel____ and here is what to expect” validates their feelings while helping them feel prepared. I also have been caught up in trying to just “get things done” and then realized (too late) that my frenzy was only adding to her stress! Thank you so much for your insightful comments!

    1. Ditto, Divya! As teachers, we know the power of a good read aloud! Sometimes I forget that with my own child, but it really works! It is so helpful to see the characters experience similar situations and then have the opportunity for open discussion.

  5. These are wonderful tips! I have a sensitive daughter, and I tell her all the time that she is so strong because her heart is so big. Her capacity to feel for and love others humbles me. Thank you for your encouraging words!

  6. this is a great post! Your daughter is an empath and she will never grow out of it no matter how much she may want to (I’m speaking as an empath myself) I was always so sensitive and I couldn’t understand why funerals were SO hard for me.. they are hard for people but I wasn’t just experiencing my own loss and it was always very overwhelming. Being that sensitive though made me vulnerable to bullies and thinking that family were picking on me when they weren’t, at all. My little cousin is the same. I wish I could go back and tell myself to laugh, that it’s ok to have an opinion and that I don’t have to be so quiet. I wish my parents had these tips when I was wee. 🙂
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    1. This is such wonderful advice. I am very empathetic myself, so I know the path my daughter is embarking upon is not the easiest. But I also think we need people with big, yet sensitive hearts in this world! I will try to remind my daughter to laugh more and worry less. I hope that lessens the load, if even just a bit. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

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