Wimpy & Whiny: Understanding Emotionally Sensitive Children (2023)

My 6-year-old daughter, Stella, seemed to have developed into a first-class wimp. She shrieked when I tried to brush the knots out of her hair, had a meltdown whenever I told her no, and burst into tears when her little sister teased her. I used to think Stella was a drama queen. But then I talked to an expert and learned that she wasn't acting.

Stella has what many experts call emotional sensitivity. "It's a common personality trait that causes some kids to feel physical and emotional pain more deeply than others do," explains Jeremy Schneider, a family therapist in New York City. Children are born emotionally sensitive, but their behavior may not seem out of the ordinary until age 5 or 6 when their peers cut back on tantrums and meltdowns. Although kids won't outgrow these feelings, they can learn to control their reactions -- in essence, toughen up. That's what happened with Stella. Follow these steps to help your child manage her emotions.

Show Some Empathy

When your child bawls after an elbow scrape that didn't even break the skin, your first instinct may be to tell her to calm down or to get over it. Experts say that just makes matters worse, especially if she hears anger or frustration in your voice. "When you try to talk your kid out of what she's feeling, it causes her to hold on to that feeling more tightly and get even more upset," says Elinor Bashe, Psy.D., a child psychologist in Highland Park, New Jersey. "It's important to listen to and accept your child's emotions even if they don't seem logical." Though you shouldn't reinforce the crying by giving too much attention, you can say something like, "I know it hurts" or "You must have been surprised when you fell down." Then help your kid focus her energy on problem-solving: "Do you think we should wash it off or put some ice on it? Get a bandage or just rest it?"

Find the Words

Sensitive children tend to burst into tears any time they experience a strong emotion, whether it's embarrassment or frustration. For instance, if you tell your son that his friend can't stay for dinner, he may suddenly become weepy. You can help by giving him the words for how he's feeling: "Honey, I know you're angry that Benjamin can't stay." Often it can stop a kid in his tracks to hear someone express his emotions, says Dr. Bashe. "Even if it doesn't work in the moment, when your child hears someone talking about his emotions again and again, he'll eventually start considering how he feels on his own instead of screaming and crying." Later, you can also talk to your child about other ways to cope with his feelings: stopping for a break, taking a few deep breaths, or even hitting a pillow.

Arm Her With Facts

Five- and 6-year-olds love to be in the know, so use that to your advantage. If your child is a scaredy-cat about getting shots, for example, talk with her before her annual checkup. Explain how the shot she's getting will prevent a specific disease, maybe even look up information online. Once you're in the doctor's office, ask if she wants the vaccine in her left arm or her right, then let her choose the type of treat (a sticker or a new pencil, for instance) that she can have afterward. "You empower kids this age when you give them choices and information, and that can make them braver," says Parents advisor Jenn Berman, Psy.D., author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids. Another way to help her feel in control: Make sure that she has realistic expectations before trying something new like putting together a 300-piece puzzle ("This is harder than your other puzzles, so it's probably going to take a couple of days") or learning to roller-skate ("Most people fall a lot the first time they try").

Help Problem-Solve

Suppose your kid is sobbing because he can't get his shoes tied. Calm him down by saying something like, "I find it hard to understand you when you're this upset. When you're done crying, let's talk so I can help you." Once he relaxes, brainstorm ways to fix the problem, whether it's asking for help (for instance, he could practice on your sneaker) or taking a break and trying again later. "A sensitive kid tends to get sucked into the problem and get stuck there," says Dr. Berman. "Try to remind him that there always is a solution, and he shouldn't feel ashamed to ask for ideas."


How do you deal with an emotionally sensitive child? ›

Six Ways to Help Your Sensitive Child Respond More Successfully
  1. Respect your sensitive child's feelings. ...
  2. Give your child control over reactions. ...
  3. Point out the “wrong look.” ...
  4. Suggest replacement actions. ...
  5. Practice different tones of voice. ...
  6. Teach your child a “so what?” look.
Aug 8, 2017

How do you deal with a wimpy child? ›

Share this:
  1. Prepare kids for reality; don't protect them from it. Reality is tough; in fact, it's often very tough. ...
  2. To build strength and resilience you must require some strength. ...
  3. Refuse to engage in (repeated) excuses, complaints and negative whining. ...
  4. Keep your heart open, know your child can handle these moments.
Jan 27, 2017

What makes a child emotionally sensitive? ›

Highly sensitive children are wired to process and react to their experiences in the world more deeply than other children. A highly sensitive child is sensitive to their environment, relationships, and expectations. A child's high sensitivity is about their temperament.

What is The Highly Sensitive Child summary? ›

What is a Highly Sensitive Child? A highly sensitive child is one of the fifteen to twenty percent of children born with a nervous system that is highly aware and quick to react to everything. This makes them quick to grasp subtle changes, prefer to reflect deeply before acting, and generally behave conscientiously.

How do you calm a highly sensitive child? ›

How to Help a Sensitive Child
  1. Provide lots of downtime. ...
  2. Provide structure and routine. ...
  3. Encourage and praise their strengths. ...
  4. Teach feeling words. ...
  5. Understand your own temperament as a parent.
Mar 1, 2021

How do you toughen up a sensitive child? ›

Show Kids How to Be Tough
  1. Role Model Mental Strength. ...
  2. Show Your Child How to Face Fears. ...
  3. Teach Specific Skills. ...
  4. Teach Emotion Regulation Skills. ...
  5. Let Your Child Make Mistakes. ...
  6. Encourage Healthy Self-Talk. ...
  7. Allow Your Child to Feel Uncomfortable. ...
  8. Affirm Personal Responsibility.
Oct 12, 2021

Do highly sensitive children need therapy? ›

A child counselor can help your child better understand her strong feelings. In therapy, highly sensitive kids can learn how to cope with the day-to-day situations that lead to stress. They can also learn ways to self-soothe and deal with overpowering feelings when they happen.

How do you help a child who overreacts? ›

Here are 5 real techniques that can help you parent your oversensitive, reactive child more effectively.
  1. Stay neutral—even when your child overreacts. ...
  2. Take away the audience. ...
  3. Be aware of what triggers your child. ...
  4. Stop lecturing—it doesn't work. ...
  5. Have conversations about managing emotions.

How do I make my child emotionally strong? ›

A psychotherapist says the most mentally strong kids always do these 7 things—and how parents can teach them
  1. They empower themselves. ...
  2. They adapt to change. ...
  3. They know when to say no. ...
  4. They own their mistakes. ...
  5. They celebrate other people's successes. ...
  6. They fail ... and try again. ...
  7. They persist.
Mar 17, 2021

Which is the most common emotional problem for children? ›

Among the more common mental disorders that can be diagnosed in childhood are attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and behavior disorders. There are different ways to assess mental health and mental disorders in children.

What type of school is best for highly sensitive child? ›

Highly sensitive children often thrive in emergent and interest led based curriculum. They do well in schools that value creative outlets. And some children do best in homeschool and/or co-op styles. [27:18] How do parents know if their child is thriving in their school environment?

Do highly sensitive children grow out of it? ›

In all likelihood, your sensitive toddler will one day grow into a sensitive adult. And while she'll probably still still feel things intensely, the positive aspects of sensitivity — being creative, observant, intuitive, thoughtful, artistic and empathetic — will emerge even more as she gets older.

What is a highly sensitive strong willed child? ›

Strong-willed, sensitive children require patience and consideration. They aren't easy to raise, but their temperament gives them the innate capacity to become compassionate and meaningful leaders. The key is to work with their personality while increasing cooperation.

What do highly sensitive children need? ›

A highly sensitive child needs to know they are loved and truly accepted for who they are. They feel things more deeply and must understand that being highly sensitive is not a flaw. Acceptance is the first step in communicating to your child that you are there for them and that you support them.

Are highly sensitive children difficult? ›

They are often fierce and feisty, persistent and passionate. They are incredibly insightful and empathetic. They are also prone to having more challenges adapting to life's expectations and limits. And they can be exhausting because of their intensity.

Why does my child get upset so easily? ›

For children, anger issues often accompany other mental health conditions, including ADHD, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Tourette's syndrome. Genetics and other biological factors are thought to play a role in anger/aggression. Environment is a contributor as well.

What happens when an HSP grows up with emotional neglect? ›

The HSP child in the emotionally neglectful family learns that she is excessively emotional. And since our emotions are the most deeply personal expression of who we are, that HSP child learns that she is different, damaged, weak and wrong. She may grow up to be ashamed of her deepest self.

Are highly sensitive children on the spectrum? ›

Autism and high sensitivity are often incorrectly thought to be the same thing. The prevalence of autism is currently estimated at around 2 percent of the population, while about 30 percent are highly sensitive.

Can HSP be mistaken for autism? ›

If you're a highly sensitive person (HSP), you may already know that high sensitivity is often compared to autism. This can be surprising—the signs of the two traits are very different. But both have been treated very similarly by the general public.

How do you raise emotionally intelligent children? ›

3 Do's and Don'ts for Raising Emotionally Intelligent Kids
  1. Do recognize negative emotions as an opportunity to connect. ...
  2. Don't punish, dismiss, or scold your child for being emotional. ...
  3. Do help your child label their emotions. ...
  4. Don't convey judgment or frustration. ...
  5. Do set limits and problem-solve.

How can you identify a child with emotional or behavioral disorder? ›

Some of the characteristics and behaviors seen in children who have an emotional disturbance include:
  • Hyperactivity (short attention span, impulsiveness);
  • Aggression or self-injurious behavior (acting out, fighting);
  • Withdrawal (not interacting socially with others, excessive fear or anxiety);
Nov 6, 2020

What is the most important emotional needs of a child? ›

Give children unconditional love.

Love, security and acceptance should be at the heart of family life. Children need to know that your love does not depend on his or her accomplishments. Mistakes and/or defeats should be expected and accepted. Confidence grows in a home that is full of unconditional love and affection.

At what age can a child control their emotions? ›

By age 5, your child has made leaps and bounds in their emotional development. They've gotten much better at regulating their emotions, and they talk about their feelings easily. They have also gotten better at controlling their impulses.


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