Raising your sensitive child requires understanding of their particular temperament and knowledge of the skills needed to help develop their abilities and find their way. For parents wanting help we begin at whatever point you are at, even those facing tantrums and tears can move to encouraging calm cooperation by following practical and actionable steps. Every parent needs skills along the way and the end result is worth it. If we want our young people to know we really love them for who they are a part of this journey is embracing their differences and understanding the benefits of sensitivity along the way.

Identify them as sensitive

Identifying your child as a sensitive person is helpful as it makes it easier for us to understand them. Two things that often show up for sensitive children is that they feel things strongly and they also tend to notice tiny things that others might miss. When we see things from our sensitive child’s perspective it can influence the way we see the world.

How do I know if I have a sensitive child?

A sensitive child feels things very deeply. Certain things may make them feel uncomfortable, like smells, bright light or being in large groups of people. These things can trigger tantrums and behaviour that can be labelled as “naughty”. When we understand that our child is sensitive we can respond in an effective way and help them to learn how to manage their feelings.

See sensitivity as a positive thing

We really need sensitive people in this world.

We may not be used to seeing sensitivity in a positive light. Sensitive children may even be labelled as stubborn or strong-willed. Sensitive people have strengths that make them amazing. Sensitive children have gifts such as paying attention to things that others overlook. We can communicate the fact that we see sensitivity as a positive thing by using kind and loving words:

“You feel things strongly”.

Reduce the stressors

We can’t always control the environment. When we can control the environment and reduce stressors we can support our sensitive child and allow them to adapt to change. We can also do a lot of things to avoid over-stimulation. Here are some ways to help –

  • Sleep patterns, limiting screens and avoiding too many transitions during the day all help.
  • If you already know you have a sensitive child, then you’ll know how hard it can be for them to relax and be calm.
  • It is especially difficult when they are overstimulated.

Teaching skills will help our sensitive child

It’s likely we will need to show a sensitive child how to be calm. There are many different ways to get into that state, drawing or listening to music, doing quiet activities in a quiet house. These activities help to keep their emotional bank account full and allow them to rest and recover. Our sensitive children struggle when the demands on them are too great and over a period which is not sustainable for them. We can help with reducing the stress in the environment and building a supportive routine. Over time we learn what they can manage and how to go about setting our sensitive child up so they are ready for a new day.

Keep expectations realistic

Unrealistic expectations set our kids up to fail. Few children going through a transition like changing schools or getting used to a new teacher will experience zero stress. Sensitive children feel more stressed about transitions more frequently. They get tired and overwhelmed much more easily than we might expect. Every child is different and they will all learn to adapt over time. It takes more effort for a sensitive child to get into a calm, alert and focussed state. We need to be realistic about what is achievable.

What to do –

  • We can take time to work on a routine that works for our family
  • Expect that it will take time to prepare for transitions.
  • Prepare in advance to reduce the stress and desensitise your sensitive child.
  • Break the task into small chunks.


If it’s starting a new school, don’t be shy about meeting with staff in advance. Your child will find it much easier when you do this. Teachers at schools you want your child to attend will welcome this opportunity to learn more about what they can do to support your child when they begin.

Here are some ideas to consider –

  • Take your child to meet the teacher
  • If possible have a play with other students who will be starting at the same time.
  • Visit on weekends for a play.

All of these things will help set them up so that they are ready transition more easily.

Teach skills

All children need help to know how to manage their emotions. We need to know that feelings start with signals in the body.

“When I am angry I hold my breath. I need to remember to breathe.“

Apart from noticing feelings in the body a sensitive child needs to communicate their feelings. Sometimes it is not possible for them to use words. When they are ready and with our support they can do this through words.

This skill we are teaching is called emotional literacy. Teaching a wide range of words to describe emotions is important as it helps sensitive children to understand and manage the wide range of feelings they are experiencing.

Let’s name that feeling I am having – what is it? Frustration.

When your sensitive child is overwhelmed by a feeling they will also need to know how to ask for help. Let them know it is a brave thing to do by acknowledging them when they do it.

Take care of yourself

Parents say they feel “worn down” and “drained” when they don’t know how to help their sensitive child. It’s understandable when their child is in a habit of reacting to things strongly. A sensitive child can go from 0- 100 in a split second.

Parents who prioritise themselves are more likely to meet the needs of a child who needs “more”. We can begin by scheduling regular times for rest. Down time doesn’t have to take all day to be effective – 15 minutes with a magazine can make a big difference. Walking around the block or doing something for yourself is necessary for you to keep giving love and support to your child.

Learn how to respond to your sensitive child – not to react

Overstimulation can lead to and tantrums. These tantrums are caused by overwhelm rather than an attempt to get what they want. A sensitive child won’t be able to stop what they are doing in the moment when they become upset.

Reacting with strong punishments is not only ineffective but actually makes things worse.

Adopt a curious approach and think about what is driving the behaviour. Instead of seeing a sensitive child as being a “problem child” see them as “having a problem”.

Sensitive children need us to help them through their distress and make sense of what is happening to them. Wait until the dust has settled to talk through an issue. “What could have been done differently?” and “How can we make things easier for you?”

These sorts of questions help a child take responsibility for their own feelings and to manage them better.

Use positive parenting to help your sensitive child

People often mistake positive parenting and responding in a kind way to a child who is in distress as permissive parenting. That’s not what positive parenting is about. We can be respectful of their feelings and firm about behaviour at the same time.

A child’s strong reaction can tell us that their needs are not being met. Positive parenting is about a firm parenting style with a very high level of warmth and connection. Our kindness needs to be quite a lot bigger than our firmness – here’s why:

Children don’t have the emotional literacy to tell us what is bothering them so their problems come out in their behaviour.

Getting to the cause of the behaviour and teaching skills will address the causes of and reduce the need for misbehaviour.

Website – www.gtgparenting.co.nz

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To find out more and find out how parent coaching could help your family email Justine@gtgparenting.co.nz