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Michele Borba
BY Michele Borba

Six Ways to Help Your Sensitive Child Respond More Successfully

Most parents would tell you that sensitive kids usually arrive that way. By nature, sensitive children seem more “touchy” from birth: they’re more sensitive to sound and change, tear up easily, and take criticism far too seriously. Though those traits can be highly desirable (after all, the world certainly needs more compassionate people), being overly sensitive can cause problems in the social jungle.

Sensitive kids don’t know how to respond to put-downs, teasing, and critical comments. Instead of shrugging them off, they take the jabs with too much emotion and drama. And that turns the other kids off big time, so oversensitivity is a frequent cause of friendship problems.

You can’t change your child’s natural temperament into a little thick-skinned toughie. And you shouldn’t: a sensitive nature is an asset, so you’ll want to help your child see it positively. Besides, a parent’s role isn’t to change children’s natural personality, but to help them cope more successfully and learn to control how they respond. Doing so can make a huge difference in boosting tender-hearted children’s friendship aptitude and helping them survive in a not-so-sensitive-world.

Try these six steps for talking to your sensitive child about different ways to react, and providing some tools and practice.

1. Respect your sensitive child’s feelings.

Your sensitive kid is a feeling person, so start by acknowledging those feelings. Doing so may help him open up and discuss his concerns.

  • “You look so distressed.”
  • “I’m so sorry you’re so upset. When you calm down a bit, we can talk.”
  • “I know you’re really mad that your friend made fun of you.”

2. Give your child control over reactions.

Stress to your child that she has control on how she chooses to react to another child.

  • “You can’t control what another person says or does, but you can control how you respond.”
  • “You may not be able to stop that kid from being so mean, but if you practice you can learn not to cry when he calls you names.”
  • “I don’t want you to ever stop being such a caring person. That’s one of the your greatest gifts. But you can learn how to not how to make your face not look so upset.”

3. Point out the “wrong look.”

Don’t assume that your child knows what he does that turns kids off. He may have been using that grimace, pout, scowl (or whatever else) so long that he’s unaware he’s doing it. So casually bring it up when the two of you are alone:

  • “I notice that when you’re upset you make a certain face. Do you know what I mean?” (If not, demonstrate.)
  • “Do you think that face would make friends want to be with you or leave you alone? What do kids do what you make that face? Let’s think of other things you can do when you’re upset that won’t turn kids off.”

Yes, this is difficult, but it’s a strategy used in numerous child development centers around the world. Lots of practice and encouragement is needed.

4. Suggest replacement actions.

If your child tears-up easily, she’ll need to learn what to do instead of crying. Talk about possible suggestions and then have your child choose the one she likes best.

  • Think of a really fun place inside your head, and make your mind go there.
  • Walk away really quickly.
  • Clear your throat and bite your tongue.
  • Count to 10 inside your head.
  • Hum a song (only inside your head).
  • Take a long, slow breath.

In order for the “crying replacement” to become a habit, she’ll have to practice it again and again.

5. Practice different tones of voice.

Whimpering, crying, whining, yelling, whispering, quivering voice tones are kid turn-offs. So tell your child before he talks to clear his throat. Think solid and strong. He’ll need to distinguish between voice tones, so role-play various tones and have him practice different voices until he can speak with a confident voice.

6. Teach your child a “so what?” look

As soon your child knows she might get upset, that’s when she needs to look as if she couldn’t care less. She needs to learn a “So what?” or “No big deal” kind of look. Try modeling it. Here are the main parts:

  • Don’t even glance at the kid.
  • Shrug your shoulders.
  • Look off in the sunset.
  • Walk away if possible.

Even a subtle shaking of the head can help achieve a “So what? I couldn’t care less” appearance.


Michele Borba

Written on August 8, 2017 by:

Dr. Michele Borba, is an educational psychologist and expert in bullying and character development. She has appeared on TODAY, Dateline, The View, Dr. Phil, CNN, MSNBC, Dr. Oz, Dr. Drew, and The Early Show, among others, and author of 24 books including UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World. For more information, visit Michele at, and on Facebook, and Twitter.