Helping Your Spirited Child’s Sensitivity Become Their Strength

Published on December 4th, 2020

Updated on January 3rd, 2024

Helping Your Spirited Child’s Sensitivity Become Their Strength

Temperament is, as many parents will tell you, somewhat hardwired from birth. It’s a combination of genes, environment and experiences that fabricate our preferences, mannerisms and quirks. Some temperaments, “bruise” more easily than others.

In other words, two children might experience the same stimulus and their reactions are markedly different.


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It’s a primary role of the caregiver to help a child become an emotionally healthy version of who he is and when it comes to sensitivity, this translates to:

  1. An awareness of his emotions
  2. A capacity to regulate emotions
  3. The development of empathy and emotional intelligence.

Emotional Awareness

Sensitive children are often overcome by their emotional experiences and it’s common for them to feel emotionally flooded. Developmentally, young children especially need help making emotions concrete so they can manage them.

You can help sensitive children recognize their emotional bandwidth by encouraging them to notice where they feel emotions in their body.

Ask them:

Naming emotions in this manner makes the emotional experience less elusive and more physical.

As the wise Mr. Fred Rogers once said:

“What becomes mentionable then becomes manageable.”

When a sensitive child is able to talk about emotions with authority and awareness, it increases his or her internal locus of control and minimizes feelings of overwhelm. It’s when a sensitive child (or adult that has never learned!) is blind-sided by emotional overwhelm that tantrums, melt-downs, stonewalling and other problematic behavior ensues.

When you teach your child emotional awareness you teach self-control. You send the message that we can be in charge of her feelings.

Emotional Regulation

After a child is able to name an emotion, (i.e. “My face is hot! I feel anger coming on!” or “My stomach is flipping like a fish, I feel nervous!”), then you can teach effective coping skills for that emotion to tone down it’s intensity. In scaling emotions, sensitive children feel at a “nine” or a “ten” whereas a less sensitive child might feel at a “four” or a “five.”

To function effectively and minimize the overwhelm, a sensitive child needs to regulate and move the emotional gauge towards moderation. This process takes different amounts of time for different children, and always requires the support of a loving, empathic caregiver.

Helping your child scale is a good way to start. Gently say:

“You said your stomach is doing the fish-flipping and that tells you about your nervous feelings. Nice work sharing that! Now, tell me more: is it nervous at a ten or nervous at an eight?”

The slight discernment helps a child think critically and mindfully about the emotion and separate a bit from the experience. The separation and objectification of emotion is a regulatory skill. Emotions dysregulate when a person becomes so entrenched in a feeling that he or she cannot think rationally or wisely.

Over time, this becomes an entirely maladaptive way of being and the child is poised to take a victim’s stance: “I cannot manage my sadness, my sadness manages me.”

Deep breathing helps settle the nervous system which is activated in times of distress. Help your sensitive child breathe deeply or remember the phrase:

“motion changes emotion.”

Help shift the emotional experience by doing jumping jacks, walking the block or turning up the music and dancing. Certain actions work better than others depending on the experience; sadness and distress tend to require comfort, nurture and gentle breathwork whereas anger and tension can be expelled with fast-paced motion.

Lastly, give your child the words to share the experience. The poets, playwrights and story-tellers are some of the most sensitive among us and they’ve written their pains and joys on paper. Writing down an emotional experience is an integration of both the right and left brain hemispheres and it helps bring emotional chaos towards order.

Even if your child isn’t verbally inclined, help make journaling a discipline. Ask reflective questions that prompt putting words to feelings.


Empathy is a relational super-power that connects and inspires. Empathy is a large part of emotional intelligence and studies show that empathic adults are more readily promoted in the workplace, network with more ease and maintain strong, healthy familial and relational connections.

Most empathic people have learned to effectively regulate their sensitivity. When a child makes peace with emotional highs and lows he or she becomes less consumed with manipulating circumstances to tend personal emotional needs (which is the strategy that sensitive, but untrained and immature people tend to employ) and is poised instead, to invite and engage another’s experience.

This inviting, compassionate presence has its roots in learning to acknowledge, honor and train one’s own feelings. If you are able to give your child this gift, the rewards will be reaped for a lifetime.

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