How to parent a highly sensitive child


Published: Thu 17 Dec 2020, 11:15 PM

“Don’t be scared”

By Kavita Srinivasan

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“It will be okay”

“Don’t worry”

“Go play with them. Don’t be shy”

“Just say no.”

I’ve said all of this and more to my son. I’ve thought worse.

I didn’t understand him. He was nothing like me. And it was frustrating. So I pushed him to do things with words I would later learn are sure-fire ways to push an anxious child over the edge.

Thankfully, he never complied. He would retreat further into himself when I pushed him. I saw signs of damage appear almost immediately. There was more fear, more anxiety… he would cry inconsolably if I so much as stood up. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, till I finally did.

I had a highly sensitive child. He was textbook:

They’re perfectionists.

They figure out every permutation of how things could go wrong ahead of time, and become anxious to try anything new.

Their clothes and shoes have to be spotless.

They’re sensitive to textures and smells.

They’re deeply empathic, shy, gentle and prone to meltdowns.

I felt like bull in a China shop as I pushed my son to be ‘braver’. How could I make him rowdy, resilient and fearless?

Highly sensitive children are more of a ‘challenge’ to parent, they say. To me, having one was a blessing. I had to stop, look inward, slow down and learn to harness the spirit of this beautiful being.

So, how do you help a highly sensitive child?

Example: When they’re scared to go down a steep slide in the playground.

Take a deep breath, this is not about you.

See and validate their feelings

Say: “I see you’re scared. It’s okay to be scared.”

Don’t say: “It will be okay. Don’t be scared.”


Say: “You can go on the slide when you’re ready”

Don’t say: “It’s not scary at all, I promise.”


Say: “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”

Your presence matters more than anything else.

A few months of putting this into practice and I saw my son transform. He was horseback riding, sliding down steep sand dunes on a snowboard, mingling fearlessly in crowds of children and doing it all without me saying a word.

I had simply stopped trying to make him me.

I had stopped projecting my anxiety onto him.

I had stopped pushing him in ways he wasn’t ready to be pushed yet.

He is still sensitive and sometimes prefers his own company to others’. There are days when he wants to stay home when I’m itching to be out. I let him be. The more I step back, the brighter his light shines.

Highly Sensitive Children are more ‘work’. But when nurtured and cherished, they become masters of their emotional worlds with a complete understanding of who they, and the people around them, truly are. In short, just the kind of people the world needs more of.

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