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Learn how to raise your sensitive child without sacrificing effective discipline or setting boundaries.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Raising sensitive and emotional children can be very challenging and frustrating even though they can be an incredible gift. In fact, your child likely has a remarkable capacity for intuition, joy, and love because their personality can be more tender. However, it also means they are more prone to overacting, misreading situations, and more easily getting their feelings hurt.
Here are a few ways you can help your sensitive child in their perceptions and responses.
As you intersect with your sensitive child’s emotions, do your best to look beyond the emotions and behaviors and into how your child is seeing the situation. Usually, the emotions and behaviors are spot on with the perception they carry.
For example, a sensitive child worried about disappointing others and losing their love may act out or start intensely crying when they’re corrected. They think that if someone corrects them, they are unlovable or might not be enough for that person. If that is the perception, then an intense fear, acting out, and crying make sense.
Teach your child that there is more than one way to look at things. You could say, “That is one way to look at what’s going on. Another way to look at it is…” Help your sensitive child consider other possibilities within their anxious brain.
For example, if they mess up, instead of the idea that they may not be enough or may lose love, what if it is an incredible opportunity to grow, improve, and be more connected? Help them find new ways to get what they want, which is approval and trustworthy, loyal connection with others.
3. Set Limits and Boundaries
When you skip discipline (boundaries and limits) with your sensitive child out of fear of their emotional response or hurting their feelings, you miss out on an opportunity to teach them how to be aware of their misperceptions or to manage their fear of disappointing others. Boundaries and limits, when done with warmth and sensitivity can be very loving and critical to helping your child learn how to navigate their difficult feelings. Keep in mind that sensitive children can quickly go to shame, guilt, and insecurity when they are told “no” or are corrected. You get to guide them toward healthy relationships that include failure, disappointment, rejection, risk, and conflict.
4. Build Their Emotional Control
Consider using an Emotions Chart or Feelings Wheel to help your child put a name to their emotions and develop ways to understand what their emotions are saying. They can learn that emotions provide more information about how we’re seeing something. Help them come up with more effective and healthy ways to communicate their wants, needs, and emotions.
How Your Sensitive Child is Wired
When God created your sensitive child, He specifically gave them the gifts of intuition, compassion, and kindness. In the midst of swirling emotions, your sensitive child might also have the gift of fulfilling God’s command in John 15:12 to: “love one another as I [Christ] as loved you.”
When you notice your sensitive child acting humbly or putting others before themselves, encourage their decision-making and behavior. Pointing out when they act out their feelings in positive ways can be important building blocks to future positive behavior and emotional control.
Dr. Daniel Huerta is Vice President of Parenting and Youth for Focus on the Family, overseeing the ministry’s initiatives that equip moms and dads with biblical principles and counsel for raising healthy, resilient children rooted in a thriving faith.
He is a psychologist, a licensed clinical social worker, and the author of 7 Traits of Effective Parenting. For many years, he has provided families with practical, biblically-based and research-based parenting advice on topics including media discernment, discipline, communication, mental health issues, conflict resolution, and healthy sexuality in the home. He is passionate about coming alongside parents as they raise contributors, instead of consumers, in a culture desperately in need of God’s kingdom.
Dr. Huerta has been interviewed by various media outlets including Fox News, Fatherly, Christianity Today, WORLD Magazine, and CBN, and he is a frequent guest on Christian radio stations across the nation. He’s also written for publications, including The Washington Post, on various topics related to marriage and parenting. He participated in the development of Focus on the Family’s Launch Into the Teen Years, a resource to help parents prepare their kids for adolescence, and he speaks regularly at retreats, conventions, and online events.
Dr. Huerta has maintained a private practice in Colorado Springs, Colorado since 2003 and has served families through Focus on the Family since 2004. He and his wife, Heather, have been married since 1997 and love being parents to their three teen children, Alex, Lexi, and Maci.
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