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How To Help Highly Sensitive Children Manage Intense Emotions

Help Highly Sensitive Children

Do you have highly sensitive kids and wish to help them manage their emotions and feelings? So, here’s how you can communicate more effectively with your child and be an understanding parent. Let’s take a look at how to help highly sensitive children.

It starts with managing your own reactions.

Natalia reminds her daughter, Olivia (4), that her dad, Luis, is leaving in a few days to go away for the weekend. Olivia starts physically pushing her mom as she blurts out, “Don’t say that mommy!” She then turns to her dad and shouts at him: “Go away right now! It’s time for you to leave this house!”

Olivia’s reaction is confounding to Natalia and Luis. Why would she be telling Luis to leave—early no less—when she is so distressed at the thought of being separated from him? Wouldn’t Olivia want to keep dad close?

While seemingly irrational, looking at it from Olivia’s perspective, her rejection of Luis is a way to gain control of a situation that she has no control over. The old, “I’ll reject him before he rejects me” defense mechanism at work. Olivia is not being mean or hurtful on purpose. She is trying to cope with a stressful situation in the only way she knows how.

Olivia’s reaction upon Luis’ return from his trips away from home is also confusing when taken at face value: Olivia ghosts him. She is cold and refuses to engage with him for a full day or two. This, again, is a common reaction in highly sensitive kids.

It takes a lot of psychic energy to adapt to a separation from a loved one. When mom or dad returns, highly sensitive kids need time to let that person back in and feel safe to reconnect.

How To Help Highly Sensitive Children

3 Tips To Help Highly Sensitive Kids Manage Intense Emotions. What you can do to support your highly sensitive child:

1. Don’t Interpret And React To Your Child’s Behavior At Face Value

How To Help Highly Sensitive Children Manage Intense Emotions
Tips To Handle Your Highly Sensitive Child

Don’t interpret and react to your child’s behavior at face value. When children say hurtful things, it’s important not to take them literally. Kids are just expressing their sadness, frustration, anger, or fear in the only way they know how.

When you respond with anger or hurt, it is confusing to them because they don’t literally mean what they do or say. A big, emotional reaction only fuels your child’s distress.

Related: 6 Effective Ways To Earn Your Child’s Respect

2. Remain Calm And Try Not To Get Reactive Yourself.

While I know this is easier said than done, when we get revved up, it tends to increase children’s distress, leading to more out-of-control behavior. Young children are driven by emotions and are irrational by nature.

When they lash out, it is their way of saying they are overwhelmed and are having a hard time coping. The more you react to their behavior, the more you reinforce it. When you remain calm, your child is likely to settle down more quickly.

She needs you to be her rock when she is unraveling. Accordingly, Natalia holds Olivia in a bear hug—to prevent her from being able to use her body in a harmful way—as she whispers: “You don’t like it when Daddy goes away. You have really big feelings about that. We will help you cope.”

Related: 13 Positive Phrases To Calm Your Child

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Claire Lerner

CLAIRE LERNER is a licensed clinical social worker and child development specialist. She served as the Director of Parenting Resources at ZERO TO THREE for more than eighteen years. Claire has been a practicing clinician for over thirty years, partnering with parents to decode their children’s behavior and solve their most vexing childrearing challenges. also provides training to local preschools and pediatric residents. Claire is the author of hundreds of parenting resources, including books, blogs, podcasts, and videos. She writes a column for PBS Kids, and her work has been published by several parenting publications. She has also served as a content expert for numerous national daily newspapers. Claire's new book--Why Is My Child In Charge? A Roadmap to Prevent Power Struggles, Increase Cooperation, and Find More Joy in Parenting Young Kids will be released in September of this year.View Author posts