The Problem With Sensitivity

3 steps to success with HSC (highly sensitive children)

Posted Feb 16, 2017

Being sensitive is a great gift, but it rarely starts that way. Usually I see boys and girls struggle with their deep feelings and quick reactivity. For example, Holly, age nine, was getting increasingly frustrated in her third grade classroom, which resulted in her throwing a chair across the classroom (Yikes!). The good news is no one was hurt, but the challenge is that most children’s emotional sensitivity starts as chaotic, undirected and emotionally disorganized. So what do we do? That’s the big question.

Sensitivity: Struggle to Strength

We help our sons and daughters slow down, and ultimately make better choices. My nine-year old client, Holly was pure emotion, intensity and reactivity—she wasn’t thinking when she threw the chair, which landed her in the principal’s office. But with some coaching, Holly’s learned how to make choices with her head and her heart, not just letting her feelings run the show. Of course, she represents one child of many that can turn their emotional sensitivity from a liability into an asset, but it takes time and specific steps such as:

  • Mindful Activities – Holly and many other highly sensitive children are considered intense with fast reactions, especially when they’re frustrated or angry. They may scream, slam doors, say things such as “I hate you” and do something regrettable whether it’s throwing a chair or saying mean words. But these same children when in a positive state can be sweethearts, so helping them slow down and make mindful choices is step one. For example, one mindful activity that can help young children begin to pay attention is to lay down and put a stuffed animal on their tummy. You can guide them to breathe deeply and watch the stuffed animal rise and fall with their breath.    
  • Mentoring – One of the fastest ways to help a highly sensitive child succeed is link him or her to a mentor, which is why I created my mentoring program (Skype and in-person). But whether you work with me or someone else, a sensitive child benefits immensely from having a mentor who is highly sensitive and has learned how to be both strong and soft, right and left brained, emotional and reasonable. For example, I recently mentored Sam, age ten, who was teased badly at school and felt defeated. One of the helpful things I did with Sam was to role play situations, which helped him feel stronger and more equipped to handle whatever came up.
  • Positive Peers – Children will not only imitate you, but they’ll also mimic their friends so it’s essential to make sure your son or daughter is surrounded by emotionally healthy children. For example, Peyton was in a pattern of playing with her neighbor who yelled constantly, which she picked up. Peyton’s parents liked the neighbor’s child, but realized that learning “bad” habits isn’t helpful so they focused on making playdates with some other children who displayed better coping skills, which their daughter needed to learn.

Sensitivity can be a strength

Helping your highly sensitive son or daughter transform his or her sensitivity into an asset is essential, especially in our sometimes not-so sensitive world. Some of the most effective ways to do that are through mindfulness, mentoring and being with emotionally healthy friends. What I know for sure is your son or daughter’s sensitivity was given to them as a gift, but it must be balanced with reason for it to become so.  

Maureen Healy is an award-winning author, popular speaker and mentor to highly sensitive children globally. Her book, Growing Happy Kids, guided parents to nurture a deeper sense of strength and happiness in their children. To learn more: or @mdhealy