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It can be hard finding the best way to discipline a sensitive child.  It takes careful thought and patience in order to correct without yelling, but it’s important.

disciplining the sensitive child

I wrote this a few years ago, but I still follow these guidelines and I hope that they help you, as well.

Our daughter is very sensitive.   I can remember when she was about four years old.  I asked her to “sit down” when I saw her standing on her chair.  The tears started spilling down her cheeks.  She was so upset that she got into trouble, even though in my mind, I was just asking so she wouldn’t get hurt.

If she wasn’t being nice or had said something unkind to her brother and I reminded her “Do not talk that way.  It is not nice.”… well, you can imagine how upset she was.   She felt terrible for hurting their feelings and upsetting me.

We have learned a thing or two over the years to curb the meltdowns that come with disciplining a sensitive child… boys and girls.

To the outside world, it looks like these kids are “wimpy” or dramatic (I hear parents describing their children this way), but I am a child therapist and I have had the chance to study these types of children, as many of my clients are overly sensitive, as well.

They aren’t wimpy.

They aren’t simply dramatic.

They are sensitive.

A sensitive child will often be the kindest person you’ll meet.   Yes, they come with a few challenges for the parents, like perfectionism, being easily overwhelmed, or having their minds set on specific things.  However, it is important to find ways to overcome our challenges, so we can help them overcome their challenges… all without breaking their spirit.

Having a sensitive child is more common than we think.  Some of the kids just feel their emotions more strongly than others.  Usually, they can learn to control it by age six, but they will always feel this way and be more emotional than others.

They are the  “wear your heart on their sleeve” type of kids.   It is up to us to learn how to teach and discipline these kids, without breaking their spirit.


NOTE: This is different than the Highly Sensitive Child…

“A highly sensitive child is one of the fifteen to twenty percent of children born with a nervous system that is highly aware and quick to react to everything.

This makes them quick to grasp subtle changes, prefer to reflect deeply before acting, and generally behave conscientiously. They are also easily overwhelmed by high levels of stimulation, sudden changes, and the emotional distress of others.

Few parents and teachers understand this trait [Highly Sensitive]–and as a result, Highly Sensitive Children are often mislabeled as “problem children” (and in some cases, misdiagnosed with disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder). ”   – read more in the book The Highly Sensitive Child 

sens. child

How to discipline a sensitive child (without breaking their spirit)

“Although it might be tempting to bend the rules to avoid upsetting a sensitive child, constant exceptions to the rules won’t be helpful in the long run. Be flexible, but make sure you’re teaching your child how to be a responsible adult. If you’re too easy on your child, he won’t be prepared to deal with the real world.”
Amy Morwin, discipline expert

“Sensitive children are particularly sensitive to shaming. “You naughty child” or “why can’t you get it right” may seem like mild correction, but to sensitive children, these words can be devastating.”
~Rebecca Eanes, Author

“When your sensitive child acts badly, show him the behavior that you expect. As calmly as possible, tell him to stop and watch. Then start doing exactly what he was doing.

He may even think you are being silly and realize how out of order his behavior was. Next, show him the correct behavior. The act of seeing what you expect rather than listening to a lecture will make a stronger and more memorable impact.”   ~Amy Kaminsky, Programming producer

“Sensitive children respond far better to being requested to do something and partnering with the adults in their life versus harsh discipline.

Harsh discipline can elicit the exact behavior you are trying to avoid emotional meltdowns and outbursts of energy (i.e. temper tantrums, crying, yelling).

Partnering with your child includes learning their triggers like crowds, avoiding them and also giving them tools when they feel overwhelmed like breathing exercises. Professionals like myself can also be helpful in this process.”
~Maureen Healy, speaker

“When your child bawls after an elbow scrape that didn’t even break the skin, your first instinct may be to tell her to calm down or to get over it. Experts say that just makes matters worse, especially if she hears anger or frustration in your voice. ”

–Don’t correct (“That is the reason that we don’t ….”) because they already figured this out on their own.

When you try to talk your kid out of what she’s feeling, it causes her to hold on to that feeling more tightly and get even more upset,” says Elinor Bashe, Psy.D., a child psychologist in Highland Park, New Jersey. “It’s important to listen to and accept your child’s emotions even if they don’t seem logical.”

Though you shouldn’t reinforce the crying by giving too much attention, you can say something like, “I know it hurts” or “You must have been surprised when you fell down.” Then help your kid focus her energy on problem-solving: “Do you think we should wash it off or put some ice on it? Get a bandage or just rest it?”‘ ~  Michele Crouch

If you found this post to be helpful, I want to encourage you to sign up for my free weekly e-mails.  I share tips & stories like these, once a week.   You can sign up here.


stop yelling & the kids will start to LISTEN

how to teach a child to want to listen

Hi there!

I’m Becky, a former elementary school teacher turned certified child development therapist and blogger. I work at home with my husband and together we are raising (and partially homeschooling) our four children in the Carolinas. I love diet coke, ice cream, and spending time with my family.

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  1. Wonderful post!!! Full of grace and understanding, kindness toward our sensitive children.

  2. Thanks,some of these were very helpful as I have a sensitive little girl she is 6 and is still very sensitive about everything.

  3. Wow, thank you! My daughter is sensitive and correcting sends her into a flood of tears which is really frustrating! Thanks for the post, I will put it into practice

  4. Thank you. .. question. .. I teach preschool and I have 2 very sensitive children in my small group. They are both 4.5 years. I give them the time and space they need to feel their feelings. But what are some proactive things I can say to help them deal? This article talks about disciplining but I don’t usually have to do that. But in regular happenings and dealing with the other children their feelings get hurt so easily. They can’t sit beside who they wanted. Meltdown. They don’t get the cup they wanted. Meltdown. Someone says they can’t be the kitty. Meltdown. Someone looks at them wrong. Meltdown. One time the sensitive girl was swinging a strand of heavy counting beads around at circle time. I asked her nicely to stop. She hit the sensitive boy in the eye and he started to cry. As I was leaning to tend to him I quickly said to her “I asked you not to do that! !” She cried for 5 minutes and kept telling me I hurt her feelings and I needed to say sorry! … Excuse me?! You hurt your friend by doing something you weren’t supposed to do. And I didn’t say anything inappropriate to her. …So what should I be doing instead? And besides telling them to count to 10 to calm down which would make me crazy if someone said it to me so I don’t say it to them how do I get them to take a breath and use their words when they are feeling so much. And no these children are not “just spoiled brats” they are good people! I can tell they just feel things very strongly. Thank you.

    1. That is so hard. I have had students like this, as well. I would just try really hard to start with a “You are so sweet, but I need you to not to that today, ok? Can you do this instead?” so that you are quickly distracting her?

  5. fantastic post, thank you our 11 year old son is very sensitive, I think sensitive boys suffer more than girls, because it’s more out of character. I wish his teachers could understand how devastating he finds some methods of discipline, particularly shouting…..he is also very sensitive to injustice. My partner is also very sensitive, but had the ‘grow up and be a man’ type of approach, which is so sad…. again thank you

  6. One of the many thoughts facing the actual Kings the following offseason is a production of Deb Richards.

    1. I need to know the answer to this question aswell. We have six wonderful blessings but don’t know all the answers and what works for one isn’t certain to work for another lol we are still always learning and trying

      1. I think that it’s really important to talk to your child about not being perfect (I find that many times children who are perfectionists are also sensitive). However… I do think rules need to apply and being consistent is a great way to show your child that it isn’t THEM… it’s the behavior. Everytime behavior X happens, consequence Y happens.

        I wish I had more answers, but honestly, each child is so different and strong-willed could mean so many things.

  7. Good luck in the real world Why are we catering to this behavior? Thr tail eagging the dog.Later in life these are the students who cannot behave in dchool and society. As a tracher I deal with them every day

  8. Thank you so much for your advice. Your suggestions and thoughts were such a major help to my family. My husband and I used to have issues when our sensitive daughter behaved badly! We had a hard time showing her what’s right and wrong, but lately, she seems much calmer. We can now talk to her and explain the errors of her behavior, without upsetting her!

  9. Love this- can I ask- how do you handle the meltdowns over the clothes they will not wear – when there are limited options. I try so hard to buy things that I know she responds to bc they ‘feel right’ but it is challenging- esp with each season change