The 3 Keys to Managing Your Kids’ Emotional Hypersensitivity

I am not a licensed therapist,  but write this post as a very experienced mom who understands emotional sensitivity.

Some people say to do nothing at all if you have a child who is overly-sensitive. They argue that to tread on a child’s emotions is to kill their spirit. Others try to break their kids of it as if they are a rodeo horse. As an overly-sensitive adult and a mom of 5, I say the best thing you can do to help your child with their hypersensitivity is to give them 1- awareness, 2- tools, and 3- model healthy behavior.
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1 – Awareness sounds like it should be so easy, but it can be really hard to approach a sensitive child about their sensitivity. hurtyfeelingsThat’s where Hurty Feelings by Helen Lester comes in. It’s a cute and fun easy-to-read picture book that will keep your kid’s attention. It is also packed with an emotional-wellness-punch. Fragility the Hippo is super-sensitive. This book explores what happens when one takes offense too easily and it also offers a great outcome in overcoming the problem…I’ll give you a hint….the answer has to do with Fragility finding her own voice. You can find the book at Amazon, here. I highly recommend it for its entertainment value as well as for the great opportunity it will provide to approach a sensitive (ha!) subject with your sensitive child.

My only other piece of advice with awareness is DO NOT approach your child with this subject when they are in hypersensitive meltdown mode. Wait until things have calmed down….way down. Maybe even broach it over a special dinner. Definitely make sure you are showing love and support and not criticism. Ideally it should be a constant dialogue. “Uh-oh, here comes that flood of emotions. What should we do about it?”

2 – Tools. There are all kinds of tools that your kids can learn when it comes to over-sensitivity. I’ve been going to therapy for years to learn and really internalize them. Here a few of the ones that I have found most helpful:

1- Self-esteem. This is NOT giving your child something to be proud of. That can help temporarily, but will not solve the problem long-term. Self-esteem is rooted in an inner dialogue which consists only of the message, “I am worthy.” Period. Every individual has worth. Not because of what they accomplish. Not because of who loves them. Not because of anything except for the fact that they are an individual and they are of worth. Religious people might call this being a child of God. I am not sure what atheists call it, but whatever you teach your child, just teach them that they are of infinite worth just because THEY ARE.

2- Order of love – This goes hand in hand with the self-esteem. It is something my current therapist harps on in every single session. It is a principle that has slowly changed my life and the life of my husband. The order of love should be like this: from God, from self, for others, from others. Many people get this screwed up and they seek to find their worth from the latter places first instead of giving it to themselves. It screws them up. Royally.

3- The victim triangle – In the triangle you have a victim, a pursuer, and a rescuer. Learn about it. Change it. If you are being bullied or your kids are being bullied, congratulations, you have perfected being the victim. Change.

4- Boundaries – Usually your kids are struggling with this because you haven’t taught it to them with your own behavior. Boundaries can be tricky, but I have found they are VITAL to emotional health. Essentially, you have to learn to say no. You also shouldn’t be an over-pleaser. You need to honor other people’s boundaries. Here is a good place to read the basics. I also highly recommend the book Boundaries by Townsend and Cloud.

5. Get rid of the shame! Feelings are feelings. No one should be made to be ashamed of how they feel. They literally can’t help it. Always validate feelings (for others and yourself) and teach your kids to process them healthfully. One of my daughters processes well when doing sports, the other by painting. Sometimes we all just need some alone time.

One of my husband’s cousins contacted me a while back and asked me for advice about one of her kids who is highly sensitive. She said, “You seem to have a good handle on processing your emotions.” I busted a gut. If she only knew! The reason I have a handle on it is because if I didn’t learn to process my overabundance of emotions I literally would have been locked up years ago.

As a mother I completely get her concern. One of my daughters is overly sensitive too. {I won’t say who or things could take a downhill real fast.} As a mother it is very very concerning to see her create this huge black hole around herself. Even as her family we are afraid to approach her a lot of the time. This daughter takes everything to heart and she gets hurt by the most random stuff. You have to walk on eggshells around her. She doesn’t fully realize that because she is so sensitive she is actually hurting her ability to connect with others. She is holding herself hostage with her emotions all of the time. Because she is sensitive she is perfect prey for bullies and the equally emotionally unhealthy. We are constantly trying to raise her awareness and give her tools to help.

This brings me to my last point: 3 – Modeling healthy behavior. If your child is struggling with being emotionally healthy it is very likely that you are too. I get my overly sensitive daughter. I am just like her. Over the years I have learned how to manage the sensitivity. I’m always practicing at it. I’ve also learned that being sensitive is not always a totally bad thing. In some ways my sensitivity is a huge blessing: I can see things going on around me that others don’t. I tend to appreciate beauty more. But more often than not my hypersensitivity has caused me trouble.

Recently after being in a social situation with some friends, one friend lamented to me that two of the other friends were making fun of her. I hadn’t noticed it. I asked the friend, “Are you sure they were talking about you? Could you just be overly-sensitive? Whenever I see two people talking, I always think they are talking about me. No matter who they are. Even if they don’t know me I think they are out to get me.”

I’ve learned to calm my sensitive inner dialogue in these types of situations. Awareness of my over-sensitivity has probably been my greatest aid in overcoming it. The second best technique I already mentioned above. I have worked hard on loving myself and letting go of whether or not others love me. I’ve had to stop living my life to please other people. It was literally making me insane.

As I’ve learned to be emotionally healthier I have noticed my kids improve also.

The good news is that your sensitivity makes your beautiful self even more beautiful. You can learn to manage it and as you do, you will have greater happiness and so will your kids.

I recommend going over here and testing yourself. And here and here you will find some good suggestions on managing your emotions. Here is a great list of what NOT to do. Here is a great list of what optimal emotional health looks like. If all of this isn’t enough, do not be afraid to find professional help. For you Utah County Utah locals our therapist Joyce is really great. For the rest of you, ask around. Make sure you get a good therapist. There are a lot of quacks out there.

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