Creative Child

How to Nurture Emotional IQ in Highly Sensitive Children

by Deborah Song


Accept. Acceptance is key in highly sensitive children. Highly sensitive children feel more; it’s part of who they are. So disapproving of your child’s reactions may feel like you’re rejecting her.  And rejecting her reaction to a situation won’t keep her from having those feelings; she’ll just repress them. And repressed feelings don’t go away. They remain trapped until they find an outlet, one way or another. They key distinction for parents to make when dealing with highly sensitive children is that accepting your child for who she is isn’t the same thing as enabling her. While you don’t want a tantrum to become a tool your child uses to gain your immediate attention, giving her the space to calm down will help her learn to cope. So the next time your child has an outburst, don’t run to her immediate aid.  Remain calm and give her the chance to calm down on her own. It’s important that your reaction to her outbursts don’t overpower emotions. Otherwise, she won’t have the freedom to feel what she’s feeling, and ultimately learn to cope. One way to remaining calm is to manage expectations.  Emotional outbursts, while inconvenient, are your child’s way of learning to cope.

Listen. Once your child has a chance to calm down, ask her to tell her side of the story. In order for your child to move on from a perceived injustice, she needs to be heard without judgment or criticism. Kids are no different from us in this way. The challenge for parents when it comes to truly listening, however, is that our instinct is to rush in and save them. One of the ways we do this is by dismissing how they feel.  Sure, there are times we dismiss their grievances because they’re petty and trivial, but we also do it when we don’t want our kids to feel pain. By giving no weight to their feelings, we think they’ll do the same. But dismissing their feelings only works to undermine them, not protect them. In order for your child to reach emotional maturity, it’s important that there’s somebody to truly listen.

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Empathize. Kids want the assurance that what they’re feeling is normal. And that’s where empathy comes in. Even if you can’t fully understand why on earth the wrong pair of socks would upset anyone so much, remember that we all store up pent up emotions and release them at inopportune times. When your child’s frustrations seem out of proportion, it’s highly likely she’s upset about much more.  So while it’s easy to shame them back to reality, remember that real empathy comes from understanding how tantrums and other emotionally charged reactions work in kids, especially highly sensitive children.

Teach problem solving. Once kids feel their emotions are understood and accepted, their feelings begin to diffuse. This leaves an opening for problem solving. You’ll be surprised to learn that once kids feel they’ve been accepted, heard and understood, they learn to problem solve on their own. When they do need your help, resist the urge to rush in and save the day. Before giving them a solution, give them a chance to come up with their own. Or brainstorm together. What could they do the next time a sibling takes a toy out of their hands? What is more effective than screaming and crying? One way parents can reinforce positive thought is by role-playing. Reenact a scenario and help your child apply her suggested solution. I have even switched the parent-child role with my kids and when I imitate my kids without ridicule, they have the ability to laugh at themselves. The important thing to remember is that teaching your child emotional intelligence is a journey. Before your child can learn to problem solve, she has needs that need to be met. 

Deborah Song is a Canadian-born, Los Angeles-based writer, who obtained her master's in journalism from New York University. She is the founder of, and is passionate about helping parents find better work-life balance and proper support through community.

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