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How to Empower and Celebrate Your Sensitive Son

parenting a sensitive son, getting a sensitive son to man up

Society may not favour sensitive boys. But they are a true gift. Find out how can you encourage your sensitive son to be strong without changing who he is.

We were at my kids’ favourite Tex-Mex restaurant. My husband, who arrived before me, had the foresight to get the kids tortilla chips to munch on while we waited. Green Crayola crayon in-hand, my son and I played our letter game. Instead of finding actual words in the word search on his placemat, we take turns finding letters the other suggests.

I say, “Can you find a Y?”
He circles a Y and then tells me to find a B.
It’s a fun, preschool-age appropriate way to pass the time before the food arrives.

We played for a few minutes until the baby needed to nurse.

That’s when it happened.

My four-year-old slowly turned from our word puzzle to the play dough that had been handed to him when we walked in. He grabbed his straw and started puncturing holes in the dough as I did my best to get the baby to latch.

Before our server sat sizzling skillets of fajitas in front of us, she moved my son’s drink and straw to the opposite side of the table. Then she took the play dough away.

As I sat the baby back down in the bucket car seat, my son’s posture had changed. My previously bright-eyed-letter-finder was hunched with his arms crossed visibly grimacing.

Not entirely sure why he was suddenly upset, I did my best to fill in the gaps.

“You’re hungry, hon. Here’s your food.”
“Uh!” he screeched.
“Oh, you didn’t want us to stop playing the letter game.”

He recrossed his arms for dramatic effect and let out another screech.

By now, people were starting to stare.

“Go home! No restaurant!” he screamed.
I can always tell the extent of my son’s anger based on how few words he uses.
“I need you to use a quiet voice,” I said.

With a final scream of frustration, all the tables in our section turned to watch our melodrama unfold.

I scooped up my boy and headed to the waiting area. Once we had the closest version of privacy available, he collapsed into my arms sobbing.

My heart broke even though I still didn’t know why he was crestfallen.

In between sobs, he was able to tell me. When the waitress came to set down our dinner, she took his apple juice and play dough away. I don’t doubt she did so simply to make way for the oversized plates. But in the eyes of my sensitive son, he could no longer have something that belonged to him.


In the past, I made many mistakes parenting my sensitive son.

For reasons like these, I have tried to stop my son from crying and having meltdowns. I did my best to distract him too. All it did was intensify his reaction.

When I took a step back and reflected on his sensitivity, I realized I didn’t want to inhibit his feelings. Part of what makes my son wonderful is his heart and how affectionate he is. The issue was that I didn’t know how to handle such intense emotions. Instead of trying to stop his sadness, I started to ride out the storm and figure out how to parent him in a more understanding way.

Related reading: Why You Shouldn’t Punish Tantrums and What You Can Do Instead

Society still holds the belief that sensitive boys should “man up.”

We live in a society where male sensitivity is not favoured. An expert from Time magazine illustrates this well,

Boys have always known they could do anything; all they had to do was look around at their presidents, religious leaders, professional athletes, at the statues that stand erect in big cities and small. Girls have always known they were allowed to feel anything… Now they can feel what they want and be what they want.

There’s no commensurate lesson for boys in our culture. While girls are encouraged to be not just ballerinas, but astronauts and coders, boys—who already know they can walk on the moon and dominate Silicon Valley—don’t receive explicit encouragement to fully access their emotions.


But there are many practical ways to empower and celebrate sensitive boys (and children for that matter).

Give him the words to label his feelings.

It took practice to label my son’s emotions in the heat of the moment. There were moments where I wondered if saying, “You’re really mad,” would add fuel to his emotional fire. What happens instead is it gives him the release he needs to move through his meltdown faster. He feels understood.

Never punish feelings.

Punishing a child who cries will lead to more crying or less predictable anger. In her book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings, clinical psychologist, Dr Laura Markham asserts that “a child who thinks his feelings aren’t okay will stuff them down. Unfortunately, repressed emotions aren’t under conscious control and will burst out in ‘bad’ behaviour later on.”

In addition, psychotherapist Lisa M. McCrohan states that punishing crying won’t lead “our children to be compassionate, empathetic, and confident kiddos.”

Related reading: One thing your highly sensitive child needs from you

Avoid statements like “relax,” or “let it go.”

For one, these phrases don’t tell a child much of anything. Two, it’s dismissive and doesn’t show empathy. And it takes being the recipient of empathy to begin to become empathetic.

Instead, use these phrases to coach your sensitive son’s feelings.

Stay calm.

Yelling and chastizing only lead to feelings of fear and increased sadness(1). Not only that but staying calm sets an example for him to remain calm.

Have empathetic boundaries.

Having clear boundaries that show understanding and compassion are key. This doesn’t mean I’m permissive with what he can have or what he’s allowed to do.

I like to think of it this way. Say you’ve applied for a promotion at work. Your boss decides on someone else. There is a big difference in hearing, “You aren’t ready for the job. You need more experience,” compared to, “We could see your enthusiasm and really appreciate your application. We decided to go with someone who is more qualified.” Both don’t give you what you want. However, one shows understanding and appreciation for where you’re coming from.

Doing this for our sensitive children pays dividends.

Related reading: How to Discipline a Child: Why scientists say this is the best approach

One of the best predictors of success is EQ. But how do we raise emotionally intelligent children? Find out the best and worst ways to foster EQ in kids. Parenting from the Heart
Hug him or if he doesn’t want to be hugged, then just hold space for him.

Hug it out. If your son doesn’t want to be hugged, hold space for him.

Not only does hugging show affection, but it also decreases feelings of stress, anxiety, and sadness. There are some kids that do not want to be hugged in the heat of the motion. When my son is angry, I sit near him and say, “I’m here for you when you’re ready.”

Celebrate who he is.

Thank him for his warmth and affection. Praise what makes him him. The last thing a sensitive boy needs is to feel unsure about himself. Reinforcing what makes him great will serve him well throughout his lifetime, build his self-esteem, and keep his character strong.

When I reflect on my son, I feel such a privilege to raise such a kindhearted soul. I tell him often why I love the way he is.

In the entrance way to the restaurant, I acknowledged my sweet boy’s feelings. When he had finished talking, I told him that if anyone did anything else to upset him, he should grab hold of my hand and squeeze it really tight. He pawed away his tears and beamed a big smile. He hopped from my lap and grabbed hold of my hand. We made our way back to our dinner plates and alphabet game peacefully and happy.

parenting a sensitive son, getting a sensitive son to man up. #sensitiveson #meltdowns #tantrums #sensitivechild #highlysensitivechild #positivediscipline #parentingtoddlers #positiveparenting #parentingfromtheheart

More aritcles you may find helpful

Parenting a Strong-Willed, Highly Sensitive Child: What You Need to Know

How to Discipline a Child: Gentle Parenting vs. Harsh Punishments

Why You Shouldn’t Punish Tantrums and What You Can Do Instead

parenting a sensitive son, getting a sensitive son to man up. #sensitiveson #meltdowns #tantrums #sensitivechild #highlysensitivechild #positivediscipline #parentingtoddlers #positiveparenting #parentingfromtheheart

  1. I love this so much. We have a big sensitive kid on our hands. He cries at the drop of a hat – and he’s of course the one we named “Thor” as a middle name. My husband and I joke that we totally messed up giving him such a tough name. But we wouldn’t want to change him for the world. I love your tips!!!
    Hugging it out has worked for me SO MANY TIMES lately… I love it.

    1. Thanks for the tip! I have a sensitive boy and I realized I have not been handling him as I should.

  2. This is a great post! My son is very sensitive but he is slowly learning how to control his emotions, while understanding that it is perfectly okay for him to be upset and share his feelings. It was a tricky thing to navigate when he was younger and lots of family members would comment that he wasnt growing up to be tough enough. But my husband and I ignored them! ha!

  3. I love this. My oldest is definitely my sensitive one. It’s so hard for me, but I’m very careful not to react before he does. Hugs definitely go a long way. I’m also working on remaining more calm because they really do feed off you’re energy. Great post!

  4. Great tips . I have a son whose ” labeled” as sensitive too. I recently did a similar piece of his behavior. ” It’s okay to cry ” Please consider it as my comment on the above. ☺️

  5. So true! I also have a sensitive son, and the best advice I got was to let the emotions roll. His emotional explosions around us are because he feels comfortable in his safe zone. It makes me sad to see others tell him he can’t be upset over the little things (like getting stung by a bee).

  6. My brother was extremely sensitive when he was little. I almost would feel bad for him because every member of my family would pick on him for it like it was a bad thing. Once he started school and was around other boys a lot he started to learn how to control his feelings.

  7. I needed this. My oldest (now 6) is my sensitive one and I worry for him. It’s good to be reminded and have tips on how to support and empathize with your child and be proud of who he is.

  8. I needed this!! My son (7) is SUPER sensitive and it’s hard not to say “why are you crying now?” I’m trying to find other ways to help the situation and this was really helpful!

  9. My youngest son is highly sensitive. (I highly recommend the book ‘the highly sensitive child’ by Elaine Aron) but he doesn’t respond like your son. He bottles it up and seems incredibly stubborn but is having an internal battle! He refused parties, sleepovers and all sorts of experiences I thought looked so fun but he was having none of it! I was so frustrated that he was ‘’missing out’ but he just wasn’t ready for it. At nursery they’d say he’d been absolutely fine but if I watched through the window I could see on his sweet little face that he wasn’t fine but was holding it all in. He’d never make a big fuss but that seems to make people think he’s fine with the environment. He turned 7 in June and has changed radically! He has had his first birthday party and loved it! He still wouldn’t blow the candles out lol! Too munch attention there!! And he goes to groups and enjoys them and has just started gymnastics no problems! He’s ready now he just needed time. His sensitivity makes him very aware and he thinks a lot. It’s a trait to be celebrated!! I feel so sorry to see sensitive boys sidelined and even mocked. They’ll go on to have huge impacts on their worlds and are invaluable to our societies! x

  10. I was a very sensitive kid growing up. I cried easily.
    Truth be told, this lasted till 10th Grade in Highschool.
    I didn’t want to be, but I was.
    When my emotions were triggered, it always ended in tears.

    However! I’m now a very calm & collective person.
    I would say the fact that I didn’t bottle up/swallow my emotions ( even though I couldn’t) helped me develop & mature with the processing of my emotions.
    Understanding my emotion and learning how to best channel it into reason.

    I’m not saying that I’m no longer emotional, as reading this story, my eyes started to water and my throat tensed up, because that story is identical to mine as a child.

    I decided to read the story because I’ve started to be more interested in psychology. I figured I could gather further insight about myself by understanding my emotional development as a child and help me better understand how I am what I am now..

    My mother never got upset with me when I got emotional as a child. I’m so very thankful for this.
    There’s nothing wrong with boys/men expressing emotions, it’s a matter of being in touch with them and understanding why you feel this way, and being able to use this emotion in a positive manner.

    Instead of drowning it with alcohol or doing something you’d regret later, focusing on how I feel and working it out in a constructive manner!

    Finding a healthy outlet to express these feelings is important to everyone’s mental health.
    For me, I’ve found the gym to be very therapeutic.
    No matter how I feel, I’m able to work things out in the gym in a healthy manner.

    It may be any number of healthy activities.. I’m just speaking of my experience.

  11. I really enjoyed this post. My second born is quite sensitive. He’s alwyas the first to have an outburst if things don’t go the way he hoped or wanted, but he’s also a total gentleman, ready to help!

    I used to get really mad at him until I realised he’s just like me, his mom! So we’re learning how to deal with our emotions together. I think the key is empathy as you said. As adults there are things that upset us so much we want to bury our woes in ice-cream or burn them off with a Zumba session. Our kids don’t have the advantage of experience so they’re watching us to learn how to regulate their feelings.

    Thanks for a great post!

  12. I want to ask about my 8year girl. She is a nice intelligent n a humble girl. clear n confident in her thoughts but sometimes she acts like she knows nothing and show me her blank face, whenever I ask something she was like stuck…
    Or she just overthinking….
    Or degrading herself
    Or may be she thinks that she can’t do …
    Or may b underestimate herself
    What should I do please help.

  13. Now…if I could get my husband on board with this. He is sensitive but of course, his parents did things old school so he has repressed shame for his sensitive nature AND very much represses things until he blows. I’m trying to raise our son differently AND reteach my husband at the same time. I have my hands FULL for sure! I love this article because it helped me see I’m on the right track. Thank you!

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