Parenting a Sensitive Child.

Sensitive Child

Anybody who has spent more than ten minutes with my three-year-old son will know that he is a sensitive child; a highly sensitive child, in fact.

When he is in the company of people he is familiar with, and in surroundings that he is comfortable in, he is a confident young man. He cracks jokes, acts silly and interacts freely with people. However, if he is in a new situation or an environment that he is not used to, he sometimes struggles to adapt.

I love my son for who he is. He has a sweet, beautiful and gentle soul and I wouldn’t change him for the world. However, all of the love in the world doesn’t change the fact that parenting my sensitive little boy is a challenge at times.

Simple things are usually a struggle for us.

  • Groups of people singing scare him, so bounce ‘n rhyme sessions are out.
  • He has about three favourite outfits and if I ever try to get him to wear anything else, he flat out refuses
  • Entering unfamiliar buildings
  • Going to the dentist
  • Going to the orthoptist
  • He’s scared of strangers
  • He’s scared of dogs (even really tiny ones)
  • He’s scared of other children that he’s not familiar with
  • He’s scared of the hairdryer, hand-dryers in public toilets, and any toy that makes a similar kind of noise

It’s not like he hasn’t been exposed to these things as a child. We have regularly attended baby and toddler groups since he was little, exposed him to a variety of different foods, and done our best to give him a varied experience of life.  He’s always been sociable.  However, it became clear by the time he was about 8 months old that this was not an easy-going child.  And, as he has grown, it has become more pronounced.

I blame myself completely. When he was a small baby, he lived in a home that was infused with sadness, anger and shouting. I was very ill with postnatal depression, and I am so ashamed to say that I exposed him to my raw emotions too many times. I scared him with my shouting, I confused him with my crying and he likely picked up my negative emotions and feelings of regret. So yes, I blame myself wholeheartedly and every time I see my little boy struggle, I feel a sickening pang of guilt in my stomach.  It’s my fault.

I try not to dwell on it too much. After all, not all highly sensitive children had the same negative start to life that my oldest unfortunately had. You can’t raise the same child twice, so I will never know whether this is just who he is or whether I had a major hand in his difficulties.

Responding appropriately to his sensitivities is a challenge at times, but what I find more of a challenge is dealing with others’ responses to him. He has never had a proper check-up at the dentist, because it scares him so much. I explained to the dentist at the last attempt that if he just had 20-30 minutes time to adjust to the environment and the people in it, he would probably have cooperated – but unfortunately she couldn’t give us that much time. The appointments are 10 minutes long, and that’s how it is.

And that’s true of pretty much everything. The world is not equipped for my little boy. And it often feels like I am fighting a losing battle in trying to get the world to accept him. In the face of well-meaning friends and family who encourage me to “toughen him up” and “let him get on with it”, I will continue to (try to) be a patient, unconditional parent and allow him the space and consideration he needs to grow into the world.

And, I have to say, although his sensitivities may be challenging he is also the sweetest, gentlest, kindest empathetic little soul I have had the good fortune to meet. His perception of the world may be more finely-tuned but that makes him very, very special in my opinion. He isn’t wrong, or broken. He doesn’t need to be fixed. He just needs to be accepted and embraced for who he is, and I will continue to try to do the best by him.

Have you got a sensitive child? What are the most challenging and wonderful things about mothering them?


  1. emma says

    i would seriously consider having him assessed, my niece acts in very much the same way, along with other actions, she has recently been diognosed as having autism, sensory issues etc, these symptoms and actions are very consistent with spectrum disorders,

    • says

      Yes, we are planning on having him assessed soon. I’m not concerned about autism in the slightest but I think a sensory issue is highly likely. Thank you for your comment :)

  2. Carina says

    After speaking to you for at least 3 years, there is no way that I think that it is your fault. No matter how hard we try, children cannot be programmed to how we want them, or how society expects them to be. I bet you that in 3 or 4 years time, Monkey will be like every other little boy and all of the sensitivities of his younger years will be forgotten. No two children are ever the same, he’s perfect just the way he is. Oh and btw, Adam hates going to see the orthoptist too, and after two years he is finally starting to cooperate. x

  3. says

    I have to agree with Carina; it’s not your fault. I think our kids are just programed a certain way and our job is to figure our (1) what that is and (2) how to work with it — not change it. Nora is a sensitive girl too. She is “shy” and non-verbal around strangers or in strange environments, including doctors and dentists, and is scared by loud noises. She’s just starting to work through being terrified of the beach. Last summer we only went a handful of times because both the sand and water were incredibly frightening for her, which made everyone miserable, too. Now, I’m just being mindful of not pushing her. I’m trying not to use the word “shy” in her presence, and we are taking baby steps toward getting over some of her fears without asking her to go too far out of her comfort zone.

    • says

      Nora sounds very much like my little boy. He’s not a fan of the beach either; he likes the sand and the stones but he doesn’t like to get too close to the water.

      Thank you for saying it’s not my fault. Your right, kids come how they come and it’s our job to help them learn to negotiate the world. It’s not that I think that sensitivity is a negative trait that needs to be fixed, I just wonder whether his anxiety is something that would have been lessened or eliminated completely had he had a better start to his life.

  4. G says

    I agree that none of this is anyone’s fault least of all yours. I don’t have kids but I do know from working with them that children are so different. It’s true that some people find it hard to accept children and thier behavior but not everyone. Don’t forget that there are people in the world that will think your little boy is a joy to be around. I often find that sensitive children as they get to teenagers can be some of the most thoughtful and intuitive people.
    One thing I found is that often these small adaptions (that you are right often the world is not prepared to make) can really help. Whether it be sitting down and taking the time to explain that it is ok to not like a food and there is bound to be something else we can find or allowing a tired child time to sleep, when all they really need is a rest on a hectic adventure holiday, or just sitting and listening while a child explains why they are upset. All these things I know you do naturally so I am sure Jack has the best possible mum for him and he will learn what he can tolerate and what he doesnt like. My husband doesn’t like the sea much, or dentists. If you ask alot of adults I bet they have things they aren’t hot about like walking into a room of strangers or group singing.
    Take care you are an inspiration to many people
    G x

  5. April says

    Aside from a sensory disorder, which I don’t know much about, some of these traits sound like introverted kids. Are either of the parents introverted? It is genetic.

    You can google introverted babies or check out this story-

    I only mention it because we’ve noticed introverted characteristics in our 4 month old boy. He doesn’t warm to people right away and doesn’t like unfamiliar places unless he is with one of us. Ex. We can’t drop him off at grandma’s because he doesn’t spend enough time with her and it’s her house, not ours. He did good at grandma’s until about month 3. We’re trying to spend more time over there this summer to get him used to it so she can babysit more.

    Other things he will do: stare directly at someone and not smile (like he’s defining his territory), doesn’t talk to make alot of sounds in public (contrasts with home were he doesn’t stop babbling!).

    Well, it doesn’t really surprise us, since both my husband and I are introverts. We approach our son with the same things we like: we go slowly, tell him what to expect (we’re going to change your diaper, you need to go to sleep, etc.), and we don’t buzz around his face with lots of bright or loud toys.

    • says

      that’s very interesting, thanks for sharing. I am certainly not introverted but my husband is to an extent, so it could well be genes coming into play also.

  6. Carolyn Wallace says

    It’s beautiful to hear you say that your little boy is fabulous just the way he is, and doesn’t need to be fixed. We all have our struggles and regrets with our children, and the best thing we can ever do is love and accept them just the way they are. I’m sorry to hear that you struggle with guilt that your son’s extra-sensitivies are your fault. In my experience, children are going to be as they’re going to be, and no one is able to change their core personality, not even their mothers. It sounds like you got the good support you needed and are giving your son the very best of you.

    Sending you and your son lots of understanding and peace,
    Carolyn Wallace

  7. Jess Nye says

    Hi! I don’t read this blog and googled it due to a comment on a different blog, but after reading this I wanted to say you might want to have your son checked for Sensory Processing Disorder. My daughter has this and we have some of the same issues. I see some other people have suggested this too. If he has SPD (or even if he doesn’t, probably) it’s not your fault. I don’t think you can create these types of sensitivities.

  8. Juliette says

    Have you read Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman? Chapter 14 has some interesting stuff on sensitive children. It made me reflect on my parenting style at any rate!

  9. says

    I am most likely in the huge minority here but I do feel that there is a huge pressure put upon young children and their parents for them to “fit in”, rather than find their own way in their own time. As you know from my blog we have a sensitive little boy too, but that’s *just who he is*. Quite honestly, I don’t think he’s autistic or has SPD or any other label bandied around too often these days. He’s just my little boy – sensitive, fascinated by details, a bit shy at times, crazy loud and cute when he wants to be…. all in all, quite a lot like me and his Dad :) But it’s so much more noticeable in babes and kids because they haven’t learned to hide their feelings or to moderate them, or to be ultra polite and formal instead of saying/showing how they really feel. I wish our society would let babies, children *and* adults grow into the people they are meant to be, rather than trying to stick them in a box and “fix” them at every given opportunity….

    LOL. Sorry, it’s obviously one of my ranty days ;) xxx


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