Menu

What sensitive boys need from their mamas

Fortunately, with the right support, these boys can not only overcome their challenges but thrive as kids and adults.

What sensitive boys need from their mamas

Sensitive children are the canaries and the world our coal mine. They can tell us when the conditions are all wrong, when there is danger and injustice. They warn us that the world is too harsh while simultaneously softening it with their presence. They are candles lighting the darkness, and if we look toward them, once our eyes adjust to the light, we will see the turmoil and the hope.


I’m focusing on boys in this piece because I have no experience with raising a sensitive girl, only with being one. I have two boys, one of whom is an HSC (highly sensitive child—a trait 20% of the population carries), and raising a sensitive boy comes with unique challenges and blessings, as raising a sensitive daughter comes with its own unique challenges and blessings.

FEATURED VIDEO

What is high sensitivity?

These children are born with nervous systems that are highly aware. They feel everything deeply—pain, love, sadness, joy. They may startle easily, dislike scratchy clothing or seams in socks. They often are sensitive to odors and notice changes in their environment. They are in tune with the suffering of others. They have rich inner lives and ask deep questions. They may prefer quiet play and be bothered by noisy places or sudden change.

If you think your child may have this trait, take this quiz at hsperson.com.

We still live in a culture that shames sensitive boys, which is why we, as their parents, must be their champions. In his book, The Strong Sensitive Boy, Ted Zeff says, “When sensitive boys do not conform to the stereotypical ‘boy code’ and instead express compassion, gentleness, and vulnerability, they are frequently ostracized and humiliated.”

You might think we’ve moved beyond this nonsense, but just this week I overheard a crying boy being told that, “Boys don’t cry like that” and to, “Straighten up.” Our culture still expects boys to be tough and emotionally repressed. Because of this, being highly sensitive is particularly challenging for boys.

Fortunately, with the right support, these boys can not only overcome their challenges but thrive as kids and adults. Here are a few ways you can support your sensitive boy:

A good environment is key.

Home must be a sensitive child’s safe haven. They quickly pick up on tensions between parents and can be deeply hurt by siblings who tease.

The best thing you can do for your sensitive son is to create a home atmosphere that is warm, soothing, and accepting. Do not allow siblings to tease or name-call. Work to create a home culture where family builds each other up and supports one another.

Here are a number of ways to do this:

  1. Build positive relationships through dinners at the table, cooperative games, traditions, light-hearted conversations, and quality family time.
  2. Do not compare siblings but celebrate the uniqueness of each child.
  3. Make clear rules about treating one another with respect and kindness. When a child breaks this rule, the “consequence” is that he must make amends and repair the relationship. This comes after a heart-to-heart discussion about how he made his sibling feel and why it is important to make amends.
  4. Keep conflict to a minimum. Zeff says, “Though any child may be alarmed and frightened by [hearing parents quarrel], highly sensitive children are likely to be affected even more by parental conflict.”

Maintain a secure attachment.

A positive bond between mother and son is important for all boys, but it is especially essential for the sensitive boy. There is a societal fear of raising “mama’s boys” and of coddling, which lead us to prematurely separate from our boys. Mom needs to remain emotionally connected to her sensitive son.

He will receive many messages outside the home from his peers, teachers, media and coaches that there is something wrong with him, that he needs to toughen up and “be a man,” but you are there with the consistent message of you are wonderful how you are. You are a worthy and loved human being.

Here are some tips for remaining close:

  1. Play. This is the easiest way to connect heart-to-heart with any child. Play looks different in the tween and teen years. Instead of playing trains or blocks, it might look like video gaming, canoeing, bike riding or learning about his comic book collection. They key is to get into his world.
  2. From hugs and snuggles to fist bumps and hair ruffles, stay connected through physical affection.
  3. Laugh together. Victor Borge wrote, “Laughter is the closest distance between two people.” Shared laughter strengthens relationships, so find something funny!
  4. Be his light reflector. Celebrate your son’s many wonderful traits. See the good in him and tell him what you see, because there are enough people out there who will tell them what they see wrong with him. It is our job, as mothers, to tell them what we see that’s right and good and true.
  5. Avoid harsh discipline and criticizing words which are very wounding to sensitive kids. Rather than shaming or physical discipline, opt for discipline that connects. However, also avoid being permissive for fear of wounding your child. Correct him, just do so gently.

Teach him how to handle his strong, deep emotions.

Sensitive boys feel all emotions more deeply than the 80% non-highly-sensitive population, so it’s crucial to teach your son about his feelings and how to cope with them.

It’s really important to not make him feel like he’s weird or wrong for having such deep emotions. I think that it’s also important to validate but not exaggerate his experience. For example, validating is, “I know it hurts when you stub your toe. I’ll get you some ice” while exaggerating is “Oh my poor baby! That must hurt so much. Let me see! That looks really, really painful. I see why you’re crying! It really hurts, doesn’t it!”

I’m speaking from experience; the latter only makes the situation worse!

Here are some tips for helping your child handle his emotions:

  1. Use time-in rather than time out. The time-in toolkit will help you create a calming space to regulate emotions and teach about them.
  2. Teach them how to take big deep breaths, hug their Calm Down Companion, watch a swirling glitter jar, and journal or draw their feelings to help them through tough moments.
  3. Use games and activities to teach about feelings.

Teach him to set boundaries.

Sensitive children often are people-pleasers and perfectionists. They go above and beyond to make everyone around them happy and comfortable, and sometimes they stretch themselves too thin or put the needs of others ahead of their own too much. Teach them that setting boundaries doesn’t make them selfish and that’s okay (even beautiful) to be flawed and imperfect.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Give them scripts to say to their peers when they need out of a situation.
  2. Give them a voice in your home so they can find their voice outside of it.
  3. Teach them to trust their intuition and honor their instincts.
  4. Role-play situations where they might need to enforce a boundary.
  5. Look for children’s books on boundaries, like No Means No.

A word of caution.

It can be difficult to not overprotect these boys. It’s a fine line I still learn to walk every day—figuring out just how much he can handle and the best way to support him without stifling his growth. There isn’t a perfect answer, and I know sometimes I get it wrong. Being overprotective sends the wrong message though—it says I don’t trust you to be able to deal with this.

I suppose the best message we can try to give our sensitive boys is I believe in you and your ability to fly, and I’m here to catch you should you fall.

I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.


Keep reading Show less
Shop

I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.


And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3

$35

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Life

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary.

So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?

Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play