Often, raising a sensitive boy starts with a shift in mindset — teach your son that high sensitivity is a blessing, not a burden.
Although about 20 percent of the population is made up of highly sensitive people (HSPs), society still doesn’t tend to view sensitivity as a strength — even though there are so many hidden gifts that come with being an HSP. From the way they feel things more deeply to their intuitive thinking to their empathy for others, there are many pluses of being highly sensitive.
Yet in a world where teaching boys to be “tough” and emotionally self-controlled is the norm, it can be hard to know how to effectively raise a sensitive boy. It requires a different parenting approach and the courage to challenge social norms placed on males.
Luckily, however, there are several ways to raise a sensitive boy; instead of feeling weak, less- than, or ashamed of their feelings, they can grow up feeling strengthened and empowered by them. As the mother of two highly sensitive boys, here are some strategies I use.
13 Tips for Raising a Sensitive Boy
1. Accept them for who they are, no matter what.
Sensitivity can be a wonderful blessing when a child is raised in the right environment; however in an unsupportive family, a child’s sensitivity can become a source of stress and low self-confidence for them.
Parents, especially fathers, need to take the time to understand and embrace their sensitive boys. For example, if their son cries when he gets hurt or while watching a movie, it’s important not to react negatively or make them feel bad about it. Mindset can be difficult to change, but acceptance and supportive parenting approaches are essential to your sensitive son’s happiness and self-esteem.
2. Redefine masculinity: tell them that there is nothing wrong with showing emotion and being compassionate.
Have a discussion with your son about the meaning of masculinity and how it can take on many forms.
Sensitive boys are up against years of societal conditioning that males are “supposed to” be tough, strong, athletic, and unemotional. They are sadly pushed toward fitting into this “masculine box” that harms their self-confidence and perception of self-worth.
Even though we, as a society, are slowly starting to shift this perspective, it is still very prevalent in the media, in schools, and on playgrounds everywhere. This makes it very easy for boys (and, sadly, sometimes parents) to begin internalizing that there is something “wrong” with them if they don’t fit this definition of masculinity.
Discuss the importance of sensitive men in the world, and that courage and strength come in many different forms. Showing emotion, being compassionate, and resisting the pressure to conform are important characteristics of men and are vital to our society and the world.
3. Surround him with trustworthy male role models who are also sensitive.
A supportive older male role model can do wonders to boost your son’s self-esteem. This is especially important if a son’s father has a different temperament than his own.
Seek out trustworthy male family members, a neighbor, coach, or teacher that have similar, or at least supportive and compatible, sensitive traits and temperaments.
Share with him different leaders and celebrities who have made an impact on the world by embracing their sensitivity and being themselves. Some influential males considered to be highly sensitive include Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Spencer Tracy.
4. Avoid harsh discipline, such as criticizing, shaming, or screaming at your sensitive son.
Sons sometimes receive harsher punishments from parents than daughters do, as a result of that “tough” mindset, but sensitive children need a gentler approach. Avoid screaming at, shaming, and criticizing your sensitive son, because they will internalize this deeply.
Children, especially sensitive ones, want and need limits, but gentle discipline will be much more effective with your highly sensitive child, such as getting down on their level and being firm without yelling. Be conscious of your tone and the volume of your voice.
Sensitive kids are usually rule followers who feel bad after doing something wrong, so make sure you take the time to reassure them of how much they are loved after disciplining them.
5. Understand his limits and triggers, like loud birthday parties and crowded locations.
Highly sensitive children are easily overwhelmed by sensory stimuli in their environment, like loud noise, crowds, and visual stimulation. Birthday parties and special events, busy school days, and loud, crowded locations can be very challenging.
Learning how to prepare your son for these situations is key. Provide him with adaptations, such as sunglasses for bright lights and noise-cancelling headphones for loud environments. If possible, offer a place for him to retreat to when he needs a break (like an HSP sanctuary) and be mindful of when he has had enough.
6. Maintain a consistent routine with downtime built in, too.
As much as possible, you want to maintain a consistent routine when raising your son. Sensitive children thrive on predictability and knowing what to expect. This helps them feel more in control in a world that often feels chaotic to them.
Changes and surprises that interrupt their routine can be very difficult for them. When possible, give him plenty of warning before any changes will be taking place.
Due to the fact that your sensitive boy feels and processes things more deeply, downtime is extremely important, too, such as on weekends and after school.
7. Validate his feelings: what he is feeling is real to him (even if it’s not evident to you).
No matter how ridiculous or embarrassing you believe your son’s feelings to be in any given situation, it is very important to validate his feelings. What he is feeling is real to him. He needs to feel understood and comfortable expressing his emotions.
Boys are taught (consciously and subconsciously) from an early age to repress emotions of sadness, fear, and worry because they are seen as feminine. So avoid saying hurtful comments like, “Why are you being so sensitive?” or “That is such a silly thing to be upset about.”
A positive response that validates feelings could be, “I see that you are really upset about (fill in the blank). I understand how it can make you feel (fill in the blank). What could we do next time to make the situation better?”
8. Teach him how to identify and accept his emotions, like crying.
Unfortunately, in today’s society, expressing emotion is a much more acceptable behavior for a female than a male of any age. While very young, sensitive boys may cry or be scared more easily than others without thinking much of it. And, as they get older and more self-aware, they may tend to repress their feelings in order to fit in.
Holding in their emotions can be very destructive, and often leads to anger/hostility, which, ironically, is the only emotion in the “boy code” that is OK to express. If anger goes unaddressed for too long, however, it can lead to more serious challenges in adulthood. It is important to prevent this by helping sensitive boys learn how to identify and express their feelings effectively.
9. Help him make friends and navigate social situations. Hint: He’ll probably prefer one-on-one interactions versus group ones.
Sensitive boys make amazing friends; they are typically very respectful and caring toward their peers. Once they make a connection with another child, they usually develop a deep friendship with them. However, making these initial connections can be very difficult for them.
If your son is having trouble making friends, it is important to reevaluate the opportunities that they are being given to help them develop friendships. They often enjoy more quiet, predictable, one-on-one interaction (like playing a game) over joining in with a group of children (like a group sport). So try setting up or facilitating one-on-one playdates or research an activity that would connect them with like-minded peers.
10. Have a discussion about bullying and how to handle it.
Sensitive or not, it is vital to discuss the different forms bullying can take with your son and how to best handle it.
Sensitive boys tend to interact and react differently than their peers, which can make them more vulnerable to bullying. Boys need to know that it is not shameful to refuse to fight — whether that means physically or by raising their voice. It does not mean they are any less masculine.
Bullying can also be done very discreetly, so it’s key that your son is able to recognize bullying and report it when it is happening. Verbal abuse — via name-calling, shaming, or teasing — as well as cyberbullying, can be done over long periods of time, with teachers and parents being none the wiser. This abuse can be psychologically damaging if the child does not get help.
Unfortunately, boys are often taught that asking for help is a sign of weakness, so sensitive boys in particular might feel embarrassed or ashamed to seek it. Teach your sensitive son appropriate ways to respond by role-playing with him and communicating frequently that there is never shame in asking for help. Show him how to set those personal boundaries with others — by rehearsing clear and firm statements he can use — and keep an open conversation going.
Also provide him with opportunities to build his self-esteem, so that he can be confident in himself and grow to realize that he doesn’t need approval of aggressive males or bullies.
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11. Help him explore his interests, such as art classes or music lessons.
Fathers often want their sons to follow in their athletic footsteps and there is a lot of societal pressure for boys to be athletic. Participating in sports can provide wonderful experiences, but they can also be very challenging for a sensitive child.
Each sensitive boy is different, but many struggle with aggressive sports. Group sports, like football or soccer, that require a lot of aggression or fast movement and a lot of stimuli can be very unpleasant for them. Instead, they may enjoy a more predictable or individual sport, like martial arts, running, or golf.
If your son is not interested in sports, take the time to figure out what activities he would be interested in. Many HSPs are drawn to creative activities, and your son may be, too. Check out your school, local libraries, and community centers for similar interest groups, including Lego clubs, Cub Scouts, art classes, and music lessons. Getting him involved in a group of like-minded peers will help him build friendships, confidence, and self-esteem.
12. Celebrate his sensitivity and teach him that it is a blessing, not a curse.
It is easy to get caught up in the challenges and frustrations that come with parenting a sensitive boy; however with a shift in mindset, you can begin to appreciate what an asset sensitivity can be.
It is important for boys to see their sensitivity in a positive light. Teach your son that high sensitivity is a blessing, not a burden. Sensitive children are intellectual, creative, attentive, and thoughtful people with the potential to be great friends, creatives, and leaders.
13. Be their advocate and educate others, especially if they do not understand what being an HSP means.
Since only about 20 percent of the population are considered highly sensitive and even less truly understand it, a highly sensitive boy will often be misunderstood.
Advocating for your son by reaching out to his teacher or coach may take you way out of your comfort zone, especially if you are a highly sensitive parent, but it is essential to his happiness and well-being.
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