Rather than “policing” highly sensitive boys for showing too many emotions, teach them that feelings can be a powerful compass.
Although there are many highly sensitive people (HSPs) out there — they make up approximately 15 to 20 percent of the population — you may not find many men admitting to being one.
Whether it’s because they think they need to be “tough” and hide their emotions or because they don’t realize they are an HSP, I’m here to talk about this underrepresented part of society. And, chances are, you know a highly sensitive man — or several: he’s a deep thinker, is ultra sensitive to stimuli (like scents and tastes), and may cry more easily than most during a movie.
When it comes to raising HSP boys, which I’ve done, Dr. Ted Zeff’s book The Strong, Sensitive Boy, and Dr. Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them are just two that come to mind. You, too, should find and read them — and others — if you have an HSP son.
If you’re an HSP yourself like I am, don’t think you’ll have intuitive guidance on this subject: being an HSP and raising an HSP are not mutually exclusive. Personally, I appreciated all the extra help I could get because, as parents, we naturally make mistakes, in spite of our high sensitivity knowledge.
9 Mistakes Parents Make with Highly Sensitive Boys
1. They try to “normalize” them.
This might be a mistake fathers (and perhaps some mothers) make with their HSP sons — they try to “normalize” them and make them hide their emotions and portray a tough side.
But HSP boys are never going to be like the “normal” non-HSP boys. They will go against type from the get-go, so trying to shoehorn them into a typical set of masculine traits will only frustrate the HSP boy and make them feel inadequate or inferior.
Instead: Allow them to be themselves and experience life through their unique lens, and don’t make them feel ashamed for doing so. Be supportive and nurturing to their sensitivity and whatever form it comes in, from their extra sensitivity toward violence to needing to withdraw sometimes to recharge.
2. They don’t teach them to regulate their emotions.
Emotional reactivity tends to be a big thing for HSPs. Emotions often run very high in HSPs, and HSP boys are no exception.
They may become more mentally and emotionally flooded than others, and this emotional overwhelm can be challenging to deal with and be frustrating for both you and your HSP son.
Instead: Teach them to ride out their emotional highs and lows, to ride them like a wave; that way, they can experience the emotions, but not drown in them.
Our emotional abilities can be a gift, but only if we have some sense of control. Teach them meditation, mindfulness, visualization, and grounding techniques that will help quiet their minds when overwhelm kicks in.
3. They don’t provide their HSP boys with gentle challenges for growth or ways to build their confidence.
HSP boys are not glass objects or fragile rice paper. They can, and should, be handled gently but must be provided challenges to increase their confidence and expand their comfort zone. What they learn now about overcoming challenges will follow them into adulthood.
Most issues of confidence are fears of facing the unknown. Because HSPs tend to overprocess fears, the idea of confronting the fear seems overwhelming for many HSP boys.
My youngest son, an HSP, expressed an interest in acting at a young age. When he attended the first class, he was terrified. I sat him down and asked him if he could attend just two more lessons. After the third class, he was sure the class was not for him, but he’d confronted his fear and tried.
Instead: Encourage life experience and let your HSP son know that failure is simply feedback and a reason to keep going and try again. Growth and confidence are not only about mastery, but are also gained from the experience of doing. Applaud success, but dwell more so on effort.
Also, remind them that curiosity, persistence, and discipline will be their greatest teachers, for these are the seeds of a confident boy who will turn into a confident man.
4. They don’t help them celebrate their differences.
Your HSP son is inherently different — acknowledge that, but not in a negative way.
For example, my oldest HSP son was tall at a young age. Both his mother and I had hoped he would play basketball, and we enrolled him in a junior basketball league. But it was not his forte.
He then expressed an interest in playing guitar, and he succeeded. It was an authentic creative talent. His sensitivity shined through his music, and his confidence soared.
Instead: Show your HSP son that this characteristic is a gift and help him celebrate his uniqueness. Then show him how to use this gift by encouraging him to step out into the world and be themselves. Being genuine and authentic will help them live their best life.
5. They don’t help their HSP sons understand their unique HSP gifts.
All humans have unique gifts, from knowing how to cook a feast from seemingly nothing to being eternally optimistic. HSP sons have their unique gifts, as well, and these include insight, intuition, deep feelings and emotions, empathy, and inherent creativity.
Instead: Point out your HSP boy’s traits early and often, and point them in the direction of HSP male role models for them to emulate. And if you are an HSP male, be their hero.
6. They’re not emotionally supportive and nurturing.
Studies have shown HSPs do best in supportive and nurturing environments versus stressful ones. This is the HSP key to happiness.
Instead: Provide that stable, nurturing environment to your HSP boy, and he will thrive. Deprive him of that, and he will wilt. It may be more work, but remember you are raising an orchid in a world full of daisies.
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7. They question their masculinity.
Never put your HSP boy down for not being masculine enough. Understand that masculinity is a cultural construct that is learned from birth. Your boy may not exhibit what might seem to be classic western cultural definitions of what a young man is “supposed” to be, yet I assure you he is still a male.
Gender roles are very fluid and are becoming more fluid all the time. The human genome and individual personalities express gender roles in many ways.
Instead: Teach all boys that masculinity is not devoid of emotion or vulnerability; some characteristics we deem as feminine are indeed human characteristics, such as being nurturing and intuitive. We want our boys to embrace their humanity fully.
8. They think their son’s HSP trait is a disorder or phase.
Being a highly sensitive person is not a disorder: There is nothing wrong with your child because of their sensitivity.
They are just like non-HSPs, part of the human spectrum of sensitivity and sensing. It is possible your child may have some other disorder, i.e. autism or hypersensitivity, but high sensitivity is not one of them.
Instead: Know that your HSP boy is not going to outgrow his sensitivity. It is a lifelong trait that will shape them and their world. The sooner you understand this, the more helpful you can be to your HSP boy protégé.
9. They don’t give their HSP son space.
All HSPs need space at some time or another. It is our nature to retreat, recharge, and rejuvenate, and it’s something highly sensitive people need to be happy. It may seem quirky or anti-social, but it is not. It is the HSP way. Don’t react negatively if he wants time and space to do his own thing.
Instead: Make sure your HSP boy gets the space he needs; it may be alone time to play or time to read or time to reflect and rest. Regardless, do respect it. He will appreciate it and thrive because of it.
HSP boys will be the next generation of HSP men — after all, highly sensitive people make the best leaders. They will be poets, artists, counselors, religious leaders, visionaries, and political advisors, among other things. Letting them grow up to be the wise and sensitive men they are destined to be will benefit us all.
You might like:
- 13 Signs You’re a Highly Sensitive Man
- Parenting a Sensitive Child Ain’t Easy. Here’s How to Do It Right.
- What Happens When a Highly Sensitive Person Grows Up with Emotional Neglect?
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