Advice Behavior Problems Child Development Childhood Temperament

Why your child is sensitive and what you can do about it

Why your child is sensitive and what you can do about it

As any gardener knows it is difficult to raise an orchid. But a dandelion is easy to grow.

According to Dr. Michael Meany, an expert on the interaction of genetics and parenting, some kids are more like orchids. They are born sensitive, harder to raise and more likely to have difficulties in life. Whereas, some kids are more like dandelions. They are born resilient, easier to raise and more likely to have fewer difficulties in life. Which do you have, an orchid or a dandelion? And why these kids are so different.

Sensitive kids are born with more sensitive genes. 

  • These genes underlie their sensitive nature: including a tendency to be more vulnerable; more reactive to hurts, disappointments and slights; timid or anxious; impulsive or aggressive; and to have trouble with change.
  • These genes make them more vulnerable and susceptible to having problems in life.

Resilient kids  are born with more resilient genes

  • These genes underlie their more resilient nature: including a tendency to be more hardy; more able to ‘go with the flow’ ; more able to let things slide off their back;  more able to self-regulate emotions: and more comfortable with change,
  • These genes make them less vulnerable and less susceptible to having problems

You did not cause it!  Your child is born this way. Therefore, do not blame yourself if your child is sensitive. And if you have a resilient child, remember to feel grateful for your good luck.

You can do a lot to improve your sensitive child’s development

ALL KIDS need parents to be emotionally responsive.

SENSITIVE KIDS need parents to be EVEN MORE emotionally responsive.

That’s why it is harder work and takes more out of YOU as a parent.

THE GOOD NEWS It’s genetics, but it is not ALL genetics

HOW YOU PARENT MATTERS An emotionally responsive relationship with your child means YOU are empathic, understanding, accepting and supportive with your child. This kind of relationship helps your sensitive CHILD be more likely to overcome their difficulties.


  • A child’s genes interact with the environment. For a child the most important environment is the parent-child relationship.
  • A positive relationship environment can ameliorate the negative impact of having sensitive genes; can counteract the vulnerability and susceptibility to having problems.
  • The child still has the genes. But a positive environment can shut the genes OFF.

REFLECTIVE PARENTING will help you be more emotionally responsive to your child’s sensitivies
Having a sensitive child can trigger intense feelings in a parent, such as self-doubt, guilt, embarrassment, confusion, anxiety, being overwhelmed, even resentment and anger from having to deal with the child’s extra needs.
Being reflective helps a parent calm themselves down,
contain their emotions and be better able to tolerate it when their child is having difficulty.
A reflective parent can see the world from their child’s perspective and therefore can better accept, understand and empathize with their child’s sensitivity.  This enables a parent to best fit how they respond to the specific needs the  child has.

Being emotionally responsive to your sensitive child does not mean always being sweet or giving in or being over protective
Emotionally responsive parents still need to set limits on their sensitive child, but need to be more careful to do it in a non-harsh, non-judgmental, non-punitive way.

Sensitive kids build resiliency when their parents are emotionally responsive and provide the child skills to contain their reactive emotions.

  • Emotional responsiveness in the form of empathy, acceptance, understanding and support, help the child to feel less distressed.
  • Part of being emotionally responsive means a parent works with their child to help them develop coping strategies for dealing with situations they find difficult. Strategies include: visual imagery, deep breathing, practicing new behaviors, asking for help and reframing the situation.

Being reflective will help you feel more confident about how you parent your sensitive child, even if others don’t ‘get’ why you are interacting with your child in the way you are.

Parents don’t need to be perfect with sensitive kids. But they generally do need to spend more time in repair mode if they have been insensitive to their child. That means spending more time listening to how your child feels; apologizing for insensitivity or a lack of understanding; clarifying a misunderstanding; and resolving a conflict.

TAKE HOME LESSON When you feel exhausted at the end of the day by having to spend extra time and energy being sufficiently responsive to the extra emotional needs of your child PAT YOURSELF ON THE BACK. GIVE YOURSELF AN OSCAR.






As a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, I have been in private practice for over 35 years, with a special interest in parents and couples.


Nothing from June 6, 2023 to December 5, 2023.