Positive Parenting Series · Toddler Health/Wellness · Toddler Issues

Positive Parenting Series: For the sensitive child

This is my 3rd post as part of my Positive Parenting Series. Here are Part 1: I’ve switched to positive parenting and I’m not looking back, and Part 2: It’s easier than I thought.

Why have I chosen positive parenting?

Late this morning, my 2.5 year old son accidentally knocked over his water cup. A little bit trickled out onto the chair. He SCREAMED and cried and was so, so sad.

A few days ago while playing outside, he accidentally knocked over a container of bubbles, and some spilled on the driveway. He SCREAMED and cried and was so, so sad.

A few weeks ago (I think I’ve used this story before), his pretzel fell and broke into two pieces. He SCREAMED and cried and was so, so sad.

This sort of situation happens to my toddlers all the time. My daughter, C, is able to roll with the punches. Oops, it spilled? She doesn’t care. She is not the reason I started positive parenting, though she is also reaping its benefits (more on her story soon!).

In the past few weeks, since I’ve changed the way I parent, I’ve been thinking about why B gets SO upset when these situations happen, and I think I finally know the answer:

I have a sensitive child.

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Positive Parenting Series: For the sensitive child

All of those incidents had permanent results. He asked me, through tears, to “fix” his pretzel – which I couldn’t do. When the bubbles spilled on the driveway, he begged me, through tears, to wipe it up so the large spot would go away. He gets so sad, knowing that he caused something to happen that he cannot undo. He begs me to undo it, as the mighty parent, but of course I can’t, and that’s hard for him to handle. It’s almost as if he feels guilty, as if he’s punishing himself with his tears, for causing this incident to occur.

I know sensitive. I get sensitive. It’s me. When I was younger, if it started to rain and there were toys out in the yard, even if the toys were meant to get wet, I would have this sudden urge to run out in the rain and “save” the toys. I know – sounds ridiculous. It is, from a practicality standpoint. But oh, after I’d rush the toys back into the garage, I would come in soaked, feeling so accomplished and proud. Feeling – like I made a change that was in my control. I imagine that when my son knocks over his cup, he feels the opposite. He self-blames.

I recently came across this article, another fabulous one from Creative Child. It, in turn, referenced two books that I can’t wait to get my hands on:

The Highly Sensitive Child, by Elaine Aron

The Strong, Sensitive Boy, by Ted Zeff

In “The Highly Sensitive Child“, the author points out that “HSCs process their mistakes so thoroughly, they punish themselves.” That point hit home. That screaming that my son was doing? He was mad at himself, for making a mistake. The Creative Child article goes on to point out that “Sensitive children tend to be very self-critical, so parental criticism is an especially hard blow.” DING!

Before we started positive parenting, my husband and I would handle those situations with these sorts of words: “I’m sorry, B, but I can’t fix that.” Or, I’m sure we said (though I cringe to think of it), “That’s what happens when you ______.” My son would respond with, “That’s NOT what happens!” and proceed to scream more, or hit, or whatever. He was already being self-critical, so our over-the-top comment to “drive the point home” was exactly what he didn’t need. It was another blow to something he already knew – he made a mistake.

After starting to positively parent, we now handle these incidents this way (and this is exactly what I said today when his water spilled):

“Oh, B, that must be very frustrating, that your cup fell. Are you feeling sad?” “Yeahhhh,” cried my son. “Would you like a hug?” I offered. “Yes, I need a hug,” he said through sad eyes. One big hug later, I picked up his cup and we moved on. THAT WAS IT.

My son needs to know that I can’t fix everything. That sometimes people make mistakes and it’s okay. That “failure” happens often and is okay. And sometimes, after he’s done being upset and has moved on, I may tell him that “mistakes happen sometimes, and they’re okay”. However, I’m letting him know this through different actions and words than before. I’m letting him know this through love and support, where as before, I was inadvertently ostracizing him, withdrawing that support. Other disciplinary techniques such as shaming and teasing will not work for sensitive children, either. “Restoring connection, security, and self-esteem” are most important in these cases.

Positive parenting was MADE for sensitive children. While I think it’s a great parenting strategy for any child, the way I handle my son now has helped him to thrive. Sure, he still gets upset – every day. But together, we’re handling these incidents with the love and support he needs, and they’re over in a flash.


Thank you so much for reading this post from my Positive Parenting Series. Please visit and like my Facebook Page and Pinterest page for more on this topic and many others regarding toddlers and preschoolers!

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