4 Steps to Helping Your Highly Sensitive Child to Calm Down


Temper tantrum. I think that we have all been there. There is a reason why the phrase temper tantrum exists. It’s common. Though I think that temper is probably not the best title for it. There are so many more emotions involved than anger. But, in any case, tantrums or perhaps more accurate, meltdowns do occur.

If you are like me, it can be frustrating when your toddler or preschooler starts reacting strongly to something that seems small to you. Right now I’ve been struggling with my 21 month old, Lil Sunshine, wearing her socks and shoes. I’ll put them on, she fusses and takes them off. I try putting sandals without socks instead, but then she insists on wearing the same socks and shoes she took off. All of this happening when I am rushing to get both girls out the door. It may seem like a small thing. “Just keep your shoes on if you want to wear them!” But, it might not have been a small thing to me, or you, when you were little. Which is why it is important to try to stop for a minute and think about what they might be going through. 

This takes me to my first step to helping your highly sensitive child to calm down:

Listen With More Than Your Ears

With a highly sensitive child it can be difficult at times to know exactly what set them off in the first place. Sometimes it happens quickly, their emotions go from okay to emotionally distraught. They cry as if something hurt them deeply and the truth is that they really do feel that something hurt them deeply. And when they are upset it is hard for them to communicate what exactly caused them to be upset in the first place. We need to look around, sometimes even smell if your child is sensitive to smells, to know what is going on. 

We also need to focus on the underlying emotions causing the child to be upset. Often for my daughter it has to do with frustration at something not going her way or becoming frustrated trying to accomplish something. Underneath these two frustrations are a world of emotions though. If we understand the deeper emotions than we can better help our children to understand how to use their emotions to better solve the problem themselves.


So let’s take a moment to analyze these frustrations. The thing with highly sensitive children is that they feel their emotions deeply. So when something doesn’t go their way it’s not a mild irritation but a deep frustration within them. Oftentimes the frustration is happening because there was some change in routine or environment. It’s unsettling for the child to see the change, perhaps even if it is a small change. It may cause them to wonder what else might change, which can be even more unsettling. Another emotion your child may feel by not getting their way is a lack of control. “If I can’t control what is happening here, what else can I not control?”

I believe it is also important to remember that our children are only just beginning to learn how to regulate and control their emotions. It’s hard enough for adults to control our own emotions so why do we so often expect kids to be able to control their own emotions?

When I stopped and focused on what was going on with my 21 month old and her shoes, listening to her with more than my ears, I realized that it was about how her socks and shoes feel on her feet. If her socks have a wrinkle in them, she feels it. When I apply it to myself, I realize I would prefer to not have a wrinkle in my sock too. So, why do I expect her to be okay with it?

Hold Your Child

Maybe my Love Language is physical touch, but for me there is something calming and secure when I am held by those I love. The same is true for my kids. Holding my daughters is a way of saying, “I’m here. I love you. I’m not leaving you. I’m ready when you are. You’re safe.” Most of the time my daughters literally jump into my arms when they are upset, to the point that I have bruises from it. It is a source of comfort to them to be held.


There are some times when my 3 yr. old is too upset at me to want a hug for me. It is usually because she is angry that I said that she couldn’t do something or I took something away. In these cases I give her a few minutes to have her own space. After she has a few minutes, I hold my arms out and she’ll come to me then to help her calm down. Most of the times, however, she comes the first time.

As I hold my child, I try to drown out the rest of the noises and stimulation. In Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When The World Overwhelms Them, she mentions taking your child away from highly stimulating environments. Try to find the least stimulating place you can. I have found that my girls usually bury their faces in me when I hold them. I also make a sh… sound, which I’ve done since they were a baby. It’s familiar to them and drowns out some of the stimulation from noises.

Talk to Them at Their Level


When our children are ready to talk, talk to them at their level, not down to them. Whenever I have something important to say to my daughters, I crouch down. In my opinion this shows respect to our children, who are often capable of understanding way more than we give them credit for and it also helps them to know that what I am saying is important. In the case of them having a meltdown, when I talk to them at their level I am letting them know that they are important to me and what they have to say to me is important to me. It is a way of showing that we care about what they feel and are experiencing.

Validate Feelings

It is important for our children to know that feeling emotion is okay. Emotions can be strong. And sometimes when they are strong it can be scary. We need to teach our kids that the emotion itself is not bad, it is how we act on the emotion that can become a problem. Being able to feel emotions deeply is a strength for highly sensitive people. If we teach our kids when they are young to understand that emotions can help them better understand themselves and the world around them, then they will grow with the ability to use their strength to help others.


Talk to your children about what they are feeling. Talk to them about what it is that caused those feelings. Help them to understand that it is okay to feel that way and then teach them how to use those emotions to understand how to fix the problem. Let your child know that you understand what they are feeling.

When I was a child I was playing outside with my brother. He called me a name and I ran inside, clearly upset. I ran to my mom. In my state of mind, I probably did not see that she was very busy. She, however, stopped what she was doing and listened. She responded to me, focusing on what I was feeling. Feeling like she understood me, I ran back outside and happily played with my brother.

Sometimes there are times when I forget to do these things. I’m not perfect and I don’t claim to be perfect. Yet, what is important is that I don’t stop trying to improve. I keep trying to do better at being a parent. So, if you forget, if you lose your cool, remember to not give up hope. Focus on your child’s feelings, listen with your ears, eyes, senses and your own feelings. And try to remember that your child is still learning. That we all are still learning.

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