Disciplining your sensitive child

18 April 2019

Disciplining your sensitive child

  • Behaviour
by Michael Grose

Disciplining sensitive kids is usually never straightforward. Sensitive kids, those creative, empathetic types who generally wear their hearts on their sleeve and take even the slightest criticism personally need to be handled with care.

It’s tempting to avoid disciplining them altogether to avoid hurting their feelings. But sensitive kids need also to learn to become social and likeable so they can reach their full social potential. They also like to feel safe and secure so a permissive ‘do whatever’ approach is not for this group.

If your child is the sensitive, worrying type make it a rule of thumb to check in with your child after discipline to make sure that everything is okay. You need to make peace even if you can’t see the need.

Some discipline techniques to avoid with sensitive children:

Shaming, naming and blaming

‘You should be ashamed of yourself’; “You’re a naughty girl” and “It’s all your fault!” should be left out of every parents’ armoury of responses as they often do more harm than good, and can be ineffectual with children who learn to tolerate persona affronts. With sensitive types they can have a devastating impact on their self-esteem. Such phrases uttered with emotional intensity (read anger and frustration) can more than just sting – they can have a lasting impact on kids who wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Physical discipline

This method should be off the table altogether but especially for this group.

Withdrawal of love and affection

There’s a difference between withdrawing affection and withdrawing attention. The latter is temporary and is aimed at specific behaviours that kids use to keep parents busy. The former is more permanent and can be accompanied by shaming or guilt-laden language and can be damaging to relationships and children’s sense of self. Sensitive children often confuse the temporary withdrawal of attention with withdrawal of affection so it’s probably best to keep ignoring children’s behaviour to a minimum.


Sensitive kids usually hate the isolation of time out. They tend to fret rather than reflect, which is the main purpose of this method.

Discipline to favour with sensitive children:

Give them a chance to make good

Most sensitive kids crave adult approval so a stern look or a change in voice tone is often enough to communicate your disapproval followed by some advice about better behaviour next time. Give them the chance to make good or to pick up their game and they will generally respond in kind.

Be friendly and firm

While friendly and firm discipline sounds like a cliché it is very much a reality for sensitive kids. Move close, speak quietly and assure them your relationship is not harmed by their poor behaviour.

Use consequences sparingly

If kids repeatedly break a rule or misbehave when the limits are clear use a consequence but make sure you deliver it like a neutral cop. Watch for a shame reaction and adjust accordingly. Importantly, try to work out why she or he is behaving poorly or breaking a limit or rule.

Replace time out with time in

Place them close to you – on a chair or similar spot – when they need to calm down or spend some time pondering their behaviour. Quiet time doesn’t need to be isolating time.

Repair the relationship

It’s always good to revisit your child after discipline to re-establish good will. In a practical sense it’s not always possible. However if your child is the more sensitive, worrying type make it a rule of thumb to check in with your child after discipline to make sure that everything is okay. You need to make peace even though you can’t see the need.

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Michael Grose

Michael Grose, founder of Parenting Ideas, is one of Australia’s leading parenting educators. He’s an award-winning speaker and the author of 12 books for parents including Spoonfed Generation, and the bestselling Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It. Michael is a former teacher with 15 years experience, and has 30 years experience in parenting education. He also holds a Master of Educational Studies from Monash University specialising in parenting education.