Maureen Healy shares how we can honor our sons’ sensitivity — as well as see it as the basis of the greatest gifts he has to give.
Does your boy cry often? Has he ever been bullied? Does he enjoy his time alone and quiet space? Is he deeply affected by violence? Or keenly perceptive to how you are feeling or thinking? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be raising a highly sensitive boy. Highly sensitive boys come with deep talents but can be “trying” if you seek to raise them in the regular way.
Sensitive Boys: Who are they?
Last week, I had an eleven year-old client named Matt in my office. His folks brought him to me because Matt had been bullied and today — he seems to be suffering from low self-esteem and a mild depression. When I asked Matt about what happened at school, he said: “Two boys took my glasses, broke them and left me at lunch unable to see.” He told me as a tear ran down his face.
What makes Matt different than the other kids? He is deeply sensitive, affected by how he is treated by other kids and is different. At age eleven, he has already made storyboards for films he “sees” in his mind and knows more about cinema than most adults. Matt’s remarkably high creativity, giftedness in this area and heightened awareness of everything in his life indicates that he is likely a highly sensitive child.
Highly sensitive boys are deeply affected by what others say to them, the images in their mind and their surroundings (for example, sound, smell, taste, touch and so on). Matt was so hurt that these bullies picked on him that just remembering that moment brought him to tears. Aidan, age 8, is another highly sensitive client of mine who cannot watch violence in movies (unlike other kids) and he has to turn away at the slightest hint of it. Aidan is also a gifted musician and just hearing Beethoven’s 5thsymphony brings him to tears.
Simply said, the creativity and giftedness of highly sensitive boys is typically there but you can imagine the frustration as a parent (teacher or adult) when you are doing “everything” you did with his older brother Billy, and it all worked out just fine then but now it’s not working with your other (and sensitive) son: Highly sensitive boys need a whole new way of nurturing to support their success (which is possible).
Supporting their Success
Sensitive boys benefit greatly from parenting (or educational) approaches that take into account their sensitivity and celebrate it. Yes, I realize this is a “challenge” at times when your highly sensitive son comes home crying and your “regular” daughter is doing just fine. I am keenly aware that this doesn’t feel like the moment you want to sing and dance about the joys of raising a sensitive son. But I promise it is his sensitivity that will be his greatest strength and not the opposite.
Sensitive Boys that succeed learn:
– Sensitivity is a Strength – Our culture often teaches (knowingly or unknowingly) that boys are tough, strong on the outside and just “get over things” when that is not always the case. Embracing your child’s inherent sensitivity as a strength versus a problem is “turning point” for parents. This means you no longer push your son to be “more like the other kids” but appreciate him for who he is — deep feelings, sensitive responses, gifts, unique perspective and all.
For example, I helped Aidan’s parents see that his sons’ giftedness and exceptional creativity comes along with his deep sensitivity. It is a package deal. So learning how to appreciate his discomfort with crowds, dislike of “regular” movies and parent him in a way that honors his sensitivity as valuable (versus a nuance) has the power to change everything for the better — and it has!
– Different is Good – Children naturally want to fit in with the other kids. The highly sensitive boy often doesn’t though like Matt discovered when his classmates took his funky classes, stepped on them and went off laughing! Matt took this personally, cried, and had to have his parents pick him up from school.
Such an experience had the potential to devastate his self-esteem or become a “turning point” in Matt’s life where he began not caring about what others think of him as well as starting to see his uniqueness as a “good thing.” I can report that Matt is making real progress as seeing his differences as a good. (After all the great inventors on this planet were so notably different like Einstein and Edison! They were likely highly sensitive too.)
In my book, Growing Happy Kids: How to Foster Inner Confidence, Success and Happiness, I discuss how to help kids use challenges as stepping-stones to their success because all need to learn this — but especially the highly sensitive ones.
–Self-Care is Crucial – Boys tend to want to “shake things off” like when they fall off their bicycle and bruise their knee. They don’t want to appear hurt or seem weak. But the highly sensitive boy needs to learn radical self-care first — he needs to learn when it’s time to walk away, when to take better care of himself and then re-enter situations when he is stronger.
Sometimes boys that are sensitive just push their sensitivity down but the problem with that is — it hides who they are and also their gifts. Learning how to be a highly sensitive boy and navigate this not-so-sensitive world is important stuff. It’s where they can learn how to lead their best (and happiest) lives.
Success is Possible
Being an active parenting coach, I work with adults all around the globe to help them raise their sensitive sons (and daughters) to be who they came here to be. These children no longer fit the old model of what works and they need a whole new approach that honors their sensitivity — as well as sees it as the basis of their greatest gifts they have to give.
Originally appeared at Growing Happy Kids