The Highly Sensitive (and Stubborn) Child

Over the past few months, I have been happily working with parents from around the globe especially regarding their stubborn children. One of the moms, Maggie, explained her daughter to me like this: My daughter just refuses to do certain things. One day, she’ll stamp her feet and not budge to go to school. How is this possible? When I was little, we just did what we were told and went to school.

So what I find so interesting is the trend of highly sensitive children to display a high level of stubbornness, be strong willed and absolutely refuse to do certain things. It is this quality (along with others) that has emerged in these children that isn’t captured by their highly sensitive nature but is something else…What is it? And what do you do?

The Stubborn Streak

Stubbornness is considered the “showing dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something” per This feels right. What I find emerging in highly sensitive children beyond sensitivity is the energy of defiance. They rely on their inner wisdom, what I call intuitive intelligence versus outside authorities. In other words, these highly sensitive boys and girls cannot be cajoled by people outside of them – they are inwardly motivated and when they want to do something, they will.

So what do you do when your highly sensitive son or daughter digs in her heels? I have three simple suggestions that work for me:

  1. Work with them – So often parents and other adults tell children what to do versus partnering with them. This is a problem. Highly sensitive children are sensitive to your words, demeanor, tone, atmosphere and overall attitude towards them so they’ll do what they know how to do – defy, talk back, sass, refuse and other outward displays of anger and frustration. You need to change your approach and partner with them even if it’s hard, challenging, the last thing you want to do … it will eventually save you time, energy and frustration.
  2. Negotiate – One thing I have learned is that children that are “acting out” need something they are not getting. So ask questions like: What’s going on? How can I help you? Why are you upset? What do you need now? And yes, I also am a proponent of negotiating with children – it sends the right message. You are basically saying, “Yes, I realize you are a powerful being and let’s make a deal.” Again, it is another form of partnering with kids so they win and you win. There’s nothing wrong with this!!!
  3. Inspire them – Highly sensitive children are very influenced by your words, actions and what they see around them so use that. Henry, my sixth grade client, refused to do his homework. He hated math and felt like a failure. What he was extraordinary at was basketball so I told him a story of how Michael Jordan, basketball hall of fame legend, got cut from his high school basketball team as a sophomore and went home to cry. He was amazed. We then talked about learning from mistakes, and they are all stepping stones to our success – but we must apply ourselves. Henry agreed to try his homework again.



Our highly sensitive children aren’t just sensitive. They are a collective of highly capable, intelligent, gifted and yes, stubborn beings who were born to do great things. I realize these also aren’t the easiest kids to parent, teach and counsel however they hold within them the potential to be great. Not just good but truly great. Of course, a lot of this rests on our shoulders and how we nurture their greatness, support their unique gifts and help them channel their stubbornness in productive ways.

Source: Maureen Healy

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Maureen Healy: Internationally Renowned Educator, Author of "The Emotionally Healthy Child" and Social & Emotional Learning Expert

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