Skip to main content

How to help a crying child: Our top tips for sensitive kids

Learn ways to teach highly sensitive children how to manage emotions

A toddler crying in their room.
G-Stock Studio / Shutterstock

We’ve all heard the expression about there not being a point in crying over spilled milk, but as parents, we know kids do. Children cry over a lot more than a spilled drink, especially when youngsters are toddlers and don’t have the words to express what they’re feeling. Many parents, however, deal with a crying child multiple times a day.

If your little one tends to get upset over relatively minor things, you’re not alone. Lots of kids get upset when things don’t go the way they want, but for some, it seems like the tears flow freely and quite often. Perhaps it’s not that a crying child is being overly dramatic. It just might be that your child is highly sensitive.

Is your crying child highly sensitive?

Sad toddler holding a stuffed bear.
fizkes / Shutterstock

When children seemingly cry over every small thing, parents may wonder if there is an underlying cause. Of course, all kids have difficulty managing emotions, but for some, the struggle is constant. Dr. Elaine Aron developed the term highly sensitive child. According to Aron, heightened sensitivity in kids is more common than you think. It impacts around 15% to 20% of kids.

Highly sensitive is defined as a child who is extremely reactive to their surroundings. A highly sensitive child is typically acutely aware of the sights, sounds, and smells around them. Highly sensitive children are impacted by the emotions of people around them, too. So, how can you tell if your crying child is highly sensitive?

Irritable vs. highly sensitive

A poor night’s sleep, stress in the house, an illness, being hungry, and a change in routine are all reasons why children cry easily and are irritable. Even adults are quick to react when they’ve been up all night or are dealing with major issues. While most kids go through crying periods, there is a difference between being easily agitated at times and being highly sensitive. Aron developed a checklist for identifying if a child is highly sensitive. Some checklist items include if a child:

  • Gets startled easily
  • Hates surprises
  • Doesn’t react well to change
  • Doesn’t like being wet or dirty
  • Enjoys quiet places
  • Doesn’t like noisy environments
  • Has difficulty sleeping after a super fun day
  • Has a low threshold of pain
  • Has a heightened sense of touch

Aron also noticed that highly sensitive kids are also clever, observant, intuitive, and thoughtful.

Highly sensitive or introverted

Many times, a highly sensitive child is misdiagnosed as introverted or shy. Since highly sensitive children tend to be on the quiet side, they’re often given the shy or introverted label. The difference is the sensory component is not a characteristic of being an introvert or shy. High sensitivity in kids can also be misdiagnosed as autism, attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder, as well as a sensory processing disorder.

Is being highly sensitive a disorder?

The main thing to keep in mind if your child is highly sensitive is that it’s not a disorder or a learning disability. Being highly sensitive is considered a trait and something children are born with.

Consult your pediatrician

Since all kids go through crying periods, it’s important to determine the cause behind the tears. If your child is crying at the loud noises, is it because they are highly sensitive, or is there an underlying ear infection? The best thing to do if you’re checking off a lot of boxes on Aron’s checklist is to talk to your doctor about whether your child is highly sensitive. Your pediatrician can rule out any physical causes and can help determine if your little one is highly sensitive.

Embracing your highly sensitive child

Family laughing with their dad
CREATISTA / Shutterstock

Learning how to manage emotions is important for all children. Doing so for a highly sensitive child can be a bit more trying, but it’s vital. The most important thing is to give highly sensitive kids the coping skills they need. Here are some tips to keep in mind when dealing with your highly sensitive child.

Avoid labels

Labeling a child is never productive. So, try not to call your child overly sensitive, needy, shy, or dramatic. Instead, concentrate on the positive. Remember that highly sensitive kids have a fun sense of humor, ask a lot of thought-provoking questions, and are understanding of the emotions of others. These are all wonderful qualities.

Don’t be reactive

If your child is the only one crying at a birthday party because of a lost turn or the wrong color gift bag, take a deep breath. Highly sensitive kids are good at reading other people’s emotions. So, if you’re tense, angry, or annoyed, it will only escalate your child’s reaction. Instead, take a moment to compose yourself.

Verbalize feelings

When kids are upset, they often lack the words to express their feelings. You can’t teach kids how to manage their feelings if they don’t know what they are. Reading books on emotions and talking about them will help kids understand their feelings. Then, they can recognize why they’re feeling frustrated, and you can talk about it and find a solution together.


Counting to 10 is a simple way to help kids take a step back. Encourage your child to count silently to 10 when they’re starting to feel upset. While highly sensitive kids don’t like change, it can be a good idea to put aside a difficult task or take a walk to remove themselves from an upsetting situation before the tears flow.

Another important tool is to be prepared. If your child is bothered by loud noises, don’t necessarily avoid the fireworks or the carnival. Instead, carry a pair of earplugs or earphones in your bag. Bring sunglasses to the dentist if the bright lights bother their eyes. While you can’t plan for everything, you can problem-solve ahead of time to help make an outing, vacation, dinner out, or party more enjoyable.

All parents have to deal with a crying child. If your child seems to cry more easily and at the slightest change, talk to your pediatrician, especially if this is something new. High sensitivity is a trait children are born with. While it does have challenges, it also has pluses. Unlike the terrible twos or threes, being highly sensitive isn’t a stage your child is going to outgrow. As children develop and mature, they will learn how to better manage being highly sensitive with your help.

Editors' Recommendations

Dawn Miller
Dawn Miller began her professional life as an elementary school teacher before returning to her first love, writing. In…
These weight loss tips for teenagers really work and are good for their self-esteem
How to encourage a healthy lifestyle for your teen
Teenage girl jogging

Parents want nothing more for their kids than for them to be healthy and happy. When a teen is struggling with their weight, they can often feel unhealthy and suffer from mood swings and depression. Unfortunately, many teens assume their weight is their own problem to deal with alone. Teens often don't understand that weight fluctuations are a very normal part of growing up, and as long as they're healthy, they shouldn't stress over it. 

If your teen has expressed concern about their weight or general health, you can support them by incorporating lifestyle changes as a family. If you're struggling with how to help your teenager lose weight in a supportive and non-judgemental way, here are some weight loss plans for teenagers to help get their energy up and their fitness back on track.
What not to do

Read more
How to relieve constipation in your toddler safely
Tips to help your toddler with this common issue
Child on a potty

No one likes feeling constipated, and that includes toddlers. Fortunately, there are ways to relieve constipation in your toddler safely. It can be easy for toddlers to suffer from constipation and if parents don't help them alleviate the discomfort, it can lead to a very cranky little one. It requires patience, but how to help toddlers with constipation can be far less intense than it seems.

Constipation can be caused by not drinking enough water, not eating enough fiber, getting sick, taking certain medicines, stress, or deliberately holding in stool during potty training because it hurts. It could also happen if they are scared of the potty, they don't want to stop playing to go, or it might be a control issue. Thankfully, several simple solutions ensure this issue doesn't drag on or get worse.

Read more
How old do you have to be to fly alone? Read this before booking your kid’s trip
Find out the right age for solo flying and other important facts
Little girl watching movie on the seat-back TV screen while enjoying her airline meal

If you thought traveling with kids was stressful, try sending them off on a flight alone. For many parents, it's necessary to send their child on a flight by themselves, whether it's for a vacation, to visit a parent who lives far away, or for any number of reasons. If you find yourself in a position where your child may need to travel without you, you may ask yourself, "How old do you have to be to fly alone?"
All airlines have their own rules and regulations regarding unaccompanied minors, so parents or caregivers must be aware that there isn't one specific set of rules that applies to all airlines. Before booking any trip, parents need to ensure they know the airline's policy regarding how old they have to be to fly alone and be aware that there are often extra fees that apply when a child flies without an adult.

When can children fly alone?
Typically, airlines have unaccompanied minor policies in place for children between the ages of 5 and 14 years old, which means children under 5 are not allowed to fly solo, regardless of whether they're traveling with an older unaccompanied minor or not.

Read more