Dear Rachel,

I have a young daughter (pre-teen), and she’s extremely sensitive! She cries at everything she perceives as hurtful, which is most things. She’s not only oversensitive about herself, but about any pain or injustice done to a fellow creature, human being, and especially, an animal. I tell her to try to ignore hurtful comments, but she says she just can’t. I’ve tried to toughen her up a bit, but she has a meltdown if I insinuate that she’s being oversensitive.

She even cries when she’s happy.

How can I help her become stronger so she can survive in a world that’s not always fair and tactful, and so that she’s not constantly suffering a maelstrom of emotion?


Dear Struggling,

Sensitivity is a positive quality that demonstrates compassion, caring, intuitiveness, love, spirituality, an appreciation for beauty and a desire for justice. I don’t think we can have too much of those qualities in this world, and it’s unfortunate that those people who possess them have to adapt themselves to those who don’t, instead of inspiring them to be more like them.

The Torah is a Torah of chesed, “kindness.” It teaches us in various places to be sensitive to the needs of the vulnerable—widow and orphan, the convert, the handicapped (blind, deaf, dumb, lame, etc.), the poor—in other words, almost everyone since each of us is vulnerable in some way. We may not ignore their needs or make light of them.

The Torah also teaches us to appreciate and celebrate the beauty in the world by making blessings on natural phenomena like thunder and lightning, being kind to animals, marking the seasons and making sure to bless the advent of each month.

Praise your daughter for her sensitivity to G‑d’s world, as well as for the feelings of His creatures large and small. Encourage her to find outlets for expressing her sensitivity by writing, drawing, composing music or perhaps joining organizations that help the downtrodden.

And advocate for her if teachers or other people in authority don’t protect her from bullying or others can’t appreciate her special gifts.

There are also coping strategies and tools you can teach her to help her manage her emotions and reactions better if they are causing her pain.

  1. Listen to her fears, concerns and disappointments, and validate them. “It sounds like you’re very ____ because___.” Being heard and understood is especially important for people with deep emotions. Give her vocabulary for her multi-layered feelings.
  2. Ask if she has suggestions for solving the problem or mitigating the pain, and try implementing them. You can offer a solution or coping strategy, but not one that denies her reality.
  3. Make sure she has outlets for expression: writing, acting, singing, drawing, dancing.
  4. Encourage friendships with like-minded people, as well as more cerebral friends.
  5. Don’t get angry or frustrated when she displays deep emotion; it will only make her feel worse and badly about her essence. Speak to her soothingly when she gets upset until she calms down.
  6. Organize her environment so that there are few stressors, and make sure that she’s getting enough sleep and proper nutrition. Physical issues can aggravate her lack of equilibrium.
  7. Make sure that she is in a motivating and caring learning environment. Distance her from people who make fun of her sensitive nature, even if they are friends or relatives.
  8. Do not refer to her as “my oversensitive daughter.” Be proud of her caring nature.
  9. Give her positive feedback when she chooses a more cerebral way to respond, especially to a negative stimulus. That teaches her that emotion can be responded to intellectually as well.
  10. Read her stories of great people with a similar nature. Chassidic stories always carry the message that holy people have heightened sensitivity to the world and others’ feelings.

May we all be more caring and sensitive!