Did you know that twenty percent of the population has a sensitive nervous system and the trait is equally divided between males and females? 20% of all males are sensitive, or one out of every five boys has a finely tuned nervous system. A highly sensitive boy (HSB) can be easily overwhelmed by noise, crowds, new situations and shy away from aggressive interactions. He generally reacts more deeply and exhibits more emotional sensitivity than the non-sensitive boy.
Bullies tend to target kids who seem different from others. Since the eighty percent of non-HSBs are hardwired neurologically to behave in a different manner than the twenty percent of HSBs, many sensitive boys do not fit in with the vast majority of boys and risk being bullied. Bullies also target kids who don't fight back and who react deeply to teasing. Research shows that 85% of sensitive boys react more strongly to bullying that non-sensitive boys.
How can we prevent our sensitive boys from being bullied? Here are five strategies for bully-proofing your sensitive son:
Develop Confidence in your Son by Support from Mom, Dad and Other Adults
The unconditional love and support from parents and other adults will give your son the confidence he needs to face difficult situations. Studies have shown that boys who have positive, loving relationships with one or more adults outside of the home (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.) report more positive experiences as a child than those who do not have these additional relationships. So invite your extended family and friends to share their love with your son.
Some people believe that boys need stronger discipline than girls. However, your sensitive son can learn a lesson better when he is calm and receptive, so when you are disciplining your son, it's vital to talk to him in a gentle manner. When you set limits in a calm, yet firm manner his self-esteem will remain intact.
Mothers generally spend more time with their children, so they are frequently in a position to bolster their son's confidence. However, fathers (or uncles, grandfathers, or other male role models) need to spend special, positive time with their sons. While a father needs to teach his son how to stand up for himself, he also has to understand, protect, and encourage his sensitive son. Both fathers and sons benefit when dad accepts his son's trait of sensitivity instead of trying to mold him into a non-HSB. It's important to model setting limits with others, so that HSB boys can set their own limits with other bullying children.
Make School a Safe Place for your Son
Parents should regularly discuss their son's progress with his teacher, talk to other parents, and volunteer in the classroom. If you find out that a teacher is mistreating your son, you need to immediately let the teacher and principal know that the behavior is unacceptable. If your son's teacher is not receptive to changing his or her behavior, escalate your complaint to the principal and/or district office. If your son's physical safety is in jeopardy due to bullying from students and the school authorities won't intervene, you could contact the police. However, it may be more prudent to remove your son from a potentially physically violent situation if the bullying escalates to that point.
If your son gets bullied in school, it's important to teach him effective methods to handle the situation. According to the Youth Voice Project, the best solution to stopping bullying was accessing the support of adults and peers. Less effective strategies were ignoring the bullying, telling them to stop, and walking away. Learning self-defense can give your son more confidence when confronted by bullying. You could ask the P.T.A. or the principal to arrange for a professional to come to the school to offer an anti-bullying program.
If your son's public school is not responsive, an alternative could be a progressive private school (i.e. Montessori, Waldorf), which may be conducive to your son's emotional and educational needs than a large public school. Homeschooling is also ideal for most sensitive boys since the HSB thrives in a safe, quiet, less-stimulating environment where they are free to pursue both core and creative subjects at their own pace.
Help your Son Obtain Peer Support through New Friendships
Most boys prefer to socialize in large groups, yet sensitive boys usually prefer to interact with only one friend or play by themselves. Since they shy away from aggressive, combative interactions, HSBs may have difficulties making friends with other boys.
It may be better for your son to have just one friend rather than trying to be accepted by a group of non-HSBs. However, it could be beneficial for your son to learn how to navigate through the majority non-sensitive boy culture as long as the friends involved remain respectful. Take some time to discuss friendship with your son and emphasize how important it is to be with friends who respect him. It's important for your son to create a balance between spending time alone and with friends or he may not learn successful interpersonal skills.
Help your Son Become Physically Fit
When a boy becomes involved in sports, he feels accepted by his peers, which increases his self-esteem. Most boys are involved in some team sports, but research indicates that 85% of sensitive boys did not participate in team sports and most preferred to participate in individual exercise. Since HSBs often do not perform well under group pressure and may be deeply hurt by the sometimes cruel culture of sports competition, they tend to avoid such interactions.
Regardless of athletic ability, it's important for your son to participate in physical exercise since it will help him become healthier, stronger and more confident. When an HSB has someone to teach and encourage him how to play various games, he could thrive, even in the sometimes insensitive world of male sports. However, before your son joins a team, you should talk with the coach and possibly other parents to make sure that the players are treated with respect and are not overly competitive. The key is to find athletic activities that your son authentically enjoys.
Help Your Son Develop Confidence - Body and Spirit
Research has shown that the more dissatisfied a boy is with his body, the poorer his self-esteem. A sensitive boy who reacts more deeply to teasing about his physical appearance than a non-HSB is at risk for developing low self-esteem. Though the media can be a strong influence on your son, as an adult in his life, you are the stronger influence by letting him know that his body is perfect exactly as it is. Discuss how the media is perpetuating myths about what a male body should look like.
An important aspect of a positive body image involves good health. Stress affects health and since your son may be more vulnerable to stress than the non-HSB, it's important to help him develop a healthy regimen by making sure he eats a healthy diet, takes appropriate supplements, and gets enough sleep and regular exercise.
Finally, while your son's self-esteem may be diminished by his not fitting in with non-sensitive children, he can feel worthwhile with nourishment from spiritual pursuits. Since many HSBs have a proclivity toward spirituality, you can increase his self-esteem by encouraging your son to learn meditation, prayer, spend time in nature, or read spiritual books about the great sensitive and compassionate spiritual heroes like Christ, Moses or other saints and sages.
There are millions of parents of sensitive boys trying to help their sons cope in a world that does not appreciate sensitivity in males. As you begin using the suggestions in this article you will likely start seeing a positive change in your son as he becomes a strong, confident, and happy boy.