Home About Dr Gayle Counseling Services Speaking Services Online Seminars Articles Press Room Books Contact

Ask Dr. Gayle

Very Sensitive & Fearful 8 Year Old

QUESTION: My son is 8yrs old, he's a good child but he's afraid of everything. Ex: he's afraid of falling off his bike so he doesn't want to learn how to ride a bike (I've tried many hours & methods to teach him). He's a very SENSITIVE child, if you yell at him he starts to cry. He cries about EVERYTHING!!!! If any kid smaller than him bothers him he cries. If you barely tap him he cries. It drives me crazy, he's also overweight (97lbs which bothers him) I try to encourage him to join some kind of sports but because of the fear of hurting himself he's not interested. I don't know what to do.

I recently signed him up in Boy Scouts hoping this will help him some type of way. My question to you is I want to enroll him in Karate, and of course he doesn't want to go in fear of getting hurt. Do you think this is the right thing for him? I'm afraid that someone will beat him up (you know how kid's can be cruel). I heard that Karate builds up your self esteem, also I feel it will help him to get over his fears and lose weight.

Please give me some advice. Thanks

ANSWER: Your approach to your son is on the right track. Building his positive self-image is primary. Find activities he does take an interest in that have a good potential for giving him an experience of success. But seek also to define a redeeming side to his uniquely sensitive nature. It isn't his sensitivity that is the problem, but his tendency to allow fear to abort his exploration.

Sometimes it is necessary to structure our children's activities so that success is assured rather than left to chance. Both boy scouts and Karate could be promising activities. If his weight is causing him some lack of coordination at this time in his development, consider swimming as an alternative. Because his body would be supported by water, swimming might prove to be an activity he could learn to gain physical control and mastery. I remember encouraging my own child who was overweight at that age to join the swimming classes at the local YMCA. Even though he did not pass immediately into the "pollywogs" when he did master the strokes he became very proud of himself. I assured him that I knew he could do it if he stuck with it. This particular success became a turning point for him at about the same age your son is now.

Let your son know that you believe in him to continue learning and mastering activities that interest him. Try a strategy of insisting to him that you want him to "give himself a chance" by going to an activity for 2 months. After that time, he and you can reevaluate whether or not it is for him. By then he may have gathered enough confidence and mastered his fears sufficiently to continue.

Your son is building his sense of mastery at this age and does indeed need to feel he can be "good" at something. But perhaps his talent lies in other areas such as art, music or reading. Be sure to explore where his special "sensitivity" may be expressed in a positive manner, too. For example, if he is sensitive to how others feel and whether or not others may get hurt, emotionally or physically, then he is also a very "considerate" child. At 8 years old it certainly is hard to know exactly who this little guy is, but you must try to find out! You may find the beneficial parts of his sensitivity can be expressed in taking care of animals, as another example. See if you can identify the positive side of your son's sensitivity and reflect this to him with appropriate admiration. His self-esteem will blossom from an authentic reflection of that which is truly positive in him. A constant anxious focus on only the deleterious effects of his sensitive nature will cause him to feel negatively about himself.

Also, consider the possibility that you may be looking at him through a gender lens which may also make you view his sensitivity as negative because he is a boy. You want to "protect" him, and so you might desire him to be physically strong, emotionally resilient and able to compete as a male. But his sensitive nature may later reveal a man of a more artistic or spiritual bent. You serve your son to remain responsive to the stirrings of his unique nature, for he will experience greater success in those areas that are, afterall, genuinely him.

Finally, consider your son's experience in his life of 8 years. Has he been hurt in the past in some way that would have caused what you experience as his "oversensitivity"? If so, trust issues may have developed which need to be addressed before expecting him to "carry on". Is there any traumatic incident(s) in the past 8 years of his life that may have caused him to need to retreat from the world in order to heal? If none of the suggestions given seem to work, have your son evaluated by a competent child therapist to rule out any history or experiences which may have proved damaging and need attention.

Return to Article Archive

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

Return to Dr. Gayle Peterson's Home Page

Copyright 1996-2003.  Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.

Send Comments and Inquiries to Dr. Gayle Peterson at gp@askdrgayle.com