How to thrive as the parent of a sensitive teenager

Published on October 01, 2021

My son has been quiet all afternoon. 

Not in his usual introverted way—today he’s brooding. Slumpy. 

I plop down beside him on the couch. “Okay, spill. What’s going on?” He shrugs. “Nothing.”

“Three hours of sulking doesn’t say nothing to me.” A half-smile twitches around his mouth. “Okay, fine. There’s something.”

“Something at home?” 


“Something at school?” 


“Dude. I need a little more to go on here. Can you please elaborate?” 



It takes a while longer but eventually he opens up, and we’re able to start talking it out. 

A different kind of wisdom

Parenting my sensitive son has taught me patience—the “digging deep to uncover buried treasures in his heart” kind. I’ve learned to ask questions, listen hard, hear the things he doesn’t say, and gently, sometimes teasingly, draw out his heart. 

But the digging is worth it because it yields a connection—that elusive parenting gold we all ache to find. 

With my daughters, the digging works somewhat differently, though the rewards are equally rich. In contrast to my son, my girls have no trouble verbalizing their feelings, sometimes dramatically. Occasionally their words put me on the defense—even though I may not be the actual perpetrator of whatever hurt has gotten their feelings flowing.

Parenting them through sensitive feelings is teaching me and my husband a different kind of wisdom. 

As parents, we long to help our children process their feelings—and we don’t want to lose our sanity along the way! We want to draw close to our kids without being tossed around by the wild waves of their shifting moods. Navigating the sometimes-stormy waters of sensitive teens’ fluctuating emotions takes faith, wisdom, prayer, and resilience. 

4 practices to help you thrive as you parent a sensitive teen: 

1. Give your teen time to calm down. 

Lisa Damour, author of Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, writes that teens are bound to have meltdowns, but it helps to think of them as storms: “You have to wait it out. But these storms do pass. The brain will reset itself. Don’t try to stop the storm or fix it in the moment.” 

Allowing our sensitive teens space and time to breathe and reset—perhaps by taking a walk, eating a snack, journaling, praying, or even watching a show—will help them think more clearly and work through their emotions in a godly way. 

2. Ask questions. Don’t assume you know what they’re feeling. 

Sometimes we think we know what’s going on in our sensitive teens’ hearts—and we quickly jump in with advice or scriptures—but we don’t actually get what’s going on. 

Maybe our teen’s words and behavior suggest that they are angry with us or with siblings, when in fact, they are feeling hurt by a friend. Even when I think I’ve gotten to the bottom of things, I’ve found it helpful to ask, “Is anything else on your mind? Is something else bothering you?” 

Emotional teens may have a whole collection of feelings they don’t even know they are carrying around, but gentle questions can help identify the real issues. 

3. Validate before you advise. 

You’re overreacting. That conversation/test/game/text doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Stop stressing—God’s in control. 

Ever said one of those things to your teens, then wondered why they shut down on you? I certainly have. We have to be careful not to accidentally minimize our kids’ problems—as mature Christian adults, we understand that an awkward text or a botched tryout won’t make or break their entire life, but to our teens, those problems feel all-consuming and insurmountable. 

Simply validating our kids’ pain—Wow, that’s hard; I’m so sorry; I know that really hurt you—lowers their defenses and earns their trust. When teens know we care about and acknowledge their feelings, they are more receptive to our thoughts on the situation. 

4. When all else fails, pray together. 

My daughter has been crying all morning, and my mama’s heart is dying inside. I feel powerless: I can’t fix her loneliness for her. 

Can’t step in to help bridge awkward introductions. 

Can’t invite someone to sit with her at lunch. 

For a few moments, I start spiraling down with her into hopelessness, until I remember how my mother handled my teenage sensitivities—when I’d go to her, crying my adolescent eyeballs out, she always brought us back to prayer. And somehow, prayer always helped. 

I squeeze my daughter’s knee and say, “I don’t have all the answers, but I know someone who does: God. Remember 1 Peter 5:7? ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you’? Let’s take this to God, trusting that he cares.” 

My daughter is too warbly and watery to pray, so I pray for us both. And when we say amen, somehow we both feel a little better. Calmer. More hopeful. 

Nothing in her situation has changed—except our perspective. Our prayer has reminded us both that even if she feels friendless and alone, she is not. God’s eyes are on her situation—on her—and even though we can’t see it, he is working. 

Fumbling then flying

Parenting sensitive teenagers is infinitely complex, but deeply fulfilling. 

For every tear-stained moment, we experience countless other heartwarming ones: being invited into their heart’s inner sanctum, empathizing with their growing-pain agonies around the dinner table, and joining in victory dances in the living room. 

Sharing life with our teens as they fumble one day and fly the next, growing into the people God made them to be—it’s the greatest of privileges and joys, and if we let him, God uses it to grow us, too. 

Consider a few extra resources:

How fifteen minutes could save your relationship with your teen

Parenting a Middle Schooler with Love

‘Meet them with Jesus’: Responding Biblically to Our Kids’ Problems

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Elizabeth Laing Thompson

Elizabeth Laing Thompson is the author of many books for women, including All the Feels, All the Feels for Teens, and the When God Says series. She loves finding humor in holiness and hope in heartache. Elizabeth lives in North Carolina with her preacher husband and four spunky kids, and they make her feel humbled but happy, exhausted but exhilarated, sometimes stressed but often silly—well, you know…all the feels. You can find her at

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