Parents of emotionally intense children will learn a valuable skill for supporting and nurturing the well-being of their child as well as creating more peace in their home.
Yelling. Stomping. Slamming. Crashing.
Raising a child who experiences intense emotions and doesn’t yet have the coping mechanisms to deal with them appropriately means unpredictability, lots of ups and downs and overall family chaos.
It is not uncommon for parents to come into my therapy office engaging in a small tirade of their own, exhausted and unsure of how to deal with the constant barrage of negative behaviors.
“It seems as if we can’t have more than five minutes of peace at our house. It’s impossible for him to get along with his sister, and his outbursts have the whole household on edge, I’ve tried everything from taking things away to timeouts and nothing works!”
When your child is triggered, you are triggered.
Overwhelming noises and disruptive behaviors trigger our own subconscious emotions (whether you are aware of it or not) and can quickly uproot the vision you have for your parenting.
So what is the key to surviving amidst the chaos of our complex emotional child, and also managing to be the strong parent they need?
Turning your focus inward.
It is not always well received when I prompt parents to reflect on their own internal states during their child’s blowups and meltdowns. It is very much a part of our parenting culture to put the focus outward (on the child), and not only on the child but specifically on their behaviors.
While it is helpful to observe a child’s behaviors in order to better understand the need driving the behaviors, a faster way to make progress towards peace in your home is to get your own emotional house in order, first. Intense temperaments or not, you as the parent, set the tone of your family environment.
Your sensitive child is very tuned into your energy and they are watching (and modeling after) your every move (I know, no pressure right?).
No worries though, while the process of self-reflection and managing your own emotions isn’t done overnight, there are some straightforward questions to start you on the journey.
1. Reflect on your own reactions and behaviors when your behaviorally intense child is struggling.
Your intense child is sensitive by nature and will experience many emotional highs and lows. While they are young and their emotional regulation center is under major construction, they will need you to be their emotional rock. A calm, confident and resolute presence that demonstrates to them you are in it for the long haul (or long meltdown).
2.What’s factors are preventing you from being the parent your intense child needs during stressful times?
As a parent of an intense child, your own subconscious emotions are being triggered constantly. These are likely related to childhood experiences or mindsets/beliefs that have been internalized over time. A few examples:
“I need to stop this now or I’m condoning this behavior”
“My child needs to control himself!”
“People will think I’m a bad parent if my child is having this tantrum.”
“If she acts like this she will never have any friends!”
When you sort out your own story from your child’s, you are better able to respond to the needs that underlie their disruptive behaviors and remain emotionally neutral and supportive.
3. How can I support myself in the heat of the moment with my child?
Planning in advance how to increase your odds of success during overwhelming parenting situations will go far to aid you when your brain’s stress center is under siege (yes, this is the exact same thing happening to your child’s brain mid-meltdown).
- create a mantra to recite when things get stressful
- make visuals to place around your home with your parenting intentions or use a cool trick like this one from Kelly at HappyYouHappyFamily, to give yourself a concrete reminder when your brain is overwhelmed.
- set a daily parenting intention to keep it at the forefront of your mind
Because of the pesky fact you happen to be human, you will not always dominate over surging stress hormones and an over-activated amygdala. Negative thoughts will not help you on your mission to be a strong and steady parent for your intense child, so prepare to practice self-compassion and time to repair and connect with your child.
With dedication to being the best parent for your intense child, things will start to click
Within a few weeks of reflection and intentional planning and problem solving, parents return to my office feeling empowered and confident. They’ve realized the power that lies in turning the focus inward, taking responsibility for their own behaviors, instead of focusing only on controlling their child.
Turning your focus inward as the parent of an intense child is the first step to more peace in your home.
As Mahatma Ghandi said in a famous quote, “Start changing yourself if you want to change the life around you”.
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Other epic articles that will help you on your journey of focusing inward with your intense child:
Tantrums and Meltdowns- My Secret to Staying Calm When My Kids Aren’t by Janet Lansbury
How to Stay Calm When You’re Losing It by Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting
What is an Intense Child? by Colleen Kessler of Raising Lifelong Learners