Inside: Parents will learn two vitally important things for when it feels difficult to raise an emotionally intense, strong-willed or highly sensitive child.
I will never forget the bumpy wagon ride through that strawberry field three years ago. It was a bright summer day. and my two girls and I had finished filling our baskets with fresh strawberries, but the wagon that would take us back to the country store was nowhere to be seen.
Oh crap, we have to wait.
Waiting can be a terrifying thing for some parents you know.
Parents of the movers and the shakers- you know what I’m talking about.
Before I could finish my thought my 3-year-old was off invading the forbidden territory of an adjacent strawberry row, seeking out the biggest and deepest mud puddles she could sink her boots into.
After containing her for a hot minute, I turned around to see my 5-year old’s front completely stained red, head to toe. She had decided to forgo the whole ‘purchase before you consume while strawberry picking’, rule.
Internal panic rising, I desperately scanned the strawberry fields for the wagon trying to ignore the judgemental looks and stares (and some laughs) around me, while an oh-so-familiar thought surfaced.
Why does this always feel so difficult?
Some kids are much easier to raise
Two years later we would see what life was like on the other side, you know the non-insane side. We welcomed a little boy into the world, and still refer to our 3-day maternity stay as the most relaxing vacation ever. Things just came easier for this child, sleeping, eating and flowing easily with the ways of the world.
This little 3 year old now reminds me before we get to the street that we need to hold hands to stay safe. He is like an eighty-year-old man in a body of a pre-schooler. He literally does almost everything asked of him, and if he does put up resistance, one calm verbal affirmation is all he needs to get back in the game. It still dumbfounds my husband and I every. single. day.
Moving through the world of childhood is just easier for him.
Raising an emotionally intense, challenging child
Ever since our middle child took up residence in my uterus she has not stopped moving or making noise. Try to imagine for just a second what that might be like for a parent.
Well, I’ll tell ya, it’s freaking exhausting.
This child has run toward more busy streets before her second birthday than an aspiring Nascar driver.
This child challenged the metaphorical nature of the saying “hanging from the chandeliers” at 18 months old (yes, she actually hung from a chandelier over a pub style table).
This child goes for it. This child is curious, smart and energetic. This child ate her one-year-old birthday cake like a badass (can that really be an actual sentence?). This child exhausts us.
Dr. Perri Glass summed up this dynamic brilliantly in his New York Times article,
“Every child is a different assignment — and we can all pay lip service to that cheerfully enough. But the hard thing to believe is how different the assignments can be. Within the range of developmentally normal children, some parents have a much, much harder job than others: more drudge work, less gratification, more public shaming. It sometimes feels like the great undiscussed secret of pediatrics — and of parenting.”
So why are some kids are harder to raise?
There is a multitude of reasons children are the way they are, but let’s focus on 3 primary reasons for the purposes of this article.
1.Temperament. We’ve all heard about this thing called temperament, right? About how a good chunk of our child’s personality and character traits are fixed right from the get-go? How characteristics like activity level, adaptability and intensity are set in stone before ‘bad parenting’ has a chance to factor in?
Some kids came into the world having to work much harder at ordinary everyday things like transitioning from the park to the car. When parents of emotionally intense or strong-willed kids learn more about the intricacies of temperament, things start to make a whole lot of sense.
2.Developmental differences. The path of development for a child is often not linear, and some children experience this to a far greater degree. There are 5 main areas in which children can temporarily be delayed, and while cognitive skills, social and emotional skills, and fine/ gross motor abilities are not easily observable to a passerby, they drastically impact many facets of a child’s day to day life.
A primary example of this is the development of a child’s executive functioning skills. Executive functioning is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills of mental control and self-regulation. If we want to get practical, it’s basically all the skills a child needs to act civilized. Current statistics show that nearly 1 in 10 children show delays in executive functioning during the school-age years, but what does this mean for how a child fares in the world?
It means that they will struggle to organize their thoughts and behavior, becoming easily emotionally overwhelmed and struggling to comply with everyday demands of home and school.
3.Mental health variables. Can we all just come out and say that most of us have some mental health challenge throughout our lives? If we don’t want to admit it, the statistics will. Some children are born with a predisposition toward symptoms of anxiety or unstable moods, all of which exist on a spectrum, affecting one child in a different way than the next.
A child with even minor anxiety is going to have a harder time focusing, regulating their emotions and transitioning through the day to day tasks of childhood.
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The power of perspective in parenting a difficult child
I had a life-changing moment during our wagon ride home from the strawberry patch that day. It came as I sat and watched another mom with her two kids, sitting, sitting perfectly still on that wagon for at least 5 minutes, and you know what else? They didn’t talk at all either.
They weren’t looking around, they weren’t trying to climb up to the middle section of the wagon that was off-limits. They were not trying to drag a stick down in the mud, nor were they power slamming strawberries prior to payment.
We were living in two different worlds.
As I glanced back at my two-year-old who was trying to climb into the middle and eat every strawberry on the wagon, it hit me. This is not about me. This was not about my parenting, my self-pity or my jealousy toward other parents of who I assumed had easier kids. This is not about my expectations of what I thought parenting would look like. This was about raising a child.
It was about allowing my unique kid to have her own story of who she is in this world. I realized then and there that if I didn’t learn to accept and appreciate my children’s intense qualities, who would?
I vowed to do two things going forward.
The first was that I would try my best to remember and appreciate that the world needs all kinds of people (and by the way kids are people too). I am honestly so excited to see the mountains my two intense girls will move in their lifetime. With their unending energy, inability to hear the word no, and boundless determination they have the capacity to create change where perhaps there wouldn’t have been any.
I also can’t wait to see the amazing gifts my easy-going son will deliver into the world. Not through determination and force but through patience, gentleness and his strong peaceful energy. Many would say a third child would bring more stress, and yet, he has been a calming and stabilizing force on our family since the very day he was born.
The second was that I would help each of my children, as different as they are, grow into the best versions of themselves. I would continue learning about their strengths and weakness, in an attempt to nurture and support both when possible. It’s also important that I reflect their strengths back to them, helping them to better know themselves in the process.
There is no doubt that as parents we are all walking our own different journeys, but there is a point in the road where our journey’s meet. We are all trying to raise our unique children in the way they deserve, trying to make the world just a little bit better in the process. When we can come together at this place in our journey as parents, the benefits to all of our children will be immeasurable.
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