When you’re parenting an emotionally intense child, you’re going to have challenges that other parents won’t have. Where their kids hold their hands in public and walk nicely, yours is the one, well, possibly hollering because he can’t have that Paw Patrol Transforming Truck.
But what exactly does it mean to have an intense child? Momtastic reached out to Maureen Healy, child development expert and author of the upcoming book, The Emotionally Healthy Child to discuss what it means to parent an intense child and what you can do to help them through those tough emotions.
“Intensity is fast moving emotion,” Maureen explains, “So not only is it intense, but usually it’s combined with what we call ‘strong-willed.’ If you have an intense cooperative child, that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a child who is intense, defiant, and emotionally reactive. These strong-willed intense kids come into my office and they’re sweet calm children, but they don’t know how to manage their emotions yet.”
Maureen offers some tips surrounding this idea, as well as advice to parents who are possibly struggling to control their own emotions when their children are having a hard time.
1. Recognize Your Own Need To Remain Calm
In the presence of someone else who is calm, it’s easier for that person to learn that skill set. It’s because of mirror neurons, which are cells in the brain that respond the same whether we’re experiencing something ourselves or watching it happen to someone else. Even when it’s hard, remaining calm in a highly emotional situation with your child will help them learn how to remain calm as well.
2. Remember The Big Picture
Your child’s brain isn’t fully developed until they’re in their mid-20s, and judgment is the last thing to come in their brain development. “We’re talking about someone who is in the process of molding their brain, and they’re paving pathways of thought such as ‘When I get angry I do this,’ or ‘When I get happy I do that,’” Maureen explains, “So we want to think about doing repetitive positive things with their intensity even though it’s challenging. How can you help them in the long term?”
3. Be Present In The Moment
You’re a parent. You’re busy running around and being pulled in multiple directions at once and when we are running on automatic, that’s when we tend to make bad choices like yelling at our kids because they still haven’t put their shoes on. “This is why mindfulness and parenting is a practice. Every child is that perfect child for that parent because it forces both of you to grow. How can we learn patience and unconditional love when this child is screaming in your face?” Maureen acknowledges, “It’s hard.”
4. Reassure Them
In a moment of big feelings, your child needs to know that you as their parent are there for them and you love them. “The thing is, we don’t always want to take a child’s discomfort away,” explains Maureen, “They have to learn how to handle discomfort. You have to learn how to be strong, so statements such as ‘That was uncomfortable, but you made it through. Look how good you did!’ can be so helpful.” Another thing parents can do is to ask their child what they need because while a child may be young, they understand more than you think and will probably be able to tell you.
5. Create A Peace Corner
Some parents will create a corner in their home with comfort objects such as pillows, stuffed animals or books that help their child calm down. “You can start teaching them that they’re having a big moment or a big feeling, and suggest to them they need a few minutes in the peace corner,” Maureen says, “because you want to eventually start teaching them how to manage their own emotions.”
6. Practice Deep Breaths
Deep breathing is something you and your child can do anywhere. Having them blow out an imaginary candle or a pinwheel by holding up your finger can help younger kids understand the concept.
7. Give Them An Outlet For Their Energy
This could be anything that helps channel their energy, or their intensity, into constructive outlets such as yoga, dance, or martial arts.
8. Teach Them To Focus On Gratitude
Maureen offers up a unique coping skill children and adults can integrate seamlessly into their life. It involves placing your hand on your child’s chest before going to bed at night. According to Maureen, you can even do this with a child who’s one or two years old and ask them what went well that day. This practice teaches gratitude and relaxation so that you can implant these within them and when they’re older and having a hard time, they can put their hand on their own heart and feel a little bit better.
“The point is, you want to start setting up healthy habits so that [your children] know that they’re powerful and they’re bigger than their emotions,” Maureen concludes, “It’s saying, ‘We can do it together. I’m here for you.’”