I have a daughter with extreme emotions…
She is strong but she is sensitive. Her emotions are bold and bright and always simmer close to the surface, ready to boil over at the slightest indiscretion. I have written about my daughter’s emotions in the past, but as i sit here once again penning my thoughts on this phenomenon which seems to occupy much of our day, I wonder if I do enough for my daughter.
Often it is my youngest, Penny (18 months), who is on the receiving end of much of Lucy’s (2.5 years) pent-up anger and frustration. I have had to be constantly mindful, switched on and at-the-ready whenever both girls are up and about (which is for most of the day) to make sure no injuries are suffered.
I have blocked physical lash outs, I have coupled this with, “I won’t let you push”, I have acknowledged feelings (boy have I acknowledged feelings) over and over and over: “I can see you’re feeling angry/ frustrated/ sad/ disappointed right now. It sounds like you really need to scream. Lets go over here so you can scream as loudly as you need to”.
I feel like I have been as supportive as any mother can be but still it continues. I know my daughter’s emotions are not a problem to be solved but at times they seem to get in the way of her day to day living. I know I need to offer her more than just reactive support.
Then today, a mini- breakthrough…
The girls were playing outside, just off the patio at the water table. I was inside the door sweeping up the breakfast crumbs whilst keeping my eye firmly on the children, watching for the first sign of tension. It came quickly. Lucy was playing with a cup of water and Penny reached past her to grab another cup. Lucy did not want Penny to have the other cup and I saw her become frantic in her protection of it such that Penny couldn’t get it and she consequentially moved on.
At this point I could have let it go because the girls had actually resolved the issue themselves but I had a gut feeling that Lucy’s possessiveness was not about the cup. She was struggling with an inner turmoil and has been for quite sometime. I am slowly beginning to admit to myself –
I have a daughter with extreme emotions who needs my help to manage them.
I called out to her “Lucy, you look like you’re having a hard time. Do you need a cuddle?” A little, slightly whiney “Yeees!” came the reply. So I put down the broom and held my arms out to her. She came inside and gently fell into my arms. I swept her up and held her until she broke the cuddle by moving her head back. I then whispered softly in her ear:
“If you ever feel like you are having trouble staying calm or just having a hard time playing with Penny, you can come to me and ask me for a cuddle. I am here to help you and will give you lots of cuddles; all day if you need to.”
She then wriggled out of my arms and blurted out “Sanks Mum” before running back outside to play. As I stood there watching her return to the water table, to Penny, I had a feeling I had cracked it (at least for today). I continued my cleaning a little less anxious about the interactions of my girls but still thinking about how intensely Lucy reacts to even the most minor of situations.
About five minutes later Lucy called out a whining: “Mum, I need a cuddle” and came running back in to me. Again, I picked her up and held her, waiting for her to break the cuddle. But it didn’t break it- no- for the first time ever I heard my little girl say something to me that sent the most amazing shiver of goose bumps down my spine. She said, “I love you, Mummy” as she snuggled into my neck.
I have a daughter with extreme emotions who melts my heart.
Now, I should say she has actually said this to me before but normally in response to me saying it to her first or as a part of a goodbye phrase: “Bye, I love you!” which, whilst sweet, has never really borne the same meaning as having it said to me in context with nothing to remind her to say it and not as part of an habitual greeting.
A little time later she wriggled out of my arms and again stated a merry: “Sanks Mum!” before running back to play. Over the course of the morning she came to me for a cuddle four more times and each time she whispered, “I love you, Mummy!” before thanking me and skipping back to her play.
It has really confirmed for me that my daughter does not behave the way she behaves because she wants to hurt anyone, she’s not crying out for attention, nor is she trying to be manipulative and I’m not even sure she is just being a possessive ‘terrible two’.
She is simply a two year old who suffers from intense emotions. Not knowing how to safely deal with these feelings causes her to lash out and take it out on the nearest thing (which usually just happens to be Penny). Funnily enough, I think Penny even knows this. She doesn’t believe her sister is nasty or conniving or mean. If she did, why would she continue to want to follow her everywhere, do everything with her and play with her all day long? Wouldn’t she want to keep away from her?
She accepts her for who she is and I must learn to do the same. I must love her and find ways to support her without the judgement.
I have a daughter with extreme emotions and it is harder for her than it is for me.
Each time her emotions build up to the point of bursting, I can only imagine how frightened she must feel; that feeling of losing control. What’s going to happen? Am I going to hurt someone? Am I going to get in trouble? Who’s going to help me? How can I make it stop? It must be incredibly unnerving for a small child to feel so helpless to their own emotions.
By stepping in and supporting her before she gets to that point I am sometimes able to help her recognise when she is being triggered so she can take steps to regulate the emotions herself.
Gradually, little by little I can see her start to use some self-developed strategies to manage some of her less intense feelings such as, moving herself away from the situation, stopping to ask if she can use something before taking it from her sister and running to find her security ‘bunny’ when she’s feeling out-of-control.
The times when she can’t cope herself, this is when parenting really earns that title of the world’s toughest job. It is my job (and my husband’s) to get her through these difficult stages whilst still supporting her confidence and arming her with a willingness to take on all that life throws at her as she grows.
I have a daughter with extreme emotions and I love her dearly…
The following articles have further information about raising children with intense emotions.
The Emotionally Sensitive Child – Raising “Intense” Children ~Parenting Perspectives Blog
The Child With Intense Emotions ~ Better Parenting
Anger is a Scary Emotion ~ Janet Lansbury (Elevating Childcare)
The Emotional Life of the Toddler ~ Alicia F. Lieberman (Affiliate Link)