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)
Oh wow, I seriously love this post. I got tears in my eyes at “I love you, Mummy”. Beautiful.
Thank you, Anna! xx
This is a great post and many things to learn from this. Dido to Anna B. I am a Dad with two beautiful kids who both have intense emotions; and your story encourages and motivates me in such a way. Thanks again for sharing your story and keep up with good writing.
Thanks Harry. Best of luck with your little ones!
Thank you for sharing this story. It’s so nice to hear the perspective of another mom dealing with a highly emotional child. Keep up the good writing!
Thanks, Liz! I agree! xx
Reblogged this on I am Danni and commented:
As someone who parents a child who has ‘intense emotions’ I found this a great and insightful read.
I would give anything to be able to go back in time and read this post when my daughter was 2. Unfortunately I only discovered RIE last year when my kids were 4 and 6. I cringe when I think back and think of the all the inappropriate ways I dealt with my daughters intense emotions. I’m so glad these posts/blogs are becoming more common and mainstream. My hope is that parents of the future don’t have to ‘discover’ RIE and that it becomes an everyday way of life. Thanks for sharing.
I know how it feels to want to start again once discovering RIE. Lucy was 18 months when we started and although a little younger than yours were, we still feel she missed out on some vital foundations when she was younger. I have the same hope as you and dream about one day opening a parenting school in my area teaching new parents the joys of RIE. Little by little I believe that respectful parenting will grow. Thanks for sharing! xx
My daughter is almost 4 and the way you describe your daughter and her emotions is almost a mirror image to my experience. It is so exhausting and certainly tests your limits of composure and sanity as a mum. If you can keep peaceful and respectful all the time you are amazing! I try, but there are many times when I snap and then feel terrible. But we also have to forgive ourselves as we are only human too. In my experience, my daughter really improved for a few months when she turned 3 as she learned to control some of those rampaging emotions, but has become more difficult again since 3.5. And she is much bigger and physically stronger and tantrums are much harder to ensure that she doesn’t hurt herself or her siblings (or me) in the process. But I love your technique of asking if she needs a cuddle when she starts to get agitated, before the sparks really fly to help her cope. I will try this and hope it has a similar effect. All the best for you with your intense child. They are hard work, but so beautiful. I just hope my parenting allows her to channel her intensity for good rather than evil!
Thank you, Nicola! It sounds as though you are doing a wonderful job with your daughter so I wouldn’t worry too much about the evil part!! It is amazing the strength they seem to develop in the midst of an emotional outbursts. I have learned not to try to get too close to my daughter when she is in this mood. I block and then wait for her to come to me. If I stay calm, she always does in the end. This makes the challenge of staying calm so worth it! Like you, I occasionally lose my cool. When I do, though, I try to repair the damage with a no-blame apology. Did you have a read of another post of mine on this topic. It has helped me continue that close connection with my daughter even when I do lose it. Here’s the link… http://peacefulparentsconfidentkids.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/damage-limitation-following-a-parental-meltdown/
And likewise, all the best to you with your intense daughter. You sound like an amazing, thoughtful mum!
I really appreciate your “cuddles” part. I do that too, and also squeezes / big hugs too. It helps us all!
About your daughter with the big emotions, I can kindly relate. I think those emotions are also sweet signs of a tender, generous, loving and giving spirit. I am so thankful you are positively connecting to that, recognizing it is her nature and not trying to change her. Kudos!
Thank you Ms. S. My daughter is all of those things you describe and more. I count my blessings everyday that we chose this method of respectful parenting so I am able to see them in her! xx
I’ve applied the same method with my son. Sometimes when he’s about to go bonkers, I just say, “Come give me a hug,” and he just melts in my arms and the fiasco is averted. Sometimes I think they just need to know we’re still on their side, that we love them, and they just need a break from the crazy emotions they’re feeling.
Thanks for sharing, Nina. I am pleased that you have had success with this method also. I agree that they feel like we are on their side and are there to support them! 🙂
I am so curious about this, so I always ask: did you have an inkling that Lucy already was that person when she was smaller? Was she always an intense person? Or did it develop gradually?
Funnily enough, Calla, Lucy was quite a placid, easy going baby. She developed her intensity over time and it amplified after her sister was born when she was just shy of 13 months. I often wonder if things would be different if I had discovered respectful parenting earlier but I can’t dwell on it, I have to accept that this is the way things are and I just need to get on with it. xx
I think one of my daughters (now 18) could have been described as having strong emotions when she was a toddler. My girls are twins and when R was very out of temper she either bit me or her twin.
In very many ways she is a lovely girl, very affectionate and very emotional. As soon as she started secondary school at 11 we discovered she could not cope with the change. She wanted to do homework but had no organisational skills to cope with actually doing it (though she could organise other things). School had no idea why.
Eventually (after 3.5 years and being asked to leave that school) we discovered she has ADHD.
I am putting that out there – not saying any of your kids have ADHD, but if they are failing in school (and R sailed through elementary around the top of the class) then I would advise an ADHD check.
Thanks B, Will keep that in mind in the future. 🙂
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I’m sitting here. So deeply moved that I feel speechless. You are writing about my four-year-old daughter and me. Thank you so much!
You’re so very welcome! xx
I love this post, and identify with it a lot. My two older daughters, 6 and 3, are very intense emotionally (although in different ways.) They understandably have trouble knowing when they are about to melt down, and I equally struggle to think of creative, gentle ways to teach them how to manage their emotions and express themselves better. This post made me think a lot, so thank you!
I hope you are able to have some success with this. I can only imagine how difficult it must be with two older children with these intense emotions. I take a lot of solice in the many people who have told me how empathetic, caring and nurturing their intense children turned out to be. I hope you can also find comfort in that! Best of luck with it all! xx
This article was so timely today! My 2.5 year old daughter has always been intense, but has cranked it up a notch on the days she’s not in school. While I work from home and she’s with a nanny on non school days, for some reason, she’s become inconsolable with frustration, anger and regular crying, apparently because she can’t be with me while she’s at home (we presume). She’s been in preschool for a year now so this schedule is not new, but my lack of productivity due to her crying and screaming has left me more than weary. I will try to practice the above techniques and share them with the nanny. It’s so refreshing to know I’m not alone and someone has figured this out! I’m willing to try anything at this point!
I would say, you have hit the nail on the head with showing her frustrations with seeing you near but not being able to be with you. Lucy is exactly the same. In fact it begins pretty much from the time I pick her up from her pre kindy. She may also need some extra connection time if you can spare it. Have you tried setting aside some ‘special’ time with her on your work days? Talking to her about the negative feelings she is having regarding this may also help her come to terms with it. Good luck. I’d love to hear how you get on. xx
This article is very moving. It is wonderful to hear from a parent who has clearly been putting in so much work and to see the results of that work. One thing that made me sad was one of the reader comments about seeing this article “too late”. At the ages of 4 and 6?!! You’re kidding me. First of all, it is rarely too late to make changes when it comes to parenting. Secondly, at such a young age, there is still a long road to travel and many more tools to learn about. It is a shame that you found the earlier years more challenging, but kids are very adaptable and will happily embrace your new parenting skills (though that doesn’t mean they won’t try to challenge you in other ways!)
I am writing this as a mother of five kids aged 5-16 and as a parent who has made use of various tools over the years. I found one technique that worked with one kid, and then discovered it had no effect whatsoever on another! Good luck to all of you amazing, mindful, loving parents.
Thank you for your insightful comment, Michelle. I agree whole heartedly that it is never too late to begin parenting this way. I think she may have meant that she felt bad about not supporting her children’s emotions earlier. I know I have these guilt feelings from time to time and I am sure they are completely normal. It sounds like you have followed a very reflective parenting path which is wonderful for your children and your individual relationship with each of them. Thank you again. xx
I was reading this post & as a special education teacher, ’emotionally disturbed’ just kept popping in my head over & over again. This is based on an educational eligibility only, not medical. I know she’s young & has a long time till elementary school but it’s something to keep in mind if it persists. If you have any questions feel free to email me. By the way you are doing a fabulous job on handling her emotions & teaching her the right way to self regulate & cope!!!!
Hi again – I’m just reading an article about ADHD which says ‘Emotional hypersensitivity is a core ADHD trait,’ (http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/10507.html)
On the plus side this article suggests some ‘calm, collected ways to deal with discipline instead.’ so it might be worth a read regardless of whether or not you think your child might have ADHD.
Thank you for your comment, Meghan. I can see why it could be easy to make that judgement based on my post, especially given your training and background. There is obviously much more to my daughter than her intense temperament I’ve highlighted in this post and I am hoping that by supporting her emotions as they occur, she will not continue to be afflicted with emotional disturbances in the long run. If she does, however, I will be sure to seek the help required. Thanks again.
i could have written this myself years ago. my oldest daughter has intense emotions too and my middle daughter was on the receiving end of her frustration for most of their early years. i struggled so much with staying calm and often times ended up losing it, despite my commitment to parent with compassion and empathy. i spent my evenings thumbing through gentle parenting books, crying tears of grief for all of us and vowing to do better the next day. it was an ongoing journey of self discovery and learning how to love unconditionally despite not always feeling very loving in the moment. i also know those moments where you feel like you have it figured out, at least for the day, and how exhilarating that feels. my girls are now 8, 6 and 4 and we are finally to a place in this past year where i feel like i did something right. they are so genuinely good to each other and despite their normal sister squabbles they are all such amazing people. the intensity is still there but she is able to cope and handle her stress so much better. the funny thing is, our intense girls are actually the most caring and have the most empathy. they will change the world one day! blessings to you!
Wow, Katy! Thank you for sharing your story. It sounds like you did an amazing job at supporting your daughters through their tumultuous early childhood years, despite feeling you didn’t always keep it together. How wonderful to hear that they are now in such a happy place! Thank you! xx
Wow! This could have been written about my daughter but I don’t deal with it nearly so well. Thank you for sharing, I am learning.
It’s my pleasure, Hellen! Thank you!
I love this! My daughter was a “high-needs” baby and as an 18 month old child, is still highly emotional. I’ve read about children like her a number of times and that they often become adults who are highly in-tune with other people’s feelings. I haven’t yet been able to really figure out how to approach her when she’s “tuning up,” but this helps a lot! Thanks for sharing your experience and insight.
You’re very welcome, Tia! I too have heard that about intense youngsters. I can definitely see that quality already in Lucy, despite her young age and know that once she has learned to manage her emotions she will indeed by a caring, and empathic young girl! Best of luck with your daughter 🙂 xx
Thank you. Just, thank you.
You’re more than welcome! XX
I agree with your approach and am thankful that you share it. I try to do some of these things with my three and a half year old, who has very intense emotions. The challenge I have it that he continually hits, kicks and occasionally bites me or his one year old brother. It is hard for me to contain him without making him feel worse. When I try to keep myself, the baby and him safe, I am not able to provide him the support he needs. I know he needs it, I just don’t know how to do it all by myself. Usually we talk about it later, but it is very hard for me to do it in the moment, and he escalates rapidly. Any suggestions?
Hi Dena. Firstly, ‘containing him’ is exactly what he is begging you to do. Even if it doesn’t seem like it. He wants to know that you care enough about him to stop him doing all of those things. If you are holding the baby when he lashes out at you like this. I would stand up and say “I can see you are very angry right now. I am going to but the baby down in his crib or (somewhere safe) and then I will be able to support you better. It can be very hard to stay strong in these scenarios.
When Lucy hits and pushes me I make sure I am steady and then I intercept the incoming blow with my hand. It rarely hurts me if I do this carefully (especially as I normally get a surge of adrenaline). You just have to keep using your adult strength to block/ intercept the struggles, repeating to him ‘I can see you’re angry. I won’t let you hit/kick/bite me, until he reaches a point where he has settled enough to offer the emotional connection he needs. I don’t force this part. I normally just sit in the one spot, staying focussed on Lucy and nodding and acknowledging her sadness/ anger. Inevitably she reaches out to me. I know if I tried to give her a cuddle anytime sooner, she would set off again.
It sounds like your elder son has some jealousy issues connected with the existence of his baby brother. Have you read this fabulous article by Janet Lansbury. http://www.janetlansbury.com/2013/04/helping-kids-adjust-to-life-with-the-new-baby/
It really helped us to talk to Lucy about her jealousy towards Penny. It may help you too. Best of luck with all. Sending you all the strength and hugs I have xx
Lovely! I also have an “intense”/emotional 2.5 year old girl so I TOTALLY relate. I have realized that offering a hug is sometimes a good way to dissolve a tantrum but I don’t think I have given her proactive pro-hug instructions like you did. I will have to try that!
Thank you, SB! I hope you experience some success too! We are constantly revolving and evolving over here 🙂 xx
I have two boys 2.5 and 16 months (yes, 14 months apart) and I have been really battling with my older toddler when he hurts his little brother (like 8 times today). I find myself in the heat of the moment completely forgetting about peaceful parenting and instead tossing him in his crib and telling him to let me know when he is ready to come out and be kind and gentle. But my own actions aren’t kind and gentle, they are telling him that I don’t want him around, just when he really needs me. How do I remember peaceful parenting when my older boy slams a door onto my younger boy, on purpose?
Hi Jill, firstly can I say I can completely empathise with you about how difficult it is having such a close age gap! I have learned that my eldest harbours such resentment at losing her single child status so prematurely and it is important that I recognise and acknowledge and most of all accept this. It is not her fault!
Peaceful parenting does not come naturally to me (ironic given my blog name). It is something I aspire towards and am committed to achieving (most of the time) as I truly believe in it’s effectiveness for bringing up an emotionally healthy and connected child. I have to make sure I give myself plenty of breaks. Blogging has really helped me as it is a form of reflection that not only gives me respite but also repeatedly solidifies my commitment to be peaceful and find ways to make it happen. I have to keep this goal at the forefront of my mind from the moment I get up. If I don’t, I open the door for my instincts to yell and be rough with my children to come out. It definitely gets harder as the day goes on and the same behaviour gets repeated but I figure if I lose it once in the eight battles I fought in the day, I have still offered seven opportunities for connection and I always make amends for the eighth one where I was perhaps not as calm!
Sometimes, if I feel myself getting wound up I will say to the girls, ‘I can feel myself getting frustrated and it’s making my a little angry so I am going to go outside and let off some steam. You can stay here or you can come outside and watch’. I then go and do some pushups or star jumps or throw a ball at the wall or scream (although not much comes out if I try to scream as my left vocal cord doesn’t work).
I’m not sure if this helps you at all. My main advice is to make a commitment to yourself everyday before you start parenting to stay peaceful. Keep it at the forefront of your brain so you are always conscious of it. Also, arm yourself with as many strategies, phrases etc as you can so you feel you have choices to go to rather than the ones you are using. Read all of Janet Lansbury’s blog for great advice and if like me you promptly forget everything you’re supposed to say at those times, print out the phrases and stick them in prominent places around the house. That’s what I do.
All the best with it. I would love to hear how you get on.
Thank you!!! This is very very helpfull!!
Honestly, I have a 4 and a 5 year old that are 13 months apart. The oldest has the same reactions that you described Lucy as having. The youngest, my son has the same reactions that you described Penny as having. My oldest daughter, I feel resented my son coming along so soon and has always felt a bit envious. I believe strongly that the fact that they are so close in age was a little difficult for a baby that was barely one at the time her younger brother was born. I feel that had he come along when she was at least 2 she would have accepted the situation with more ease. I do acknowledge her feelings but I also ask her to put herself in her younger siblings shoes by giving examples of how it feels. She has to know that this is wrong. I am teaching her that just because you feel a certain way doesn’t give you the right to lash out. We seek other ways of resolving issues but I do require that she learn a sense of justice by giving examples.
Thank you, Perris. It sounds like you are a wonderfully thoughtful parent. I totally agree with the age gap issue. Mine are the same gap as yours and I too think Lucy resents her single child status being removed so prematurely by Penny.
It’s great you are able to have your child reflect on how it feels for the other. I don’t entirely agree with forcing that to happen. I think Lucy knows how it feels especially because she often tries to offer gestures of comfort (off her own bat) to Penny if Penny becomes very upset and I have sportscast neutrally. I trust Lucy’s inherent goodness to come out as long as she is feeling fully supported and has no cause to feel like a ‘bad’ kid because of something she has done.
Not sure if I have explained this as I mean to. But I hope you can understand what I am trying to say.
Classifying kids as intense is like classifying fire as kinda ouchy when you touch it. I’ve always thought it’s best to stop treating kids like little projects and more like little humans. Just imagine an adult sitting in a store staring at a shoe rack screaming their head off because they can’t afford the newest 3 inch heel. Or if someone saw your cool cross-over Chevy and said NO, GIMME DAT. Would you hug ’em? Correcting the path has to start somewhere.
So the little one wanted a blue cup and not a green one. She probably didnt need support, she needs to be told hm, nope. Kids need the most love and compassion when something from the outside hurts them, not when the color crayon they have isn’t workin’ for them. When they’re dealing with this so called inner turmoil, maybe their world is a better place if they have an authority figure to set it right. If you reward their wild behavior with kisses and hugs, you’re sending a message of “hey it’s alright if you’re unruly as long as we can hug every 5 minutes.”
I always see kids, including my own, yearning to establish themselves as the alpha of the group. Most of the time it’s interesting to watch them resolve things on their own, and other times it’s necessary to step in and bring everyone down a peg or two. Now they’ve moved into a social atmosphere whether it’s pre school, siblings, play groups ,etc and they need to know how to act reasonable. It’s possible you can’t be too afraid to more aggressively sidetrack your kids feelings on Tuesday so they’re more well behaved in December. I know it’s hard; carrying them through every hardship seems like the maternal thing to do. People might say heeeey he doesnt understand what intense emotions are all aboot. Well I did, until we corrected the path they were on and now they’re pleasant little buggers with no rabies induced public melt downs or biting of the sibling because so and so took my sparkly princess wand. Don’t accept unacceptable.
I don’t think anyone here is saying that unacceptable behaviour is to be accepted. I also think that allowing your child a safe place to work through their emotions when they are finding them too much to deal with is not accepting bad behaviour. If I allowed my daughter to “get away with” her unacceptable behaviours, I would have a monster in my house!
Much of the time when she is having these intense emotions it’s because she is trying to deal with the fact that I have said “no, that is unacceptable behaviour” or “I know you want to do this, but right now you need to get dressed and we have to go out” or “yes, you must brush your teeth, that is the rules” or “the TV is going off now, it’s time to play.” I’m got giving her a cuddle to say, “there, there, you can get your own way if you scream loud enough.” I am teaching her how to calm herself when her emotions overwhelm her so that she has those skills in the future and knows how to react when someone does take her sparkly wand and she doesn’t insert said sparkly wand up the other child’s nose in retaliation!
Often, my cuddle can be half restraining, to stop her from hurting herself, me or her siblings, and as she starts to calm down, it turns into a cuddle and then when she says she is ready to talk, we talk about the situation and what behaviour is expected of her and we come up with ways she can try to achieve that behaviour in the future. So, my daughter IS being told “nope”. And as the authority figure, I am helping her to learn how to set it right for herself rather than me setting it right to suit myself and what I want and just expecting her to magically do what I want without teaching her how.
I’m interested in your choice of words when you say it is necessary to “bring everyone down a peg or two”. When my daughter is screaming and crying and lashing out because I’ve laid down a boundary that she wants to test, she is already pretty far down. She is not in a position of power nor is she happy and “up”. If I were to bring her down even more at that point, I may eventually get my compliance from her, but all I will have taught her is to obey, that the strongest person wins and if you have power over someone you are right. She might well eventually stop her tantrums and succumb to my will but those are not the lessons I want to teach my child. With my child’s temperament, if I dealt with her tantrums that way, she would use the lessons I taught her to become the playground bully (the strongest person wins) or the spineless victim/follower (you must obey).
I practice respectful parenting because I want to teach my child to be respectful in return. I believe you may be viewing respectful parenting as respecting the child’s every whim and bad choice of behaviours while the parent gets no respect. However, that is a complete misinterpretation of what I am trying to achieve. I model respectful, yet firm and appropriate behaviours to teach my children to respect me and others and behave appropriately.
And by the way, my two boys throw the occasional tantrum too but they are nowhere near as intense in their emotions and explosions as my daughter. Every child is different and some are more intense than others and parents need support to deal with that intensity. I know first hand!
Hi- I raised my three daughters with RIE too. I’m wondering if you have found the book Raising Your Spirited Child? It has been tremendously helpful in raising my 4 year old twins. (Not applicable to my older 7 year old daughter.) Just wanted to pass that along since I didn’t see it on your post. 🙂
Thank you, Leah! I recently ordered this book on advice from a friend and have it sitting here now ready to read (as soon as I finish The Whole Brain Child – which is also great!)
I also have a child like this. We found a book that has been very helpful. “The Explosive Child” By Ross W. Greene. Give it a try!
Thanks, Julianne. I haven’t heard of this book. I will have to look it up!
One of the things I remember as a child was that I could always get a cuddle from my Mom. I was a ‘bit of a handfull’ as my mother lovingly puts it, but I have no idea if I could have been diagnosed with anything. As an adult, this is still something I cherish, those memories of my Mom setting aside what she was doing so I could crawl in her lap. When I was older, it became hugs and even now I can walk into my parents house and get a hug.
So lovely to hear this CorLian. Your Mom sounds wonderful and it is so nice to hear you reflect positively about how your mum handled your ‘difficult’ behaviour through hugs. Thank you for sharing! xx
Thank you for giving me a different approach to dealing with this stadge on my Savannahs life, like you I have tried all the other ways, but tonight I will ask her if she needs a cuddle instead.
I’d love to hear how you get on 🙂
Today I found 2 articles people may like to read.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/on-parenting/study-says-yelling-as-harmful-as-spanking-in-disciplining-kids-so-what-should-parents-do/2013/10/01/dcb01b74-1bf1-11e3-8685-5021e0c41964_story_2.html – this is about parenting older kids and says that every parent loses their temper sometimes, but if you shout it’s OK to apologise.
http://www.whatisoppositionaldefiantdisorder.com/2012/06/odd-children-who-hit-their-parents.html – this is talking about parenting kids with the problem of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. I thought it may be relevant because it has suggestions for diffusing anger eg – One mother chose to teach her ODD youngster who had a biting problem to bite a doll. This is a suggestion which I had never thought of and someone may find helpful.
So lovely. I love when they say words in their own little ways.
I totally admire how calm you are! This story takes me back to when my girls were the same age as your two (14 months apart). My oldest is such a sweetheart and very kind and thoughtful by nature but she struggles still with intense emotions at 5 years old. She usually deals with it by stomping off for “quiet time”, slamming doors along the way. I’m keeping the hug idea in mind 🙂
One of my twins is very intense with her emotions and the other now recognises this and knows how to set her off to get attention unfortunately. So interesting to read how you have been coping and the strategies you are using. Really sounds like you are making progress and you are such a great Mum! Thanks for sharing these moments with us x
I really, really loved this post. So well written and so insightful. Thanks for sharing your experience.
Beautiful post. I love how you are phrasing it – she’s not bad, or unruly, she’s going through intense emotions. I saw something the other day “My daughter isn’t giving me a hard time, she’s having a hard time.” I can’t remember where I saw it, but I reckon it’s something that you would say. (Was it from you? How funny if I’m quoting you back to you!).
Haha, Danya! Nope, wasn’t me but definitely something I would say!! So true!
Love this post. My daughter 30mo also has intense emotions. I am trying to figure out how to respond to them. I am wondering during an outburst and she does something she is not supposed to do like throw something, does your response focus on the emotion she is feeling or the behavior she was not supposed to do?
Hi AnaOli, I would always focus on the emotion but would still address the behavioural concern. I would say something like “I can see you’re upset/angry/having a hard time but I won’t let you throw things.” and then try to block the behaviour before it occurs. I would not say any more than that if they are in the grips of intense emotion and would continue to block and repeat I won’t let you… if they continue to try to throw. In that state of mind, there is no point trying to lecture or explain why they cant do something. They wont be receptive to it and they will probably just get more agitated. I have just written a guest post for Janet Lansbury which should be out in the next day or so and addresses this topic a little more. xx
Thanks for the tips! I loved your guest post on Janet’s blog and everything you have written here about this phase with Lucy. It has really helped me be more confident in how to approach my daughter.
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What would be your thoughts as to why my 5 yo won’t take me up on the offer to get his anger and frustration out in acceptable ways? He won’t scream, go outside to throw things, stomp his feet, draw angry pictures, etc if I suggest them as a way to release emotions. He just wants to throw things AT me (or his siblings, or walls) and won’t volunteer ideas of ways he wants to express it if I ask what ideas he has or what he wants to do??? This has been a consistent theme for well over a year. I think he has taken me up on the offer only 3 times.
It sounds like your son has a lot of anger he needs to express and given his age, he seems to have a greater grasp on what he is angry about and hence where and how he wants to express it. It is difficult for me to offer advice but I assume you are doing all you can to show him you understand why his angry and letting him know that it’s ok to feel this way. Often our children are just wanting to feel heard and understood. It is important to them that they feel accepted no matter what emotion they are expressing. Obviously you can’t let him physically hurt or destroy, so being there to block this is really important. “I can see you’re very angry right now. I can’t let you throw that block but if you need to get your anger out you can throw this (hand him something acceptable – soft) or you can scream, loudly if you need to.” Stay at his level and remain calm and non judgemental during his outbursts. Don’t try to reason with him, lecture him and don’t leave him. Just stay present and ride out his anger with him. When you see it start to subside acknowledge what he was feeling. “Boy, you were really mad when I wouldn’t let you have another cookie.” You must have really wanted it and I wouldn’t let you.” See if he starts to connect with you and then take it from there with lots of cuddles and talk with him about managing his anger in other ways if he seems receptive. Sometimes I cant get to this last phase with my daughter until hours later but I always try to go back and revisit it if I remember. I strongly believe there is a lot to be learned from each outburst and it is important that our children know that we are trying to work with them not against them.
I am definitely no expert so if you are really having a hard time with this I wouldn’t hesitate to speak with someone who is more qualified. I hope, though that this can help you. It is a hard road and I am sending you as much strength and patience as I can muster! Best of luck with it. Be sure to come back and let me know how you get on!
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Kate, I wanted to email you privately, but I couldn’t find your email / contact me button. Is there one?
Hi Shannon. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. 🙂
This is a beautiful post and you are a beautiful mother. I have a very sensitive and gregarious little man who also suffered from intense emotions and lashed out, usually with his teeth. Today he is almost four and incredibly articulate, which probably explains his earlier frustration. I beam with pride now when something upsets him and he can use words or other strategies to cope.
Sounds like Lucy chose her mummy well!
Thank you for sharing, Jo. Being frustrated is almost always the cause of Lucy’s meltdowns. I occasionally see glimpses of her working through her frustrations but we still have a way to go. Thank you for your kind words! xx
I just love reading your posts. I too had a very, very emotional toddler and let me tell you that my now 16 year old is the most well rounded, mature, kind and yes, emotional young man. He has learned to control the emotions when necessary and let them out when appropriate. He’s amazing!
I remember when he was 2 days old and they came in to prick his foot. The tears fell one right after another and the nurse stared in amazement (and a bit saddened) but the fact that he could even make tears. From that day on for the next 4 years were going to be no different. Just thinking of something the least bit sad, or even thinking on something he disliked, the tears came flowing. Before the noise of a whimper his shirt would be soaked. I knew this wasn’t just “fits” or him being a problem child. I knew he took EVERYTHING to heart. It was like he planned on everything being devastating so before I could finish my sentence he would be crying sometimes.
When they were “thrown on the floor” outburst that no words or comforting could mend then he was to go to his room and get his feeling figured out. When they were “why me” moments then he was explained to that “your not the only boy that is sick, there are plenty of kids that wished they were as healthy as you”. It took time (years) but as he grew he did learn to identify WHY he was feeling the way he was and to get a handle on his emotions. He understands that he is passionate and very empathetic. He has channeled those passionate emotions (his true feelings). He takes a sociology, is in a current events class and speaks his mind of todays topics, and fights for injustice because he DOES care. He is very opinionated but will respect others views….sometimes, he still does have passion so….
Keep doing what your doing. With love and understanding our over emotional children become that next generation of passionate leaders. My son will make change in this world because of that passion. He sure has in mine and his 4 bothers lives.
Congratulations on your wonderfully emotional daughter and good luck! (it can be exhausting)
PS: He also test off the charts and is oh so brilliant and they said that most children that are extremely smart have a hard time with their emotions. 😉
Thank you for sharing your inspiring story, Natalie. I love hearing success stories in older children who were given the freedom to express and supported through their emotional outbursts rather than being made to snap out of it through other means. It encourages me to hear you say that your almost adult son is now well- rounded and mature whilst still being in touch with his feelings. How wonderful you must be as a mother. Thank you again for words of encouragement!! xx
I love it 🙂
This is such a great post, thank you so much. I am now looking forward to the morning when I can start afresh with my little girl. I cannot wait to cuddle her and help her find her way.
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Oh goodness Kate, I’m so happy that I came across your blog today (I regularly read Janet’s and Kate’s from AnEveryDayStory and various other RIE bits that I come across).
My daughter Emily is 22 months old and sounds EXACTLY like your daughter with the intense emotions. It’s something I have struggled with since she was born (at 10 hours old she wouldn’t open her mouth enough to let the paediatrician see down her throat for her discharge examination from hospital – he said he had never seen a baby so strong – her character is something she was BORN with) … I have spent so long wondering if I’m causing it by the way I’m bringing her up but I know I’m not – my son is completely different. After a particularly trying morning today I just needed to read this post from you, thank you so much for sharing how you get through these moments of intense frustration. I feel I have SUCH a long way to go, I pretty much lost it this morning and had my own tantrum right alongside them which left me feeling guilty and pathetic and unworthy as a mother all day long. I am adding your blog to my reading list and I will read and make notes on your words just like I do with Janet’s and Kate’s – you are an inspiration to me and a real lifeline when the going gets tough (which inevitably happens everyday with a 2 (and 4) year old.) Thank you again and again. Much love, Becka (a reader from the UK 🙂 )
I just read your lovely comment, Becka, and can not believe I was so rude not to respond to you! Please accept my sincerest apologies. Reading this just now has made my day so thank you!
It can be immeasurably difficult parenting a child with intense emotions. When they seem to feel EVERYTHING just that little bit stronger, harder or bigger than everyone else, it can be hard to be accepting and supportive. It can be a long journey of ups and downs but it is definitely a journey worth taking. I feel privileged to have you along on this journey with me and I hope you are becoming more and more confident in being that respectful parent you are striving to be!
I need to read more about this. My daughter is very intense. She’s been like this from day 1, and she’s 5 now, and I’ve finally accepted and realized that her experiences will always be intense, it’s not her fault. Things have gotten much better, but it took love and understanding and patience. It’s so dad but it took me years to realize, she was not being dramatic, I was actually breaking her heart by trying to teach her to fall asleep on her own even though it would start with books and cuddles. She is also very intense in all aspects however, including her drive and ability to focus for academics and music for her age… Because of that she is exceptional at math, music, and art for her age. I love her to pieces, but I wish I could have figured this out a bit earlier. It was trial and error for me. I wonder if you’ll have the same experience with your daughter being intense in many different ways as well.
Oh, Amie, it sounds like you are such a wonderfully warm and nurturing mother. I strongly believe that the effort you have gone to to be the loving and supportive mother your daughter needs would not have been lost on her. All those trials and errors you speak of would have helped her learn more about her own strengths and weaknesses and would have helped provide her with a level of coping mechanisms she may not have otherwise had.
A while ago I read “Raising Your Spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. It really is brilliant for not only helping to understand a child’s intense nature but also for providing practical advice for coping. I’d highly recommend this book if you have not read it!
Thank you for this article. I often think about writing down my thoughts and experiences with my emotional 18 month old daughter but feel I won’t be able to find the words. This is a beautiful article, I enjoyed the approach you took and find that when I hug and show love when my daughter is frustrated even at 18 months it is easier to communicate and help her through her emotions.
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Beautifull! Thank you so much for sharing this.
Im in tears right now.
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Beautiful and inspiring. I too have an intensely emotional daughter. This story is all too familiar. So refreshing to read about other parents resisting the temptation to extinguish the flame of passion in their children.
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Really brilliantly written and helpful article. My youngest son has just turned 4 and has had the most incredible tantrums from about 14 months. Thankfully they have lessened in number although not really in intensity. I have never really looked at it as having intense emotions that he doesn’t know what to do with (although I do try to empathise with him). I hope I can hold on to the thoughts in this article and be a better mother because I had started to wonder how I had raised such a monster. I know that is a terrible thing to say because as you point out about your daughter, he can be such a sweetheart but then he suddenly turns in to this angry screaming child that I just don’t know what to do with! ‘Must try harder’! Thanks you x
Thank you for taking the time to share that with me, Claire! Parenting children with extreme emotions is not always easy. it sounds like you are really doing a great job empathising with him and supporting him. I find looking at all emotions as just that – emotions (not good or bad, just emotions), helps me to see the expression of them as healthy, important and part of the development of socio-emotional maturity. I know you can do it -keep going!!!
i’m not a parent. I don’t really know how I came across this article…I’m 35. I was and am an “intensely emotional” person. For a long time everyone including myself thought I was purposefully misbehaving, immature, over-dramatic. I knew it wasn’t acceptable to have such intense feelings about trivial things, so I made up stories and lies that would “explain” the intensity. What no one knew, until I was 25….is that I am bi-polar. Almost nothing is “middle ground” for me. It’s either over-the-top exuberance or deep despair and suicidal for me. Medication helps a lot, with a lot of therapy and emotional education I am pretty capable of functioning in most situations. I have learned to give myself time to process what I am feeling, examine it and then react. Of course this isn’t always possible, and I do sometimes “lash-out” or “break down.” But it has greatly improved. I am by no means claiming that your child or the children mentioned here are bi-polar. I am just thanking you for acknowledging your child’s needs. We are not identical and cannot all be treated in the same way.
I’m so sorry you have had such a hard time of it, Jenny. Thank you for sharing your story. It inspires me to keep accepting and encouraging my children’s emotional expressions!
If you can harness all those emotions your daughter will certainly grow up to be a woman with a passion for life. She is lucky to have you as her mom to guide her.
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When reading about the cup fight it’s as if I was seeing my 3 year old and 1,5 year old.
Little one wants to do everything like her big sister, play with her, and give her stuff, but she sometimes as well teases her a bit.
And the older one’s reaction to all this is usually so strong and intense, she directly bursts into scream and often gets physical. Well, we are getting over the physical, but I still struggle to cool down her strong emotions. Trying to use the calm voice and all, I just sometimes feel than while’s she’s in the outbursts she doesn’t hear anything we say. I also have problems with words – so many great books and articles show examples of how to speak to a kid to also teach them express themselves. But I am polish and speak polish them, and it seems to lack simplicity for expressing emotions. Words change they forms and tend to get quite longer when I want to express something simple as “wow, you got angry!”. I am scared that difficult words paired with her emotional state makes it way harder for her to follow and understand.
Oh well, I guess I just needed to talk 🙂
This posts gave me ideas, strength and most of all – hope 🙂
That sounds tough Agata! I hope you find some success with some of these strategies. Sending you much love and strength!!
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Awww … what a beautiful mummy you are …
I also have a child with intense emotions. She’s 7 years old and I struggle sometimes with her outbursts, but usually calmness and cuddling is needed. I think I’ll implement a bit of pre-empting as you do … Thanks 🙂
Aww, thanks, Tracey! It sounds like I could say the same for you.
I have learned so much from my little one. We really are lucky to have such expressive little beings in our lives, aren’t we?!
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I was an authoritarian parent 6 months ago. I came across this blog one night after my son had a melt down. After I read this it changed my mind set. I did some research and I have changed my parenting style. My children are happier and emotionally healing. Thank you so much for sharing this.
My son is given to very sudden extremes, and neurodevelopmental therapies are really helping to organize his brain and he is slowly but surely healing! It has helped children and adults with many different disorders.
I loved reading your article! My son also has very intense emotions. At his pediatrician apts. he tested borderline autistic for the first 2 years but I knew he wasn’t autistic. He just feels deeply and extremely; sometimes what I think is disporportionate to the situation. He was eventually diagnosed with “emotional impairment” and received 2 years of early childhood special education which was a struggle for me to accept (the idea of having a special needs child or that I was a failure mom because he had these emotional problems but physically he was normal) but I chose to do what was best for him and he loved his classroom (sometimes it was as much a hindrance being mixed in with such a range of needs but he definitely received alot of interactions and guidance). Since then, I have become quite vocal spokesperson for ECSE and not being ashamed of your child or getting them the assistance they need for success. I love how you said you know your daughters emotions aren’t a problem that needs fixing. I believe my son’s emotions are just as much a strength as a weakness for him, which really don’t we all have a thing like that? After receiving the tools to work through his emotions (we use lots of deep breaths and affirming self talk) he is a thriving kindergarten in a mainstream class. He still sometimes has meltdowns but what used to be 4 huge meltdowns a day is now more like 1small one a week. And my son is compassionate and empathetic. He is perceptive and cooperative and yes….very, very affectionate. Who could want more from a child? I look forward to the joy I know your Emotionally Perceptive child will be to you. Thanks for your encouraging article. I haven’t heard very much about this type of child outside my own (I think they may get overlooked as just being “bad” or “unstable”) but I think many more children have this characteristic and could benefit from more awareness, as well as many frantic parents. Peace, love and joy to you!
My 14 was similar to your Lucy,he would get so upset and sream and break things. I taught him to use some breathing exercises(for times when I wasn’t with him). In through the nose,out through the mouth 5 times. Also he would lay flat on the floor straight as a board and cover up completely with his blanket, I knew he had ,had enough of whatever he was feeling and was just down shifting…I bought him the blanket to use as a buffer…Now he manages most of his emotions himself, with very little need to lay flat on the floor. He still has his blanket around him when he gets in from school, but he is so much better now. As parents we always want to help them. But sometimes they need to learn how to self-manage because we won’t always be around them.