Monday, October 28, 2013

Parenting an emotionally intense kid

This year has been a somewhat trying and challenging period for me as Dumpling learns to exert her independence and tries to manage those BIG feelings. At the start of the year, we received feedback from her teacher at her Chinese classes about Dumpling's tantrums in classes and I was really stressed out by it for a couple of months.

Dumpling is a highly sensitive child and she feels very strongly about certain issues. This coming from a kiddo who cried at 2 while reading an ebook on my phone about how teddy bears may not be real, I guess I should have seen it coming. Often times, the feelings are so big for her that she is unable to express herself why it matters so much and she'd have a complete meltdown. And if she is missing her nap or is somewhat a tad tired that day, wow, the thought is enough to make me tremble a bit.

The irony is that because she is articulate and reads well, people often equate her to being mature. Hence it is a double-edged sword when she does have a meltdown. I am not into labeling so, I have never tagged Dumpling as having gone through terrible twos, etc. I believe that for any parent, it is heartbreaking to hear such comments and for those who are raising an emotionally intense child, it can be doubly hard.

How hard can it be? Have you read about her supermarket scene (look under point 9)? And sometimes, it can even cause mummy-friendships to be somewhat 'broken'. The first major incident this year was where she was invited to one of her good friend's party. She sees the birthday boy very frequently and was looking forward to the party. Once she got there, she was so excited at seeing him that she ran over to hug him. Perhaps it was because the birthday boy was distracted or that he had other friends whom he has not met for some time, let's just say that he was not entirely as excited as Dumpling and he basically pushed her away. Dumpling was shocked but approached him again. He then told her point blank that he does not want to play with her.

Dumpling was devastated. Her lips trembled and big fat tears rolled from her doe-like eyes. The boy's mum was shocked and promptly spoke to Dumpling and told the son to play with her for a while. Well, the thing is with kids, you'd never know what they are gonna say right back and let's just say that the reply was not what Dumpling would like. So, she started losing it. We brought her out of the apartment and tried to calm her down (near her nap time so that did not work in our favour). When we got in, the boy's grandmother decided to step in and told Dumpling that she is "spoiling his party". Dumpling was hurt, felt maligned and started to bawl again and this time, she was inconsolable. Now, try imagining this scene where all 30 other parents are looking you as you are fighting a losing battle with a matriarch of a grandmother staring down your neck. We packed and left. One of the mums whom I speak to frequently (then), turned away from us and I have not heard from her ever since.

We recently had another moment where Dumpling had a complete meltdown (da da da dummmmm) at her birthday party. Last year, the theme of her party was based on Harry Potter. We had a 'sorting hat' ceremony and she sorted out the kids into their houses and gave out party loot. Now, for this year, she has been working up to it, to her party - getting involved in the choosing of favors, the designs of the top wraps as well as the guest lists. She thought that she would get to give out the loot bag but I was unaware that she wanted to do it and I gave them out.

WOW. BIG. HUGE. GINORMOUS MISTAKE. She could not contain her feelings, the utter disappointment, ran off into another room and cried uncontrollably and started asking me in a devastated tone "WHY MAMA, WHYYYYYYYY?!? I REALLY WANTED TO GIVE THEM OUT, GIVE THEM TO MY FRIENDS AND THANK THEM FOR COMING. WHHHHHYYYYY!!!!?!???!" She lost her plot as she continued on and started raising her voice. Frankly, I was horrified because one of the first thought that I had was she was gonna spoil her party and the next (which I am not very proud of) is what would the guests think of her? And of my (lack of) parenting? So we started having an argument.

Now, to those who do not understand, please do not judge so quickly. I am a strict mum and if and when Dumpling is behaving in a bratty manner, punishment will be meted out. But in this post, I would like to speak up for her and for the other emotionally intense children.

To share a different perspective, their perspective. For these children, they are not being dramatic. Trust me, these 3, 4 and 5YOs do not know that much about dramatic flair. Rather, what is unimportant to us (a molehole) is indeed a mountain to them. Often times, these intense children have very set ideas of how things are (and most love routine) and they have very tender feelings too. If the flow of things do not go according to how they see it, they deemed it as 'not nice' and 'flawed' and that's when they cannot accept it. Some may not take to critical comments well too.

How do I know? I asked Dumpling a day after what happened at the party and what it was that she felt so strongly about (she usually makes more sense after she has completely calmed down, lol). She told me "Mama, I worked very hard to pack the items and I really wanted to give them to my friends. And tell them thank you for coming. It is not nice that I cannot do it because that is EXACTLY what we did for my Harry Potter Party."

So for Dumpling, the disappointment was so intense and she felt so strongly about it that she does not know what to do except to let it all out. Just in tears, incoherent words and in (sigh) screaming. Of course, it also seems that she has a perfectionist streak in her as the flow of events did not quite go according to how she'd imagine it to be ~ her being there, smiling and dishing out the loot to her friends and thanking them for coming. Sigh...

Emotionally intense children are just that; they have bigger feelings and bigger reactions towards things because they DO FEEL MORE. So please do not judge them as they are still learning to manage those "big feelings" (as she calls it). There are good days and there are bad days; just that with them, the bad days are like ginormously big (which equates to the size of the meltdowns, sigh). We are working on it as we speak, getting her to regulate her emotions. I do not want to tell her that she cannot get angry / upset / frustrated because that would not be realistic nor would it be healthy for her. I also do not believe in telling her that it is "wrong" to get angry but rather, manage those feelings in a healthier and better way.

For me, I am also learning to control my outbursts in front of her / to stop mad yelling because kids do model behavior (trust me, I learnt it the hard way!) because I do run very short on temper at times. Work, homeschool and a lack of sleep does that to me. What I would do is to talk a lot to close friends and my mum / bro and I ask my close friends to pray for us too as a form of 'release' for me. I also try to calm Dumpling down and react / pick up on it before she reacts to it.

Emotionally intense children are a lot of work but they do not deserve any less of our love or any less patience.

If you are a parent to one of such children, how to you handle them / calm them down? I would love to hear from you.

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  1. Thanks for sharing. I could relate to your experience as my boy is one with intense emotion too.
    There're numerous tantrum examples in the mall or even in the middle of the road when he is younger. (He is now 6.) His senses are more sensitive too. Whenever he heard loud noise like drilling or his sister crying, he'll shout for them to 'shout up'. Whenever a car's headlight shine pass him while walking at the dark carpark he'll 'scold' and tried to kick them off. I used to scold him for being rude and silly. But even since I realized what he might be experiencing, I tried to console and explain to him the reason of the noise instead. When he is angry sometime he will hit himself or kick the wall (since hitting others were not allow). Because of his 'rude' and 'unreasonable' behaviors, he often got me emotional workup and harsh words and actions from me followed. This increase his insecurities too. I am aware of this but sometime still get carried away by my own emotion. Your sharing is timely in reminding me to be more patience with him. Pray that we will be parenting them with love from God.

    1. Hi there, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences and how right you are, all of us do get carried away with our own emotions. As adults who have so much more living experiences than our kiddos and we still "lose it" once in a while; I guess we really need to cut them some slack. My daughter is sensitive to light and sounds too (she gets overly stimulated) so you are not along. Hugs. Please drop by again and leave your name next time. :)

  2. I have a highly sensitive child at home too, so I can totally relate to what you have shared. When my child was younger, there were so many occasions when I felt totally helpless and didn't know what to do with his tantrums, fussiness, and emotional outbursts. Very often, I would feel like I was threading on eggshells because a slight unintentional action or lack of action on our part would result in a sudden outburst. I bought and read the book The Highly Sensitive Child and realised that I myself is a highly sensitive person! It's a lot of trial and error, plus loads of patience, tears and communication. I like the quote you've shared. It's a great reminder for me to love and accept my child when he least deserves it. Thanks for sharing this heartfelt post!

    1. Hi Ing,

      Thanks for popping by and taking the time to share your experiences too. I have just made a reservation for that title at NLB and am looking forward to reading it. But you know, I suspect that I would be fairly sensitive too as I am quite a highly strung mum! LOL. :) Yes, we certainly need to remind ourselves to BREEEEATHHEEEE and exercise patience!

  3. Hi there, I'm a mother of TWO emotionally intense girls! The elder one who is 4 now has learnt to control her emotions somewhat although there will be moments where she will burst into tears when things get too overwhelming for her. The younger one who is almost 3 is now trying to grapple with her big feelings which often results in lots of outbursts, tantrums and screams. I feel like I have a walking time bomb with me all the time because the slightest things may trigger an outburst. Sometimes I wonder why other kids seem to be "easier" and I am glad that I'm not alone in this struggle when I read your post. I too have to tell myself that I shouldn't worry about what others think of my children because I realise that it will sometimes lead to harsher punishments on my girl just so I can save some "face". With both my girls, they are easily stimulated by crowd, noise and too much "fun", so till now I do not dare to let them have big birthday parties. Even with a small group of friends at her 4th party, my elder gal had a breakdown. :( Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Jamie

      Thanks for your heart felt sharing and wow, two emotionally intense girls! Yes, I totally understand the part about time bomb because it feels a bit like that doesn't it? I know what you mean about the "face" part because people can be so judgmental sometimes and would be giving us dagger looks. I am sorry to hear that she had a melt down at her party but it does sound like you have a good understanding of how they think and react so you are halfway there! :) Hang in there; it will get better!


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