March 1, 2010

The Emotionally Sensitive Child - Raising "Intense" Children (Part Four)

The final overexcitability discussed by Dabrowski was the emotional. He felt that this one was central; it is often the one noticed first. These are the children who are extremely sensitive, have intense emotions, form strong attachments and may be intensely empathic. Others often see them as "overreacting." The challenges here arise because the intensity of emotions can be problematic. These children can be susceptible to "meltdowns," emotional extremes, anxiety, guilt and feelings of inadequacy. They take things hard and can become lonely or depressed. They can have trouble adjusting to change and have a need for security.

Our role as teachers with intensely emotional kids is crucial to their ability to develop a sense of emotional well-being. We can help them learn how to calm themselves when they become upset. Rather than just telling them to Calm Down, we can help them discover what works for them. We can teach them - once we understand it a bit ourselves - what seems to set them off and how to cope. What are their warning signs? Do they get a certain feeling in their stomach or do they start talking faster? Are they more likely to get upset on Sunday nights? They can learn coping strategies like exercise, listening to music, going outside to play or read, or just talking about what's on their minds. Even using simple strategies like these can show children that they have the ability to make an impact on their own emotional states.

The hardest thing for parents when their children have these "overreactions" is to resist the temptation to just tell them to stop feeling what they are feeling. Obviously, you probably want to leave a public place if your child is having a meltdown. And, of course, the goal is for the child to develop the capacity for more self-control. But, it takes time and skill building for this to happen. It doesn't work to tell them to just ignore something that upsets them or to suggest that they just not let it bother them. They would if they could, for the most part. They can't. They feel how they feel. The question is what to do with those feelings. The more someone tries to talk them out of what they feel, the more tightly they will hold onto the feeling. We need to accept their feelings, even when we think they are being melodramatic. That doesn't mean we agree with the logic, but rather that we listen and empathize. We try to understand why they feel the way they do. Only then can we help them gain a sense of calm. Eventually, they become better at understanding their own emotional reactions too. Through interactions with us, they also learn to calm themselves. It's easy to share their intense delight and rejoice in their joy. But, that same validation is needed when the feelings are less positive.

A final strategy to keep in mind when parenting intensely emotional children is to help them develop ways to prevent stress. Don't overschedule, learn your limits (and theirs), and take time for fun and relaxation. Silliness is a great antidote to intensity - as long as the timing is right.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I was searching for insight on my child's intense emotions and ways to better understand what he is going through. Your post series on intense children has provided a great first step in the right direction. Thank you for the time you took in writing the posts!