Tips for Parenting a Child with Intense Emotions

May 10, 2024

Parenting a child with intense emotions can feel like a big adventure with lots of ups and downs. But even in the tough times, there’s a lot to learn by knowing your own weak spots. It’s like having a map to help you through the tricky parts of being a parent. Our reactions and how we feel about ourselves as parents is influencing our parenting decisions and ultimately our children’s behaviour.

Know when you are vulnerable
Understanding your vulnerabilities as a parent is crucial for navigating stressful situations effectively. Reflecting on past experiences can provide valuable insight: how did you feel before the event happened? What happened/triggered the event? What did you think about what happened? What words came to your mind after the event? How did your body feel? What is the name of the emotion that describes what you were feeling? How did you act because of your feeling? What would have been a more helpful response?

Identifying the specific emotions you felt and understanding their impact on your actions enables you to consider more constructive responses for similar situations in the future.

Instead of evaluating your child’s behaviour try to simply describe it
For example, instead of using evaluative language, simply say something like, ‘’I see that you are studying for many hours’’ and do not label or judge at all. To move from evaluative language (1) describe the behaviour just as you see it, and (2) describe the consequence of that behaviour. For instance you might say to your child, (A) ‘’You’re being so good (evaluative statement) and making me proud now’’, or (B) ‘’You’re spending lot of time on your homework (non-evaluative and describing), and it makes me feel good when you do that (focus on consequences)’’.

Statement A labels and judges; your child will likely feel you are talking about him rather than his behaviour. The child doesn’t know exactly what he is doing to make you proud or what he needs to do in the future. Statement B describes what the child is doing in a way that is clear to him and can be repeated in the future.

The more you are able to use descriptive rather than judgmental language, the better your child will be able to know himself and to understand the connection between his behaviours, your reactions, and how he feels about himself.

You child is not her behaviour
Our reactions to children’s behaviours are shaped by assumptions we make about their behaviours. Your assumptions or judgements (the way in which you think about your child) will affect how you feel about and how you respond to your child. The danger in jumping to conclusions is that you will act as if something is true when it may not be.

Behaviour can be changed. Children’s behavioural responses are learned and not ingrained in their personalities. Understanding and helping your child depends on learning to separate your child from her behaviour. Your child is not her behaviour. Her behaviours are what she does, not who she is. Why is this distinction important? You don’t want your child to grow up thinking she is inherently damaged, has a flawed character, or should be ashamed of herself.

Learn to accept yourself
Learning to accept yourself may be one of the hardest skills you’ll learn, and it’s also a crucial lesson. A lack of self-acceptance often leads to parenting choices based on emotions such as guilt, which may make you feel better in the moment but they aren’t necessary effective in the long run. When you can be more accepting on yourself, you will have more patience with yourself and your child and be better able to make your parenting decisions wisely.

In the wild ride of parenting, where emotions can run high and obstacles seem endless, it’s crucial to understand yourself. Think of it like having a guidebook to help you through the tough times. By recognizing your weak spots, describing behaviours without judging, realizing your child isn’t just their actions, and learning to accept yourself, you give yourself the best chance at navigating the ups and downs of raising a child with intense emotions.

So, keep in mind that even when things get tough, there’s always something valuable to learn and with each challenge, you’re not only growing as a parent, but also as a person.

Delia Ciobanu
IBSB Student Counsellor