Raising a Difficult Child
There seems to be a certain type of child that is difficult to understand and parent. They seem pleasant and intelligent most of the time, but can be emotionally explosive, may appear lazy, difficult to reason with, and intolerant of anything new or not to their liking. They are often curious, provocative thinkers, yet fail to comprehend simple instructions. They are very sensitive to things that “feel” bad. Under certain conditions they are very caring towards others, but are at other times abusive. This type of paradoxical behavior seems to make it difficult for the conscientious and involved parent to understand and properly train this child to be a productive and well-adjusted adult.
Although this could be considered a mild form of Autism, it may be more useful to explain the characteristics of this child. Perhaps a useful description of this child could be “the emotionally sensitive child” because it seems their central characteristic is an extreme sensitivity to experiencing negative emotions. Their emotional sensitivity appears to be innate. Parenting can serve to either bring this child to state that is detrimental to the child and society, or could shape them to be happy and resourceful.
As a result of their sensitivity to negative emotion, they expend large amounts of effort to avoid uncomfortable situations or make them comfortable. When they are unable to accomplish this, they react with great alarm. Thus, their reaction to discomfort is extreme by normal standards. For example, the emotionally sensitive child may be intolerant to the tag in the back of a shirt. These tags are usually made of a silky material and are relatively small. After a few washes, they are imperceptible to most people. However, the emotionally sensitive child may go to great lengths to stop the annoyance from the shirt tag through incessant tantrums (even at an inappropriate age), destroying clothing, or vehemently refusing to wear certain shirts. Parents usually respond to situations like this by attempting to help the emotionally sensitive child accept and become accustomed to the various discomforts of life. However, the emotionally sensitive child is not struggling against simple discomforts, but is attempting to manage intense internal emotional experiences with little to no comprehension of them. It is imperative for parents to understand that the reactions of the emotionally sensitive child are not simply expression of preferences, laziness, or tools to facilitate avoidance of responsibility. Instead, they are desperate attempts to save themselves from nearly overwhelming emotional stressors. It therefore becomes the role of the parents of the emotionally sensitive child to help them learn to comprehend what they are experiencing in these situations and manage their experiences through reasonable means.
When the emotionally sensitive child experiences a negative feeling, they may attack parents and siblings because they are seen as a factor that can be controlled, which the emotionally sensitive child hopes will reduce the negative feelings. This fallacy of logic is often unnoticed by parents, and they focus corrective efforts on simply eliminating the attacking behavior. Instead, the parents of the emotionally sensitive child need to determine what is actually causing the child distress and assist them in controlling that. For example, it may be observed that after school, the emotionally sensitive child is unusually augmentative with parents, or verbally or physically abusive to siblings. It is tempting to correct or punish this behavior in order to eliminate it. Instead, the parents of the emotionally sensitive child should lead the child to comprehend that, for example, they are tired from school and redirect them to relaxing activities, so the child both learns to identify his or her own internal experiences and learns skills to properly solve them.
In raising the emotionally sensitive child, special considerations in parenting is necessary for the child’s proper development. Perhaps think of this type of child as a very fine instrument (such as an electronic device); contrasting this to a very crude instrument (such as a gardening tool). Both can be very valuable and useful for their purpose. Both might be absolutely necessary in a particular industry or activity in life. Neither tool is inherently bad or good because of their design and purpose, but these characteristics require different types of care in order for each tool to remain useful. The crude instrument does not require much care to perform its role: it can be dropped, left in the elements, even used for unintended purposes without diminishing its overall functionality. The fine instrument, on the other hand, requires delicate care to remain functional. It cannot be dropped. It cannot be left in the elements. It likely cannot be used in any way outside its intended purpose. This serves to illustrate that if the emotionally sensitive child is guided properly through life, they will develop into a valuable members of society; if not, they will be a liability.
The primary job of the parents of the emotionally sensitive child is to help them first identify their emotional experience and second develop proper means of managing the experience. Due to their sensitivity to negative emotion, this must be done in a very non-argumentative, non-condeming, and non-punishment-oriented way. Common parenting techniques such as reward and punishment do not work with the emotionally sensitive child. Parenting must be guidance based. Learning situations (such as correction for poor choices) must be emotionally positive or the emotionally sensitive child will only seek to diminish the negative emotional impact and therefore emerge from the experience just as ignorant as before.
It may be argued that the approach necessary to parent the emotionally sensitive child will result in a “spoiled” adult, incapable of dealing with the common stressors of life. Perhaps it would be argued that, no matter how the child reacts, they should not be allowed to go through life unpunished for their inappropriate outbursts. In fact, if parented using these attitudes, the emotionally sensitive child will emerge into adulthood having no comprehension of his or her feelings, will focus on controlling the environment and others in attempts to regulate his or her own emotions, and use a considerable portion of their efforts and intellect to avoid unpleasant experiences. This will result in discontinued educational pursuits, failed or lack of significant relationships, and job loss. If the emotionally sensitive child is properly guided to understand their own emotional experiences, and is taught to mange them through adjusting themselves rather than their environment, then they will be able to use their emotional sensitivity in conjunction with their intellect to be involved in deep, meaningful relationships and reach their full creative and intellectual potential in their educational and career pursuits.