Let's Cut The Emotionally Intense Kids Some Slack

by Julia Arnold
Originally Published: 
Christian Martínez Kempin / iStock

Let’s talk about something no one really talks about: the hard kids. The ones people say are badly behaved, poorly disciplined, overly demanding, etc. The kids who don’t offer a constant stream of easygoing smiles, or give hugs to any newcomer who asks, and who certainly won’t just sit there and go with the flow in new situations.

No, they won’t eat the new brand of pizza you bought, and no, they probably don’t want to go to that new camp you’ve signed them up for. They have bad dreams, big worries, they yell and cry easily, they are often anxious or appear angry.

Intense is the best word to describe them.

I have two kids. One is hard, just like that. Yes, yes, people always say, “Oh mine is hard too! They’re all hard!” Well sure, okay, to some extent, all children add complexity and challenge to our lives. Of course. But only parents with a strong-willed child like mine really know what I mean.

Parents like me understand the heartbreak of watching their child’s personality fall flat of a relative’s or friend’s expectations:

“Why wouldn’t he give me a high five right off the bat?”

“Why won’t she eat anything but crackers today?” “There’s something really wrong with that kid.” “Why did he yell at me when I won the race?” “Why doesn’t she want to run along and play with the dollhouse?” “The kid just needs a slap on the butt; that’s what he needs.”

I know these sorts of things have been whispered about my strong-willed child — sometimes to my face, sometimes when they don’t think I hear — who is just 6 years old. It’s exhausting, lonely, and hurtful.

I know these kids are intense. Trust me — I know. And it’s not “tantrum every once in a while” intense. It’s not “oh, she gets fussy when she’s hungry.” Children like my son are constantly emotionally intense, almost right from the womb, if not before. (I still remember the ultrasound technician chuckling at my roly-poly baby rocking out in my uterus.)

Children like my son can be demanding, hard to please, and anxious. The list goes on.

But here’s the thing: They are still children, and if you take the time to peel back their crunchy exterior, they are sweet and have good hearts. Honestly, they haven’t been spoiled rotten or ignored or overly praised.

I don’t think I did anything to “make” my son harder than a typical kid, though surely I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. On a good day, I call him my “grumpy old man,” and find him quite charming and funny. In fact, anyone who makes the effort (which I know can be hard) to sit down with him for more than three minutes and tries to get to know him will find him to be just that — a great little guy. He’s sharp as a tack, interesting, affectionate, and a funny little person.

To the majority of the world who don’t have an intense, strong-willed child, please consider taking a few extra minutes to embrace the quirks of children like mine. Please resist judgment. Resist thinking there’s something wrong with them (or their parents). Try not to take their initial outer shell of protection personally; they’ve had to build that.

You might find they will surprise you. Most of all, please know your patience will not go unnoticed by the child or the parent. I can promise you that.

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