This month I am continuing with more from the book, Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. The topic is Intensity. Some of you are blessed with a calm child who rarely or never shows great intensity in their reactions. Count your blessings! Others of you have a child or children who have very intense reactions. These are the children who often throw a fit when frustrated or scream with delight. Even if you don’t have an intense child, you may be able to help a mom who does to find the key to calming her child.
In this installment we’ll look at how you can identify an on-coming tornado of emotions and how to defuse it. Knowing your own child’s cues will help you learn how to calm them and then teach your child to recognize the signs and calm themselves. As in all our parenting, the goal is to help our child learn self control.
“Dr. Robert Thayer from California State University of Long Beach tells us there are two key zones: the green zone and the red zone.
“Imagine for a moment that you are standing in a line. Step to the right and you will tumble into the abyss of bubble-over land—the red zone. In the red zone your body is in a state of tense arousal. It’s a warning system that turns the body ‘on,’ elevating stress hormones and keeping all systems on alert. In this state you disengage from the world around you, unable to listen to the words of others, avoiding eye contact, and pulling away from touch. The physical reaction overwhelms both body and mind. Emotions explode.
“But step to the left and you enter the green zone of calm energy. Your body and mind are peaceful. In this zone, both you and your child find your heart thumping slowly, deep within your chest. Your pulse rate is a steady thud. You are focused on each other, able to listen and enjoy each other’s presence. It is in the green zone where emotions are easier to manage.
“The challenge is that each time your child must cope with a disappointment, frustration, or any other strong emotion, she is faced with the task of staying in balance in the green zone or falling into the abyss of emotion in the red zone. Genetically her wiring leaves her more susceptible to slipping into the frenzy of the red zone. But genes are not destiny. Research has demonstrated that with sensitive, responsive care, your spirited child can learn to keep her body in balance and stay calm despite the genes Mother Nature has sent her way.
“It’s a pivotal point, especially when you are spirited too. That’s why it’s so important to recognize that it takes much less effort to stay in the green zone if you can catch emotions when they are ‘little’ and easier to manage. It begins by picking up the ‘cues.'”
So what are the cues? They are different for every child, but they are identifiable. We learn them by careful observation and recalling small details that happened before the explosion.
Think about how his body movement changes, what happens to the tone of his voice, and what irritates him. You may notice changes in his facial expression or making fists or increasing physical activity. Remember these things and as soon as you see them again, begin to redirect him back to the green zone before he loses it.
Here are some soothing and calming activities you can use to help decrease the intensity in your child:
- Make sure they get enough sleep- sleep deprivation increases intensity explosions
- Siesta time- time for silent activities in their own space
- Playing or soaking in water- a warm soaky bath or even just sloshing water in a basin
- Using imagination to help moderate their intensity- whisper games or drama
- Sensory activities- using their senses calms them- anything from a soft touch or bear hugs may help
- Physical exercise and repetitive motion, like: a mini-trampoline or even fidget toys
- Humor- not sarcasm or ridicule, but belly laughs, rolling on the floor laughing.
- Time-out- not as punishment, but as an invitation to take a break and regain control
Words are very important. Many intense children have been told or heard many very negative descriptions of themselves and their behavior. We need to tell our intense children things like:
- You do everything with zest, vim, vigor, and gusto.
- You are enthusiastic, expressive and full of energy.
- Your intensity can make you a great athlete, leader, performer, etc.
- Things can frustrate you easily.
- Being intense does not mean being aggressive.
Once we have learned our child’s cues and what works to calm them, we need to teach them to recognize the cues early and how they can calm themeslves.
Teach your child:
- To notice her growing intensity before it overwhelms her. Help her discover words to describe her growing intensity.
- Different calming methods for different situations that he can choose from.
- Ways to communicate to others his need to calm down, like: “I’m feeling. . . and I need to . . .for a few minutes.” (You may need to explain what he is doing to other adults who care for him. They should be most happy to help.)
If you are also an intense person, diffuse your own intensity before you step in to help your child. Don’t be afraid to step away from the situation, get the sleep you need, or ask for help.