Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Another Strong-Willed Secret: Sensitivity

We've talked at length about my strong-willed nature and shared a few insights as I have taken a ride on the parenting coaster.  Boundaries, consistency and love are mandatory for success, wouldn't we all agree?  There's another secret that isn't widely acknowledged when dealing with a strong-willed child.  Most children that everyone would consider strong-willed (not just the parents in a moment of exhaustion) have the potential for deep anger and acting out, but what we often don't see is how deeply sensitive they are.

Being "sensitive" has all kinds of connotations with it, so let's define what I mean real quick:

1) Quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences.

2) Having acute mental or emotional sensibility; aware of and responsive to the feelings of others.

This sensitivity can manifest itself in many different ways (physical, emotional, relational, etc.), but very often it is a real factor in whatever issue is being brought up at the time.  If you're ever hit with the "why is my child blowing his top out of nowhere?" consider that it might be some change in routine, health, relationship, you-name-it.  Don't for a second convince yourselves that this child isn't seeing everything!  The look on your face that says "I hate dealing with this" or the comments under your breath about how you don't have time for that - it all goes in and can mean something drastically different than just a parents exhaustion talking.

As parents or guardians, especially if we cannot relate, a child (who is acting oh-so ugly) being sensitive is usually rejected, ignored or at least overlooked.  Some may think there is no sensitivity at all, which absolutely feeds the fire of conflict.  Others might acknowledge it if they understood, but neither party have a way of communicating about it.

Intense emotions usually come from deep feelings.  Regardless of how right or wrong the feelings may be, that strong-willed child is feeling it to their core.  Dismissing those deep feelings (intentionally or not) will cause them to increase, not fade.  So, what? Are we supposed to cater and tip-toe because somebody feels something?

Not really.  But here's where the lesser experienced parent might step on your toes.

-Discipline does not require a parent's hurt feelings, looks of utter disappointment and words of anger.  Sometimes, especially when someone's safety is at risk, it can be appropriate.  But run of the mill tantrum or problem? It's just an excuse for an overworked, underpaid parent to vent.  And at that point, the lesson is more about how we feel about each other rather than the rule that was broken.

Before I'm misunderstood, consequences should be swift and solid.  The strong-will sensitivity will pick up on even the slightest loophole. So, I'm not advocating that we just be nice to our kids and all will be solved.  But the relationship between you and your child should be just as constant as their consequences.  Teach them to cope with their mistakes and accept their consequences, demonstrating that we can still 'be okay' even when things go really wrong.

As I consider my own reactions and behaviors as a strong-willed child AND looking at my son's strong-willed tendencies, I am regularly convicted by the advice my mother received upon questioning if there was something wrong with me.  Her chiropractor at the time said this,

"She's not sick, she's strong-willed.  She needs the level of discipline (& consistency) as she would receive in a monastery, but an EQUAL amount of love."

That love means patience, it means gentleness, it means the security of a relationship alongside the boundaries of a fortress!  And it is so hard. As parents we get tired, frustrated and isolated in our feelings of responsibility and pressure to make it all work.  With strong-willed personalities, it's only magnified.  It helps to remember that all the fights and ugliness can easily originate in a sensitive little heart that hasn't learned what to do with it yet.  Let's all strive to teach how to cope instead of demonstrating how to react.

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