Parenting a sensitive, intense child

Like the chronic dieter eager to try every conceivable plan to help reign in their eating habits, so too have I sampled many different parenting approaches with my now ten year old son. From the time he was a highly active infant, I found myself paging through book after book to try to find the answers to parenting, starting with Harvey Karp’s The Happiest Baby on the Block. I didn’t really understand if this was they way all kids were or if my kid was just a little different.

Looking back, I can see he was a pretty intense kid. He walked early and from there he was off like a bolt of lightening. He climbed anything that went up and there isn’t to this day a banister that hasn’t seen his backside. My default is to tell him no. Don’t do that, you’ll hurt yourself. Don’t do that, your not modeling good behavior for the younger kids. Don’t do that. Don’t do that. Don’t do that.

When he was four we made a very poor decision. We took him on a 7 day trip to Paris and Rome, wanting to get a travel fix for ourselves and a stamp on our passports. We promised him Euro Disney and thought we could spend the rest of the time visiting landmarks, museums and churches. Like I said it was a poor decision. It was a time when he was becoming fiercely independent. No more stroller, no more holding hands, no more listening.  All he wanted was to run away. Run away from us. Looking back, this was a bit of a farce.

One of those happy times!


I managed to eke out about a half dozen photos from the trip that didn’t make it look like we wanted to kill each other. But by then his intensity was scaring me and I found myself looking around at other children and parents who seemed to be doing this family thing so much better than us and wondering what we were doing wrong. I read many, many more parenting books but did not find any lasting answers.

I kept hoping he’d outgrow this intensity of his. He is an arguer, a negotiator, prone to fits of anger but a sweet kid too. I wanted more of the sweet kid than the other stuff but it seemed to go hand in hand with him. His first grade teacher was wonderful with him and told me how smart and kind he was and how these other traits that get him into trouble will serve him well when he’s an adult. I knew she was right but I didn’t know how I would survive the years in between.

In second and third grade we saw how his personality butted up with those of his peers and I tried talking to him like a little adult about the things he should to do to be a better friend. It worked for a few days at a time but there was never any meaningful change. And finally over that summer between and third and fourth grade, things steadily declined until we finally sought help from a therapist. One of his teachers told me to ask about oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and I quickly googled what it was. While not 100% accurate, it was fairly like reading some of the harder aspects of our child and it was then I realized what we were doing wasn’t going to work. There needed to be an overhaul in thinking and action on all our parts.

To be continued.





9 thoughts on “Parenting a sensitive, intense child”

  1. While having an autistic child is not the same at all, I sympathize with your plight. I identify with the rueful recognition that ‘happy vacation pictures’ are a photographic lie to bury the truth within digital camouflage. Strangely, though, looking back at the images in my phone, I can find a kernel of truth to cling to. The moments of happiness are what keep me moving to try again. Even against the odds.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Take heart, you’re not alone! My son is the similar. While my in laws had “perfect” kids that sat at the table until dinner was done, I’d have to take my son outside to spend some energy before joining the rest for dinner. My food: always cold. I was the last to eat.
    He’s going into 6th grade in the Fall. While he still wakes up early, still has a lot of energy and still argues/negotiates, it’s taken down a bit and more manageable.
    I can’t look at other parents and their kids. It does me no good and only give me grief and the feeling I’m a failure.
    My focus now is more opportunities to do things for others. I take him to visit people that can’t leave their homes (sick or elderly), we volunteer for a children’s orphanage and a senior center. It’s a start…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It sounds like you’re doing good and 6th grade, that’s great. I always tried to be the perfect kid so sometimes it’s hard to wrap my head around how different we are especially in the same family. I love that you involve him in community service and I hope to do the same.


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