Day-to-Day Tips to Help You Manage Your Intense Kid

Posted April 6, 2015 by

Because I homeschool, I spend lots of time with my kids. Usually, that is a good thing. I enjoy watching them learn and creating fabulous memories with them. However, with my oldest, the family togetherness sometimes has an ugly side. Her intensity can drive us all crazy.

My daughter is a wonderful kid. However, she has some personality quirks that can make her very challenging to be around. Many of these quirks have become more moderate now that she is an older teen. However, when she was younger, having a peaceful home wasn’t always easy. I had to learn methods to keep her calmer and more centered.

<Parenting Tips for Managing Intense Kids

If you have a challenging, intense kid, these ideas might help you. Of course, don’t make the mistake of thinking they will “fix” your child; these tips never made my daughter easy, sweet, or compliant. However, when I stuck to these techniques, I found that some of the “rough edges were knocked-off,” so to speak. Remember, though, that what works for MY child may not work for yours, so study your own kids to see which of these tips will work for your family.

The Importance of Rest

I found out early on that my kid was not the type to handle fatigue very well. One late night could mean several days of irritability, arguments, and tantrums, so I place a huge emphasis on getting enough quality sleep. I am that parent who rounded up her kids on family vacations and makes them go to bed no more than a half hour later than normal. My daughter has never be able to sleep later to make up for a late night. Instead, she’d just get up at the same time as usual and act grumpy all day.

As my daughter hit puberty, the need for quality sleep grew. She actually needed more rest as a preteen and a teen. When it came to sleep-overs, I had to be the bad guy for many years. I often volunteered to host the sleep-overs so that I could make sure that my daughter got enough rest. And I knew my daughter’s friends’ parents well enough to mention that I really needed her to get some sleep, so I’d appreciate it if the kids could get to bed before midnight or 11 pm (yes, even when my daughter was 15 or 16-years-old). Amazingly, most of the other parents were happy to try to enforce this when hosting because they were dealing with grumpy kids the next day, too. I think they just needed another parent to share the blame! I also made the unpopular decision to ban multiple-night sleepovers; one weekend with too little time resting was always followed by several difficult weeks.

Healthy Diet

I wish I had known when my daughter was small how great a difference a diet of quality food makes in how she feels. Some kids are very sensitive to sugars, artificial flavorings and artificial colors. I stopped buying Pop-Tarts and sugary cereals for breakfast. I would allow her to eat them later in the day as a dessert or special treat, but starting the day off with a burst of sugar and fake flavorings contributed to more frequent meltdowns. While diet wasn’t everything when it came to helping my daughter cope with life, it did add a missing piece of the puzzle.

Physical Activity

My daughter has always been busy. However, as she grew older and schoolwork became more intensive and time consuming, time for physical activity was diminished. The lack of movement made her lethargic, irritable, and tired. I had to be intentional in making her stay physically active. The exercise helped with her mood regulation, and I noted that she was much less combative when I required it. Additionally, I found that time spent playing actively outdoors helped her manage even better. Perhaps the combination of sunlight, fresh air, and physical activity were just what her body and mind needed to help her focus and cooperate with me and others.

Nurturing Her Personality Type

My daughter is extremely extroverted, craving interactions with others. In the early years, I hoped that, as many homeschooling families claim, the interactions with siblings would be enough. However, in our family, it just wasn’t. My daughter needed regular interactions with others outside of the home. As a homeschooler, it wasn’t easy to make these connections, at least at first. I had to initiate contact with other moms. I had to be willing to pick up and drop off friends. I had to be willing to host other kids running wild through my house and yard. However difficult it was at times, these interactions fed my daughter’s soul. As an introverted mom of four kids, I often fell short of her ideal. But I did the best that I could, and more importantly, I tried to communicate to my daughter that seeing her friends was important to me because it was important to her.

Routine, Structure, and Flexibility

My daughter does best when she knows what to expect. She needed, and still does need, a concrete routine that she can count on. Unexpected surprises, especially of the disappointing kind, have always been difficult for her to handle, so I’ve learned that a solid routine makes life flow just a little bit better. She needs to know that we will get up, do our schoolwork, have some fun, have a snack at 10:30 am and 3 pm, and go to the library on Tuesdays. Having a routine also helped my daughter quit nagging me about different things. I no longer have to endure endless quizzing about what time we will have a snack because she knows it will be at 3pm every. single. day.

Having a structured life is not easy for me because I am more of a “go with the flow” kind of person who takes surprises in stride. My daughter isn’t like that. She needs to have a stable bedtime, a regular wake time, and know what will happen each day. Of course, we do work on flexing with unexpected circumstances, but as far as things are under my control, I try to provide a stable environment.

However, I also need to be able to flex within the routine. I didn’t force an arbitrary routine on my daughter for no good reason. I didn’t have a time schedule and force her to move from one activity to another just because the clock read a certain time. My daughter would have fought a rigid schedule like that tooth and nail. If we got up later than normal occasionally, we followed the same routine as always, but times were just pushed back throughout the day. Observe your child and see how much flex they can handle in a routine. Some kids need a tighter schedule than others. Other kids just need a dependable routine that flows throughout the day. We did have a flow, but the only “set in stone” times were bedtime and mealtimes.

Remember, this was what worked for my child. Study your child and consider how these tips will work in your family. Also, keep in mind that there is no “easy button” for these intense kids. They will always be more challenging to raise, but my hope is that these tips will help you bring your kid’s intensity down to a more manageable level.

About

April Freeman is a mother of four children. Ever since her daughter was an infant, she knew there was something just a little bit different about that one child. Despite the difficulties, April has homeschooled her daughter (along with her other 3 kids) for the past 12 years. It's not always been easy, but it has definitely been worthwhile.

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  1. TSquibb Report

    Sorry to be vague… PANDAS stands for Pediatric, Autoimmune Nueropsycology Disorder associate with Strep.  Many kids will get some sort of infection (could be strep, lyme, myco… or others) and this can lurk and cause behavioral challenges.  We suspected Lyme several years ago and confirmed strep a couple months ago despite several “negative” swabs and cultures.  It was there all along causing a lot of challenges for my daugther.   We have been doing homeopathic for about 3 weeks and I am seeing amazing things with my daughter.  She is much sweeter, calmer, helpful, less self centered, less angry, etc.  Happy to help with any info if anyone wants to explore further.  Thanks!

    Reply
  2. TSquibb Report

    Hello to all.  I can relate to the strong willed, intense child.  Things started to get even worse for us and then I stumbled upon “PANDAS.” While my daughter did not have the classic syptoms, she did have strep which I believe triggered the behaviors.  Antibiotics long term can be a deadend and won’t offer much hope.  I found the wonderful world of Homeopathy and many success stories from other moms!  We are now using homeopathic remedies to strenthen immune system to keep infections at bay (which can trigger the behaviors… defiance, irritablity, opposition, mean spiritness, etc).  and a special remedy to support her constitution.  This may not be the case for some of you, but certainly worth exploring and could be exactly what you need to have your kid be the person God created them to be…..to find happiness, joy and hope!

    Reply
  3. MicheleG Report

    Thank you very much April. Sound advice that I too have a hard time adhering to. Like you, I am very much a go-with-the-flow person. But I so dread the consequences if I don’t make the effort to protect my son’s desired daily framework that I do what I have to do. 

    The problem is that this is more or less strangling the rest of the members of our family. Things are rarely allowed to happen spontaneously now — no stopping for a juice in a local café on the way home from sports. No popping into the park to play after school (I do not homeschool). The panic and tantrums and now anger that these suggestions provoke are better avoided. So his brother suffers, I suffer, Dad suffers and my intense child “wins”. Because while I know that most of his difficulties are not within his control, he now seems bent on making sure that everyone follows his rules. I do not think that it was deliberate when he was younger (he is now 12), but for a few years now there has been a great deal of deliberate manipulation of How Things Should Be (no one at the house, no spontaneous outings, no travel, do not eat this, do not spend any time doing anything that does not have to do with me…). 

    I know that this is not a forum for me to vent about our situation, I was just wondering if your daughter’s need for a tight framework negatively impacts the other members of your family and/or if she uses that need to control the rest of you. If so, how do you counter it? 

    Again, thanks.

    Reply
    • AprilFreeman1 Report

      @MicheleG Sometimes, yes it is a struggle. I will say that she has learned to deal with issues much more gracefully as a teen than she did as a younger kid. I think though, in the past, that when we would get off-kilter and she would melt-down, I would react poorly, when she needed me to stay calm and work through the stress with her.

      Also, giving her as much advanced warning as possible was a big deal. When she would freak about a change of plans, she could get it out of the way sooner rather than later.

      We’re still not spur of the moment people, but we can step outside of our normal routine every now and then.

      Reply
  4. rdelgiudice21 Report

    These are great suggestions, I will put them into use. Hopefully they work with my daughter. I do not homeschool, it would not be a pleasant situation for myself of my daughter if that occurred. 

    I am still attempting to learn about my daughter’s individual traits. Having difficulty understanding her needs and who she is. I am currently dealing with  so much aggression and defiance from her. At times I am at my wits end. 

    A good portion of this is because my younger son has ADHD and his care is very time consuming. I have to treat the children differently because of their capabilities, but my daughter sees it as favoring him over her. 

    Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      rdelgiudice21
      Defiance and aggression can be challenging behaviors to manage
      for many parents, so, you’re not alone. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and
      exhausted when it seems as though nothing you have tried is working to change
      the behavior. One approach we find to be effective is focusing on one behavior
      or area of behavior at a time. Acting out behaviors usually aren’t limited to
      one specific situation; concentrating on just one specific behavior or
      situation can help to decrease that sense of being at your wits end. For
      example, if you’re having an issue with morning routine, chore completion, and
      bedtime routine, concentrating on just the one that is causing the most amount
      of trouble would probably be beneficial. Carole Banks gives some great tips for
      picking a behavior and coaching your child forward  in her article  http://www.empoweringparents.com/My-Childs-Behavior-Is-So-Bad.php#ixzz3XUuzZoLq. You don’t mention in your comment how old your daughter is. Something
      to bear in mind is that while the overall approach to managing behavior is
      similar for children of any age, there are going to be some differences
      depending upon the age of the child. For example, with a very young child, you
      probably wouldn’t walk away from a http://www.empoweringparents.com/How-to-Avoid-Power-Struggles-with-Defiant-Children.php the same as you might with an older child. You would instead
      disengage and stop interacting with her when she is escalated. http://www.empoweringparents.com/authoritative-parenting-consequences.php are also going to be implemented for a much shorter
      time with a younger child. I hope this information is useful for your
      situation. Be sure to check back if you have any further questions. Good luck
      to you and your family moving forward.

      Reply
    • AprilFreeman1 Report

      rdelgiudice21 I’ve had to emphasize to my kids “Everyone gets what they need when they need it. ” This may mean that my oldest gets more time and attention when she’s going through a bad spell, but it also means that my other kids get other things when they are having a hard time. I’ve found that my other, less intense kids need empathy and attention. “Hon, I understand how hard it must be to have to have a brother with so many issues. I hate that it eats into our time for other things.” I also try to create special things for my younger kids, where they do not have to deal with their needier siblings. So my other daughter got gymnastics lessons all for herself, even when her older sister wanted them too. 
      Talk talk talk to your daughter to try to get to the root of her defiance and anger. She may just need a listening ear. Likely, she’s just a good kid who is frustrated with her family life and wants a little more attention. She probably doesn’t want you to neglect your son to tend to her. She just can’t figure out how to make it all work/

      Reply
  5. SugarMags Report

    Are you….me? I could totally have written this article. I have 4 kids, I (used to) homeschool them all, and your daughter sounds exactly like my oldest daughter (3rd in birth order). She was different from birth, and remains so to this day. She now attends public high school, and in spite of many challenges, she is (finally) thriving. I use some different approaches, and some of the same (based on her particular temperament and the needs of the many, which had to be balanced with the needs of the few, er…the ONE)…but you’re exactly right about finding what works and being consistent. Best wishes to you, and to all your readers who are facing the journey of parenting that “one” child who seems bent on undoing everything you think you know as a parent. Hugs to you all. 🙂

    Reply
  6. LeanneBooneBristow Report

    These tips sound heaven sent. I only hope I can be successful helping my challenging daughter be her most successful self. Thank You for sharing your ideas!

    Reply
  7. Adrienne Report

    These are great tips! Thank you for sharing! I have a very spirited & intense child.  We are getting ready to start our homeschooling journey next fall and I think each of your suggestions will help greatly!!

    Reply
  8. SharonBallantine Report

    These are all great suggestions that honor your daughter as a human being while respecting her individual traits. 

    Hopefully other parents can learn how healthy habits can help a child’s mood from your experience rather through more difficult, personal trials.

    “Intense” kids may also benefit from an “intense” outlet–for some it might be sports, for others it might be something in the arts, something that allows them to express their feelings and explore their unique personalities.

    Reply
    • AprilFreeman1 Report

      SharonBallantine My daughter found an outlet playing the piano. It seems to soothe her when she’s having a rough time. Other parents of intense kids report that simple things like jumping on a trampoline or swaying on a swing seem to be comforting in a meltdown. I tell other parents to talk to their kids to brainstorm activities that can be done when they feel the emotions rising in their chests.

      Reply

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