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.
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.
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.
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.