Does Your Overly Sensitive Kid Have a Hair Trigger Temper?


When you have an oversensitive child with a hair trigger temper, it really  puts you—and other family members—on edge. You begin to tip toe around him or  her; you feel like you can’t be direct for fear of causing an angry, explosive  response. You also start to feel responsible for your kid’s behavior and “take  the blame.” Parents often begin to do more enabling behaviors like giving in and  making things easier on touchy, easily-angered kids. But in the long run, it’s  important to realize that this response isn’t helpful to them or you.

It  won’t help you or your child to give them more attention for their behavior.  Don’t give them an audience or validate their overreaction.


Related:  How to manage explosive anger in kids.

It’s natural to feel very alone  and full of shame about your child’s  over-sensitive, reactive behavior—especially  if this behavior is displayed in  front of others. It can be embarrassing if other  extended family members or  friends become critical. Ultimately this can be isolating  to a parent, but it’s  important to understand that you are not alone. Do not  underestimate the need  for some kind of a support system—a partner, friend,  parent or group—a place  where you can get the support you need for this  situation.

Why are some kids more  sensitive than others? Some kids respond with  oversensitivity to different  stages in life, especially adolescence. When  children go through different  stages of development, they may become touchy and  moody even though they  weren’t this way previously. It can come as a shock if  you’re not prepared for  that change. Other children face environmental factors  that are making them  more sensitive—a death, loss or change in living  situation, for example. Still  other children are simply wired to be more  sensitive – and while you can’t  change this fact about them, you can  help them manage their emotions more effectively. No matter what the reason for   your child’s touchy behavior, you still need to use the same kind of parenting   techniques to help them.

Related:  Does your child twist your words and  start fights?

Here are 5 real techniques that  can help you parent your oversensitive,  reactive child more effectively.

1. Stay neutral—even when your child overreacts: When your   child’s response is completely over the top (even when they’re just   experiencing what you might consider a normal bump in the road), resist being   drawn into an argument with them. So when your teen daughter throws a   full-blown tantrum and starts screaming at you because “she has no clothes to   wear” (even though she has a closet full) or your son gets in your face and   insists that you “hate” him when you tell him that he can’t go out on a school   night, it can feel upsetting, not to mention absurd and irrational, for us as   parents. In the heat of the moment, there’s a temptation to be sarcastic, short   or even angry with your child when he overreacts or loses control of his   temper. But understand that none of that helps. To him, the feelings are very   real—and he’s definitely not seeing it as absurd at that point in time. Try not   to react in front of your child; work to keep your tone and expression neutral.   You don’t need to agree with what he’s saying, but by making fun of him or   arguing with him, you will enter into a power struggle that you can’t win.

2. Take away the audience. It won’t  help you or your child  to give them more attention for their behavior. Don’t  give  them an audience or validate their overreaction. Even though you might  feel  like you should, you don’t have to stand there and try to “fix” whatever  the  problem is, feed into your child’s emotions or validate their excessive   reaction. This is an important point because it’s very important for you to   understand that you can’t argue your child out of it. And you’re probably not   going to be able to reason with him and convince him to see things differently,   either. You want to just plant a seed about how the reaction doesn’t seem to   match what’s going on, and then walk away. You can talk about it later when your  child is calm; at that time you can work with them to come up with a better way  to respond next time.

Related:  Learn how to help your child to behave differently next time.

If things have started to get  heated and emotional, do what you can to  remove yourself from the area. Speak  in a calm voice. You don’t have to  over-respond or overreact just because your  child does. If what you’re doing  now isn’t working, try doing the opposite of  what you usually do. When things  are calm, you may even say to the child, “We’re  going to do things differently  from now on. In the past, when I have tried to  talk with you about cleaning  your room, you tend to overreact. Instead, I’m  going to make a list of what  needs to be done. You can just follow the list so  that I don’t have to speak to  you about this over and over.” You can also say, “When  you act this way, it’s  hard for others to be around you. I’m going to help you  respond more  appropriately and learn how to deal differently with things.”

3. Be aware of what triggers your child. You need to “parent  the child you have and not the  one you wish you had.” Part of doing this is  noticing your child’s triggers and  trying to avoid them. If they’re set off by  getting dressed for school in the  morning, for example, start having them pick  out what they’re going to wear at  night. Sometimes triggers, even for teens,  have to do with not getting enough  sleep, or being hungry. Do your best to  remove or avoid all of your child’s  usual triggers. This can greatly cut down  on the number of tantrums or  explosive rages they experience during the  week.

Along these same lines, remove  your child from embarrassing situations like  the grocery store when they act  out—and try to avoid taking them back their  until they’ve shown you they can  behave. Set limits around their behavior and  follow through with consequences.  If you take your 13-year-old daughter  shopping for a dress and she says she  hates everything and then is rude to you  and the clerk, that’s the end of dress  shopping for the time being. You can  say, “Okay, we’re leaving. Let’s try this  again another time when you’re  ready.” For whatever reason, she’s not able to  handle it at this time. Removing  her from this embarrassing situations is not  only good for you as a parent, but  good for your child as well.

Related:  How to manage your child’s  triggers—and stop letting them rule your  life.

4. Stop lecturing—it doesn’t work. Remember, you can’t  lecture your child into changing  her behavior. Try to be brief, clear and  direct when you talk with her. As  parents, we tend to say things over and over.  For oversensitive kids that’s  probably not helpful, because it’s often  connected to their triggers. Generally,  these kids tend to be pretty sensitive  to information. So a minimal amount of  discussion or message about something is  probably going to work better for  them. You’re going to avoid triggers and  you’re going to get your point across.  As a parent, it’s important to learn how  to say things differently. Look at it  this way: if you have to repeat yourself  constantly what you’re saying is  obviously not effective.

5. Have conversations about managing emotions: With older   teens, you can try talking to them about what’s going on. The older adolescent  is  probably starting to see this touchy, angry behavior get in the way of  having  friends. While you can’t make the behavior or emotions go away by  talking about  it, you might be able to find ways to help your teen cope better.  Try reinforcing  times when they’ve really done a good job of handling things.  Let’s say the  coach yelled at your teen but he didn’t lose his cool. You might  say, “I  noticed that you really kept it together with the coach today. What  happened  during that situation that made you able to do that?” He might say, “My best  friend was there with me and they said not to let it bother me,” or “I  knew the  coach was mad at everyone and not just me.” Reinforce that by saying, “Great,  remember that next time. He might be mad at everyone and not just you.” I would  keep it short and really focused on that situation.

Related:  How to get through to your  teen.

Here’s another example. Let’s  say your family is playing a game. Your  11-year-old perceives something to be  unfair and flips the board over, sending  all the pieces flying. You might give  a consequence for that behavior, and then  when things are calm you would have a  problem-solving conversation where you  ask, “What can you do differently the  next time you feel like something’s not  fair?”  That’s what teaches your child how to learn to  cope. After all,  you want them to be successful; you want them to be able to  play games with  others. Again, keep the conversation short. “I know you were  upset that you  were losing the game. I know your sister rubbed it in. But it’s  just a game and  you need to keep it together. What can you do next time you  feel that way that  won’t ruin it for everyone and get you in trouble?” And then  you would help  your child come up with some ideas.

You might feel frustrated with  your oversensitive child, but remember, it  has a silver lining because there  are some positive aspects to this, too. In  itself, being sensitive is not a bad  thing. Your child might be more intuitive  and really aware of things. It’s good  to remember that beyond the  oversensitivity, what’s left is sensitivity—which  is a really positive trait.  And once your child is mature and learns how to  cope better, he’s going to be  able to really use this skill in life.

The goal for you is to help  your child accept himself, but that doesn’t mean  he doesn’t have to change or  behave appropriately. Your job as a parent is to  help him learn how to  understand his own makeup, and respond to situations  differently. You want to teach  him how to cope so that his oversensitivity  doesn’t get in the way as he grows  older. The ultimate goal is for him to learn  how to function in the world so  his temper doesn’t prevent him from making and  keeping friends, doing well in  school, getting a job, and sustaining meaningful  relationships.


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