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What parents need to know about children with intense emotions?

Team StoryWeavers|June 21, 2022, 17:15 IST|

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”

― Jim Valvano, American basketball player

Nobody ever said that parenting is easy. And parenting a child who experiences intense emotions is even more difficult. To be an effective parent, you need to be clear, consistent, and most importantly, realistic. They, too, need to know a few things about child behaviour in order to be able to parent your child calmly and effectively without stressing yourself out. 

Today we are going to explore something which is centred around two seemingly contradictory statements: ‘you are doing the best you can’ and ‘you can do better’. We think that accepting these two assumptions will help you make better parenting decisions, as you give yourself the credit for doing the best you could have in the given circumstances. 

Sounds interesting? Let’s go!

What parents need to know about children with intense emotions?

A book by Pat Harvey and Jeanine Penzo, Parenting a Child Who Has Intense Emotions: Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills to Help Your Child Regulate Emotional Outbursts and Aggressive Behaviours, mentions a few assumptions that are relevant for parents of children who experience intense emotions. They are as follows:

Assumption 1: The child is doing the best the child can. It means that the child is doing the best the child can do at any given moment. The child may have managed the same situation better in the past and is likely to handle it even better the next time. However, at this moment, the child is doing the best the child can. Accepting this and reminding yourself of this will help parents be less frustrated, less angry, and less disappointed. It can be quite helpful when your child is experiencing intense emotions. 

Assumption 2: The child needs to do better, try harder, and be more motivated to change. Parents, more often than not, do understand that their child needs to be more motivated to change and needs to try harder. This needs to be combined with the first assumption that the child is doing the best the child can at this moment. The child is more likely to accept parental feedback if the child does not feel blamed or judged. Parents need to accept what the child is doing at the moment while helping the child do better in the future. It can be a bit confusing at first, so parents need to be patient with themselves. 

Assumption 3: The child wants to do things differently, and make things better. It is sometimes difficult to remember that the child is not acting out purposefully, and that the child does want to do things in a better manner. Children seek parents’ approval, regardless of what they say or do. When children engage in difficult or challenging behaviour, it is because that’s how they have learnt to manage their feelings. In other words, they do not know any better. Given the opportunity, the child would do things differently. 

Assumption 4: The child must learn new behaviours in all important situations in life. Children behave better in some situations than others. For example, a child might not get along with siblings at home but will get along well with friends. Inconsistencies often lead parents to believe that the child is choosing to behave or not behave. That is why, parents need to let go of the assumption that the child ‘should know’ how to behave at all times and in all circumstances. This assumption is unrealistic, and different situations require different competencies. Parents need to teach their children these competencies. In short, children need to be taught how to behave in different life situations. 

Assumption 5: Family members should take things in a well-meaning way and not assume the worst. More often than not, people, or even family members, tend to jump to conclusions about others regardless of contradictory information. These assumptions cause unnecessary conflict at home. What ends up happening is the intent of a particular behaviour, which is unknown to everyone, but the person gets confused with the impact of the behaviour that is experienced by people. For example: The child may feel that the child’s brother wanted him to feel bad as the brother did not invite the younger sibling to play with his friends. In reality, the brother might have simply forgotten to invite the child. Parents need to ask questions and do the fact-check before jumping to conclusions, as it will create more opportunities for understanding and acceptance. 

Assumption 6: There is no absolute truth. Truth is said to have three sides – your side, my side, and the truth. The gist is that there is no absolute truth. It is relative. When parents understand that there is no absolute truth, then there are lesser arguments with the child around who is right and who is wrong. Accepting the child’s truth for a moment does not negate the parent’s truth. The boundaries and limits will always be in play, as they are essential parental duties, but accepting that children see things differently will help parents focus on what actually matters instead of defending their stance.

One of the simplest ways to exercise these assumptions is to repeat them, even if you do not agree with them hundred percent. For example: Even though my child is not cooperating with me, the child is doing the best the child can. 

Some of these assumptions are hard to accept or internalise. They may not seem believable or even comfortable. Parents can try to behave as though they were true so that they can help children deal with intense emotions. If you are unable to accept some of these assumptions, that’s alright too. 

Did you find this article helpful? Which one of these assumptions will help you the most? Which one is the most difficult to accept? Do share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below. 


Harvey, P., Penzo, J. (2009). Parenting a Child Who Has Intense Emotions: Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Help Your Child Regulate Emotional Outbursts and Aggressive Behaviors. United Kingdom: New Harbinger Publications. 

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About the Author

“Me-kha-la!” That happens at least once when she introduces herself to new people. She wholeheartedly believes in the quote by Arthur Rubinstein that says – “if you love life, life will love you back”. She is an organizational psychologist and psychometrician. She was a class teacher of 36 adorable girls for two years, grades 2 & 3, as a part of the Teach For India Fellowship. These little girls have a special place in her heart, and when she writes for children, she writes for them!

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