How to Raise Deeply Feeling Kids: 2 Tools From Dr. Becky

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Good Inside" by Becky Kennedy. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you have a child who seems to be immune from basic parenting strategies? Do you feel like you’ve tried everything and still get resistance?

If you answered “Yes” to these questions, you might have a “deeply feeling kid.” Dr. Becky Kennedy uses this term to describe a child who experiences intense feelings and, as a result, exhibits intense reactions and behaviors. She provides two tools that are designed to reach deeply feeling kids.

Read more to learn about children who feel deeply and to understand what they need.

Raising Deeply Feeling Kids

Kennedy warns that some kids—those she calls “deeply feeling kids”—might not respond well to her strategies. Some kids feel their emotions more intensely than others, and as a result have more intense reactions: their tantrums, for example, are more frequent, challenging, and easier to spark than other children’s. This is compounded by the fact that these children also notice the comparative intensity of their feelings and reactions, and they fear that they’re unloveable and that their parents won’t be able to deal with them. This fills them with shame and fear, which only serves to make their reactions harsher and make it harder for parents to find ways to approach them.

(Shortform note: Kennedy believes that children who have very intense reactions feel their emotions more intensely than others, but other experts offer a different rationale. Ross Greene, the author of The Explosive Child, argues that it’s not that they feel their emotions more intensely, but rather that they lack the executive skills to deal with them—skills like patience, emotional management, or flexibility.)

Kennedy suggests using the tools of boundaries and playfulness to deal with a child who has very intense emotions and reactions:

Tool #1: Boundaries

Kennedy argues that a child with intense emotions and reactions fears that her outbursts will be too much for others to deal with. By calmly enforcing boundaries, you’re showing her that her reactions aren’t too much for you to deal with and that you’re still able to be her caring leader and keep her safe. What if her reactions are too much for you to deal with? Take her to a safe place where she won’t hurt herself or anyone else, then let her know that you need to take some calming breaths but that you’ll stay close by and come back soon. Step away, collect yourself, and come back when you’re ready.

Tool #2: Playfulness

Get creative to explore your child’s feelings. Kennedy explains that children with intense emotions easily fall into shame when discussing their feelings because they get overwhelmed by the intensity and by the intrusion of others into their inner world. Instead of trying to get her to talk about her feelings, tell your child that she can close her eyes and even hide while you ask questions. She just needs to show you a thumbs up or down to let you know what her answers are. This will help your child slowly feel more comfortable expressing her feelings.

Deeply Feeling Kids Might Benefit From Techniques for Helping Highly Sensitive Kids

Although Kennedy doesn’t draw a connection between children who feel deeply and highly sensitive kids, both groups share commonalities. Like Kennedy’s deeply feeling kids, highly sensitive children struggle with boundaries, are very self-conscious about their feelings, and have bigger reactions than other children. Kennedy acknowledges that her strategies often backfire with these children because they shine a spotlight on their inner world, which they’re very protective of. Other parenting experts agree that these kinds of strategies don’t work with highly sensitive children, and these experts say that parents need to do less when dealing with them and focus on giving them space

For example, if your deeply feeling or highly sensitive child is having a tantrum, repeating calming mantras or empathetic phrases might enrage her further. Instead, verbally validate her feelings once, remove anything that might be dangerous while she’s tantrumming, and give her space to get the emotions out of her system. This might help the tantrum end sooner than if you’re in her ear repeating phrases that highlight how out of control she is. Outside of tantrums, if you’re trying to get your child to open up about something, verbally empathize with her about the challenging thing you want to discuss, then let her know you’re available to discuss it whenever she’s ready.
How to Raise Deeply Feeling Kids: 2 Tools From Dr. Becky

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Becky Kennedy's "Good Inside" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Good Inside summary:

  • A parenting manual to help you build a positive relationship with your child
  • Why time-outs, rewards, and serious conversations don't "fix" kids
  • Strategies to deal with ten common parenting challenges

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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