Expert Advice

Are my Kids “Big Feelings” or Emotional Sensitivities my fault?

Some differences in personality and attitude are innate, resulting from genetic factors such as temperament, but many of the differences reflect a child’s life experience, including family and cultural influences, so nobody can answer these questions without knowing a whole lot more about you and your situation.

If you’re often angry, critical, or judgemental, then yes, you have contributed to the situation.

The good news:

If that’s the case, you’re also a big part of the solution. Don’t waste time feeling guilty, but do work to understand what’s motivating your negative behavior.

If you can learn to manage your anger and become more kind, patient, and loving with your child, you can soothe their anxieties, and help them learn to manage their own emotions. That won’t be easy for you. Impatience and negativity are usually habits of a lifetime, embedded year after year so they feel “natural,” just part of your personality, and beyond your control, so you may well require professional help. It’ll definitely take time and patience with yourself to overcome these attributes. It will help your parenting a lot if you can share the journey with your child, telling them how you’re trying to do better, and apologizing as often as needed for getting irritable, negative, or impatient with them.

Warm Parent, Challenging Child

But sometimes difficult kids are born to easy-going and positive parents who are consistently warm and loving with their children. Temperament is genetic, and some children are born with more challenging temperaments. They’re hard to soothe, easily disturbed, fearful of new experiences, and thrown off kilter by even small deviations in their routines.

Regardless of whether you’re part of the problem or not, the solutions are the same: do what you need to do to be warm, loving, accepting, and patient with your child.

Written by Dr. Dona Matthews

Dona Matthews, PhD, has worked with children, families, and schools since 1990, and is currently in private practice in Toronto, Canada. She was executive director, Millennium Dialogue on Early Child Development, University of Toronto, and founding director, Hunter College Center for Gifted Studies and Education, City University of New York. She has published widely on child and adolescent development, education, and supporting special needs. She frequently shares with parents ways to practice love and respect during each phase of their child’s development, learning, and growing alongside their children. Follow Dr. Matthews at her Psychology Today blog, “Going Beyond Intelligence.”