2 Signs You Have a Deeply Feeling Kid, According to Parent-Whisperer Dr. Becky

And what you can do about it

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As parents, it’s only natural to think that your own offspring is special. And while sometimes that can feel like a good thing (“Harley is the only kid in her class that knows how to write her own name!”), sometimes…not so much. Have you ever suspected that your kid’s behavior is a little more, um, intense than other kids? Or have you ever felt frustrated that the parenting tactics you see on Instagram just don’t seem to work in your own home? If so, then you may have what child psychologist and author Dr. Becky Kennedy dubs a “deeply feeling kid.”

What is a deeply feeling kid (DFK), exactly? We recently caught up with the millennial parenting expert to discuss her partnership with Amazon Kids and asked her how to spot these highly sensitive children… and what to do if you have one at home. “I love these kids,” Dr. Becky told us. “I have one of these kids, so trust me, I’ve lived through it.” Here are two tell-tale signs you have a DFK:

1. They have escalations that happen more frequently, more intensely and last longer. “These are kids who truly do have feelings that go from 0 to 60, and they seem like they tantrum more intensely, more often and for longer periods of time than other kids,” says Dr. Becky. “I think that’s so important to say for parents, that they are not making this up,” she adds.

2. Typical parenting strategies don’t work. You’ve read all the books and watched the TikToks. And yet, every time you try to “name the feeling” or do the thing that worked so well for your oldest kid, it backfires in your face and seems to make your child even more upset. Dr. Becky calls these “front door strategies” and, well, they don’t work on DFKs. “Front door strategies are when we approach [the kid] directly, we name someone’s feelings or we say, hey, I want to help you. It’s like we’re right at the front door. These kids, when you do any front door strategy, they slam the door in your face.” Instead, for DFKs, Dr. Becky recommends “side door strategies.” (But more on that later.)

Why Are Deeply Feeling Kids Different?

The key to supporting your DFK, says Dr. Becky, is understanding where they’re coming from. “For deeply feeling kids, their vulnerability sits right next to their shame,” she tells us. “So when they feel vulnerable—meaning they trip and fall, they make a mistake, they didn't know something was expected to happen, they lose a board game—that’s a vulnerable feeling.” And because this vulnerability is so shameful to DFKs, they explode. “They almost experience their feelings as attackers on their body, which is why they respond with an attack.”

OK, So How Do I Best Support My DFK?

Well, here’s what not to do: When your kid has a mega reaction to something, the temptation is to try and help them in that moment. And when your DFK’s feelings escalate and they reject you, you may decide to respond by leaving the child alone (“fine, if you don’t want my help then I’ll just leave!”). But this, Dr. Becky says, confirms their worst fears—that they are really as bad as they think they are. Instead, the expert recommends sitting with them and letting them know that you are not afraid of their big emotions. So what does that look like?

Let’s say your kid bumps into a table and screams, “stupid table, I want to throw this table away!” While your instinct might be to sympathize with them and explain that it’s not the table’s fault, Dr. Becky recommends a much simpler approach. “You do basically nothing. You can't say anything in that situation, the shame is so high,” she says. Yep, you really just sit there and do nothing (hugging or physically comforting DFKs can often escalate their feelings), other than quietly tell yourself that you can handle this. “It’s important to be there, because your presence actually communicates to them: I’m going to keep you safe and I can stand you when you're like this, so you're not so bad after all.” But that doesn’t mean that you don’t do anything at all to help your DFK. It's important to help you kid outside of those moments to build the skills they're missing. Then, when a moment like that happens again, they're more likely to be able to use a skill. What you do outside of these moments are the so-called “side door strategies,” and, well Dr. Becky has a whole course about that. But step one to helping these kids? Understanding that you have one and where their behavior is coming from.

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...