Activity, another temperament characteristic is a measure of energy. It’s an inherited quality that tends to be stable across time. Children who are low in activity tend to choose quiet and contained activities more often. As infants they tend to stay in the same spot you lay them in for sleep and may master their fine motor skills before their gross motor skills. Children who are moderate in activity choose both quiet and active play.
Children who are high in activity level may move around a lot in their crib as infants. They may master gross motor skills before they master fine motor skills. Active children tend to choose active play more often and frequently turn what we think of as quiet activities into something more energetic. They might toss Lego or puzzle pieces as they are using them, do gymnastics while watching TV and run or jump when others are walking.
There are lots of advantages to being highly energetic. Studies show that the majority of highly successful adults are high in energy, and high energy levels help HSC’s and HSP’s to move out into the world. Energetic people want to do a lot and can be bored and restless if there’s not enough going on. Allowing time for self care is essential for HSC’s/HSP’s who are also high in energy though to prevent emotional fall out. Having or doing lots of anything can be challenging. Learning to manage high energy is the way to make it work for you or your child. Find ways to incorporate breaks for movement in even the busiest of days, or maybe especially on those days.
Intensity is an expressive energy scale. It’s sort of a volume and drama scale. Children who are low in intensity tend to be quiet and contained, so reserved that they can be hard to read. Throughout my life people have remarked on how calm I am, reading my low intensity as calm even when I’m not feeling that way. Children and adults who are moderate in intensity are expressive enough so that you know what’s going on with them.
Children who are high in intensity are often loudly expressive throughout the day. They may cry loudly as infants and sing and talk a lot throughout the day as they get older. Children who are high in intensity can be delightfully enthusiastic. They may be effusive in their praise, exuberant and highly appreciative. The complaints or concerns usually arise over their expressions of upset which are equally intense. They are roller coaster kids, their highs are very high and their lows are very low. You are the best mom or dad in the world or they hate you. They love their school or they are never going back to it. There is not a lot of middle ground. Parents of highly intense children who are having a lot of meltdowns often contact me deeply concerned and flattened by their child’s intense angry outbursts.
When there are issues about a child’s negative intensity parents and teachers may raise concerns about “anger issues”, impulsivity, and lack of respect for other people’s space. The sheer volume, intensity and mean and angry language highly intense children express when upset can lead adults to assume that something must be seriously wrong. Children who are highly intense may grab or throw something when upset and hug too long and hard when being affectionate. Behavioral and emotional self regulation, a very important skill, is often very challenging for them. Most children know at a young age what the rules and expectations are and will agree to them at neutral times. Repeated out of bounds behavior is an indication not that they are being willful but that they need extra self regulation support and skill building.
Highly intense adults with self regulation challenges often have costly outbursts too when they speak in extremes, threatening to leave or divorce a partner when upset, name calling or threatening big consequences in response to children’s misbehavior. If you ask an intense person, child or adult, in the moment if they mean what they say they will usually affirm that they do. Later they are likely to say they were just upset. Despite the often loud and strong expression it can be hard to get a good read. Things may look and feel urgent. Sometimes they are but self regulation helps tremendously towards increasing communication accuracy. Communication can also be challenging with very reserved children and adults sometimes leading others to guess with varying accuracy about what’s going on.
Variances in intensity can sometimes be challenging in families and in relationships with children and partners. My son is low in intensity like I am. My husband and daughter are both high in intensity. My daughter often slammed a door as a child either in exuberance or when she was upset. I don’t think my son ever slammed a door and he couldn’t understand why we “allowed” his sister to slam doors. It might appear that he had great self control but he never felt like slamming a door. Intensity can feel overwhelming and intrusive to a quiet HSC or HSP. I wish I knew what I know now about self regulation when my daughter was young. That would have made things easier for both of us.
Its common to grapple with self regulation by using screen time or over eating, shopping or drinking, decreasing our discomfort more than we build our skills. Fortunately self regulation is a very teachable skill. Common responses are often however the opposite of what’s needed to foster self regulation. Telling someone to calm down when upset or that something isn’t a big deal is likely to escalate an intense person’s reaction. It’s like when you’ve had a bad day and you tell someone and their response is to say how bad could it be or to tell you what you ought to do. You are likely to state even more emphatically that you had a BAD DAY. On the other hand if you feel heard and cared about it doesn’t change anything, and yet it sort of does. Your horrible feeling is now lighter and more manageable.
We all feel what we feel. Feelings don’t get us in trouble, it’s what we do with them sometimes that can be problematic. Validating feelings, for your child, your partner or yourself helps to manage them. In the midst of heightened feelings the best response is a simple and heartfelt validation, “You sound really angry”. This is not the time for reasoning or trying to figure things out. It’s not a teachable moment.
When the dust has settled having a do over with your partner can be a great way to start over. A do over with children models, teaches and coaches that just because we’re going down a road that goes nowhere good doesn’t mean we can’t catch ourselves and do different. A flexible response on our parts invites a flexible response in return. This also works if you feel stuck like with the time limits for anxiety I wrote about last time. Make silly noises, jump up and down, or splash cold water on your face to help yourself shift gears.
There is nothing quite so rewarding as the feeling we get when someone truly understands us or we understand them. Getting to a place of knowing ourselves and others requires that we first come from a place of curiosity rather than judgement and an openness to new information that doesn’t always match our expectations. It takes trying not to close the door or make assumptions. It takes acknowledging that I don’t know. I am collecting information and listening on my way to new understandings.
Thanks again to all of my readers and for your feedback. As wonderful as all of you are to make this blog a useful resource I need more of you. I’m trying to figure that out on my end. I’m not good with social media. If you enjoy this blog and find it helpful please tell other people about it. Until next time.