What does it mean to be a superparent?

DBT-CDMDDEnglishSupersensers / By Francheska Perepletchikova

Children do not come with instructions. Yet, many parents can provide good-enough parenting and raise adjusted and happy kids, able to withstand stress and learn from facing challenges. However, children are not created equal and good-enough parenting may not be sufficient to meet the needs of all children. Supersensers require special parenting. Imagine a child with no skin. Every time we pick her up to get her from point A (where she is now) to point B (where we want her to be), we are bruising her. 

Parents are not expected to somehow know how to raise a supersenser without bruising her in the process. Just like they are not expected to know what to do if their child develops diabetes. Further, until recently, even clinicians in the fields of clinical psychology and psychiatry were at a loss on how to help. These children used to be misdiagnosed as having a bipolar disorder and treated with psychiatric medications, such as Lithium and even Ketamine. I had children as young as 8 years of age coming in on intravenous Ketamine, and some had it as PRN! Understandably, practitioners were trying to address severe verbal and physical aggression that these children display due to their extreme emotional dysregulation and sometimes had to use extreme measures to improve safety to self and others.

In 2017, I published results of a randomized clinical trial on DBT for children with DMDD, demonstrating that we can effectively treat these children and most importantly, we can treat them WITHOUT psychiatric medications. 

Supersensers need superparents!

When I explain the concept of a superparent, I use a metaphor of a firefighter:

1. Firefighters do not start fires

Superparents do not model temper outbursts. They avoid verbal and physical aggression, prolong punishment, retaliation and indiscriminate invalidation.

2. Firefighters are not afraid of fires

Superparents avoid accommodation. Emotionally sensitive children are notorious in shaping the environment to tip toe around them in order to prevent escalations. Accommodation does not teach a child how to deal with stress and, even more problematic, signals to the child that parents are terrified of her and are unable to even control their own child! Parental authority and the child’s sense of safety go straight out of the window. Also, children sometimes describe themselves as monsters, specifically because they see that their own parents are afraid of them. Children will mirror how parents see them. 

3. Firefighters calmly and skillfully put down fires and work on preventing fires in the future

Superparents are able to adopt a loving and accepting stance, while promoting change. Superparents love their children unconditionally and are able to genuinely accept EVERYTHING their child is doing, which, of course, includes verbal and physical aggression, destructive behaviors, etc. Acceptance, by definition, implies that the response or outcome are negative. Acceptance starts with “I do not like this!” Parents frequently have difficulty adopting an accepting stance. This may stem from a confusion of acceptance with approval and from fear that acceptance of a dysfunctional behavior will negate a need for change. Indeed, acceptance is a foundation for change, as it is opposite to criticism and judgement that only make a child defensive and angry. 

Superparents also promote change by modeling adaptive responding (e.g., practice of emotion regulation skills, problem solving without a use of force and imposition), using effective parenting techniques (e.g., prompting, reinforcement and shaping adaptive behaviors, while ignoring maladaptive behaviors), practicing skills with their children on the daily basis, and establishing in their children core senses of self-love, safety and belonging.

Parents are rarely born with an intuitive knowledge of how to raise a supersenser. Superparenting usually needs to be learned.


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