“My daughter cries all the time. About every little thing.”
You’re starting to think you’ve tried everything. The timeouts. The calming exercises. The little bribes. Even just trying to ignore your daughter’s wails, which seem to be her response to everything from a loose ponytail to a little spat with her brother. And once the crying starts, it often spirals toward full meltdown.
Many children can seem to be overly sensitive and emotional. This tends to be more common with girls, but boys may also cry and throw tantrums easily. To their parents, these children often seem unpredictable, like a volcano of emotions always ready to erupt.
If this describes your child, don’t assume she is disturbed or defiant. It may be just the way she’s wired or the stage she’s in, and she’ll grow out of it as she matures. Or, she may always be a child who cries easily, and that’s OK, too. She’ll learn how to understand this side of her personality and adapt to the world she lives in.
In the meantime, here are some things you can do to help manage the emotional storms:
Hold off on a response.
It’s pretty easy for parents, usually mothers, to drop what they’re doing and immediately attend to a child who is crying. This is natural and expected, especially if you think your son or daughter may be hurt. But before dashing to a crying child’s side, ask yourself: Am I responding to my child’s needs or to his behavior? While there are certainly behaviors parents must respond to, we also have to be aware of how continually responding to certain behaviors can encourage a child to become manipulative, in this case to use crying as a way to get what she wants. Learn to recognize when and how this manipulation is going on.
Give her separation.
One response that is almost always appropriate: When a child throws a fit, remove him from the room to spend some time alone. Your child needs to have a place where he can have a meltdown, but where no one else has to listen and be frustrated. It’s fine if he’s able move by himself somewhere to cry. Eventually, your child will come to recognize that all this crying is a waste of time
Avoid trying to reason with her.
Young children often don’t have the ability to talk through an upsetting situation, even if their language skills seem to be progressing fine. It’s often best to steer away from serious character-building conversations with a child who responds to adversity with a tantrum. The maturity to reasonably discuss a problem will come in a few years. When you try to reason with a child before she’s able to, you may only make the situation worse. It’s likely she really doesn’t know what she’s doing or why she’s doing it.
Don’t read too much into the behavior.
Sensitive, temper tantrum- throwing kids can certainly make life difficult for parents. It’s too easy for parents to start blaming themselves for the tantrums. Don’t read too much into this behavior, and don’t take it as an indictment on your parenting. Your job, for now, is to understand that this is just how she is reacting to adversity during this stage of her life, and that you’re there to help her not let the crying control her life. Over time, she will get better, more even-keeled and more emotionally stable.
Maintain clear boundaries and consequences.
Children rarely do very well when their parents give irregular, wishy-washy responses. This is especially true for overly sensitive children. So be very clear and straightforward about the consequences for your child’s tantrums. This helps her feel safer and will encourage wise, mature management of her emotions.
Done consistently, these five practices will gradually help a tantrum-prone child to calm down. Remember, behavior change in kids takes time. Often months, and maybe even years. Be patient and constant. Just because you don’t see immediate change doesn’t mean your technique isn’t working. Keep it up.