Parenting K-6 Kids/overly dramatic when injured
I am the mother of two girls. My eldest is a beautiful soul, a wonderful 4 year old who is thoughtful, funny, empathetic and kind. Ever since she was born she's been a well behaved kid who listens and follows rules well. She's not a crier and has never been (4 and a half and never thrown a tantrum - ever. not one.) But despite her mild manner she is SO over the top when she gets injured and I hate to say it but I have trouble keeping my cool/composure (i was a touch kid and could really handle injury well with a high pain tolerance and so is her sister).
I follow all the advice in the book "What To Expect" the toddler years but it does no good. I validate her concerns so that she knows it's OK to be feeling bad and that I acknowledge the realness of her feelings, but I also make sure (as they say) to not be overly dramatic or concerned and to simply act casual about it, aka: kiss, hug, "you're going to be okay" and moving on to something else so I don't feed into her. They say if she seems emotionally upset to ask her to tell me why she's crying and let her express herself so I do. Yet even after following every step in that book as they describe she'll be howling and blubbering and red in the face over the tiniest of scratches for like an hour! AND even after I've comforted her she'll follow me around red-in-the-face and howling with tears saying, "It HURTS! IT HURTS!" By this point, I've already done all the steps (several times) found out what (in her words) is the problem. bothering her, tried to reassure her that she's going to be okay AND made sure I also let her know her upset was valid, yet it's so beyond what is called for and I find myself trapped between at that point totally ignoring her red blubbery face in the hopes she'll move on herself not wanting to prolong the even by feeling into it, versus making sure I periodically check in with her to make sure she doesn't think mom doesn't care that she's injured and upset....but after an hour of it what can I do? I'm doled out the cuddles in abundance by that point and the fact is life goes on! I have another kid who need me, too!
I know you may jump to the conclusion that I over-caudal her due to the fact I mentioned the cuddles, but I am aware it's a risk factor due to the instructions of the book and only dole out as much as they recommend I do. I'm careful to give the hug but with smiles and "you'll heal, wipe those tears and let's get playing!" sort of comments...I'm not an "OOo poor baby" sort of parent. She's like that with non-injuries too, such as going for a doctor's check up - she'll be whimpering before she even gets into the doctor's office. Like I say other than that she doesn't cry - ever. She makes no fuss for anything else, just this. I'm not MAD at her and I don't blame her (if I never cried I'd have a lot to catch up on, too!) but nonetheless I end up SO frustrated after an hour of her following me around wailing over something I have more than acknowledged and done my best to help and did the good parenting techniques, etc. that I DO start to lose my cool and have now and again gone as far as saying, "Honey, it's been an hour, please give it a rest already." (Which I knew is bad practice and bad parenting but I get the the point I can barely hold it in anymore - and it takes all my effort to say it politely and not snap "knock it off already!" which is really what's going through my head. (I haven't snapped at her yet for it but one day I can see it happening).
I understand she has a low pain tolerance. I understand she is highly emotional to stuff like this. I understand it's developmentally appropriate for her age. I understand she has a right to feel sorry for herself and to have MOM recognize her pain. But no matter how much logic goes into it and no matter how cool I remain at the beginning, by 60 min is I can't keep composed. I'm smart enough to go 'cool off" someplace, but I wonder if there is some way to get her to learn how to put injury (or imagined injury) in better perspective? I' doing what they tell me to do, but feel like I must be screwing up to have her carry on SO long over scratches that don't even bleed. My daughter is not that kind of girl in any other stetting, it's so unlike her. What's the deal here? How can this be helped, and if it can not improve I would like to know how to handle it after an hour has passed - the What To Expect books do not tell you how many times to repeat those steps or if there comes a point where enough is enough and you should take a different approach?
ANSWER: Hi Teg,
First of all 4 is a challenging age, although usually it's bossiness that is difficult. Second, although I can't say for sure without observing, I wonder if maybe some of this is habit. She's doing what works. As a mom, you want to be there when the kids hurt, so withdrawing would seem like being a bad mom. You might try a different route where you give her the initial cuddles and soothing she needs, and then redirect her. For example, after several lovies you might say, "Let's play a game".
Another option, if she still doesn't settle down is to put her in a "special place" (comfy chair, special blanket...whatever might work) for her to finish "healing". In this case, it's sort of a mood time-out like you mentioned, but it should feel like form of soothing to her. I would plan this out with her in advance and let her choose the soothing place and objects that will help her. When she gets hurt, give her 5 minutes of your attention taking her to the soothing place and then tell her you love her and to let you know when she feels better.
Odds are this won't work the first time or maybe even the third time. Much will depend on how well you can follow through. If her behavior is based on knowing how to get you engaged with her, she'll fall into her old habits and try to get your attention. That means you need to find away not to get hooked. Again, that will seem counter-intuitive. You might even say you have a special hug for her or activity once she feels better.
Finally, you might want to get a professional involved. It's difficult for me to give advice over the Internet without seeing the dynamics. A professional will better be able to see what's going on and make suggestions.
Leslie Truex, MSW
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Thank you , Leslie, for your ideas. Your answer was clear, reasonable, informed and thoughtful. I love your idea about the mood-time-out comfy spot. But I have a question regarding what you mean by not falling into old habits.
As you said, she might b doing what 'works' to get my attention. Though I'm not sure how far to take NOT giving her my attention. I'll provide a typical (and real) example of how I respond:
We were from her new school (the one she's going to start in J/k this fall)and I was pushing the cart. She stepped in front of it and the cart wheel got the back of her ankle and made her fall. Her ankle was fine, but her one elbow was a bit scratched (but not bleeding). "Are you OK?" I asked. I helped her up and gave her a hug and a kiss. I held her there in my arms for a minute or so and then said I wanted to see how she was. We checked over her 'boo boos'. I said some things such as,
"OOOO that must have been so surprising tripping like that! Scraches like that hurt, eh? When I was little I used to fall all the time so I know that it stings. The good news is it's not bleeding and it'll be all healed up in a day or so. you're going to be ok, Kiddo! Let's keep going."
She kept wailing; we walked another 5 mins or so. I got down to her level and asked, "Can you tell me why you're still crying?"
"IT HURTS!!!!!" she wailed.
"OK, let me see you move your arm" (she moved it easily) "Good! it isn't broken. I know it sucks getting hurt, but just try not to think about it and it'll stop hurting. We're having pizza once we get back home,tell me what you want on yours." We started walking again.
She kept crying. "let's sing the ABC song" I started singing. she kept crying. I ignored her cries for about another five minutes until we got home, and once inside I asked a third time, "What is upsetting you, is that you fell?"
"Why don't you go and play with Kayda while mom makes the pizza -she's started playing with your new Weeble House" I gave her a quick hug.
" I want TV to calm down" Since they're allowed TV while I prepare meals anyways, I said:
"if that is what you think will help you then you can have some." I turned on the TV for her and went back to starting my food prep. BUT she didn't watch it or even go in, she just stood behind my wailing for about another 10 minutes. Finally I asked her if she was going to watch and she said NO, so I turned off the tv and sent her in with her sister, where the crying continued until a few minutes before we ate, at which point I told her to please give it a rest for a while.
On one hand I feel like I can't imagine how in this typical scenario she feels like her reward is getting me engaged, as I felt really like I was at as much of a distance as I could be without being overly un-caring. In this scenario DID I give in too much to her by asking several times what was going on with her? Is that what it is she's after? because it makes little sense to me as I spend loads of time with the kids playing every day (like HOURS - literally) and she gets more one on one personal attention from me when she ISN'T crying, typically. I have always adopted the rule that unless you're badly injured or had a bad dream or are otherwise terrified about something, crying doesn't win you much attention in my house. Usually the quickest way to get Mom or dad to get up and leave a room is if un-warranted crying starts (like the "I want a cooky, or she took my doll type). We leave until they're ready to calm down and talk.
How do I not fall into old habits when she's crying? what, of this scenario I wrote out, is the part I'm supposed to cut out, or change and not fall back into?
When it comes to children and people in general, there is no one easy answer. And since I can't observe, its hard for me to see the interaction. In your scenario with the cart, you didn't indicated when she started wailing. It's like you knew it would be problem and went into intervention mode. I wonder what would happen if you simply said, "Sorry" and strolled on. I'm not suggesting that you not attend to boo boos, but at some point you need to disengage.
You tried with redirection, but then you went back to it "She kept crying. "let's sing the ABC song" I started singing. she kept crying. I ignored her cries for about another five minutes until we got home, and once inside I asked a third time, "What is upsetting you, is that you fell?"
I also wonder if she pulls this with others (teachers, dad, grandparents, caregivers). If not, it's clearly something between you two. If she does it with others, does it last as long and why not?
Ultimately, if this is about attention (which it still can be), then by stopping the attention after the initial insuring she is okay, is the best way. You can try redirection, but after that I'd just ignore the wailing and see what happens. It will be hard in a store, where you'll feel pressure to attend to her. In that case, without talking or giving outward sign of annoyance, take her home. If there is no response from you, no matter how long she fusses, she'll give up or at least get tired. At that point, you want to turn on the positive.
Finally, you might want to see a counselor who can better assess and intervene since she can observe and ask questions.
Leslie Truex, MSW