Thursday, January 29, 2009
Ending the Drama
A parent recently asked me about the crying bouts of her Kindergartener. "Is this normal for this age? It's getting to be a bit much..." My answer, whether or not it was the desired answer, was yes. If a child has been positively rewarded by attention, sympathy, or receiving a gift to make him or her feel better than the child will continue crying fits and temper tantrums for a long time, even into adulthood if it continues to work. No parent wants to hear her child cry, or think that her child is sad about something. However, it serves the child much better to learn the difference between being truly sad and being sad because she or he has not gotten their way. Crying is a way that babies can communicates their feelings of discomfort because the baby cannot use words or communicate in any other way. Once the child is able to communicate, the child should learn how to communicate with words. A good tactic to teach this to children (no matter what the age), is to ask them when why they are crying. What are they sad about? If it is truly something to be sad about, comfort him or her and ask what would make them feel better. It is important for the parent not to ask them how the parent can solve the problem. Children need to learn how to cope with situations, even sad situations. You can offer suggestions, such as "You're sad your friend had to go home? Maybe you can draw a picture to give to him next time to see him, so he knows you were thinking about him." It should not be your goal to make their hurt go away, as much as we want to. We want our children to grow up to be happy adults that can cope with the things that life throws at them, and sometimes life doesn't throw the greatest pitches. If their tears are because of something that is not really sad, such as they are not getting their way, then those are tears to ignore, after explaining to them that it is not appropriate to cry in that situation. Ask them to save their tears for times when they are really sad (What defines really sad? That is different for each child, some are more sensitive than others. A good test is asking yourself if the tears are being used for attention or to manipulate, if so those are not truly sad tears.). Explain to them briefly why things must happen the way they are "Mommy has to go to work, and I will be back later, just like always. I love you." And then you do what you need to do. Parents must resist the urge to give just one more hug, a treat to make them feel better, have a long drawn out discussion, or make a deal to do something wonderful or special when you return. If you do so, the child's tears have done their job. They have gotten their way, even if only for a few more minutes, and the tears will continue every time you are in that same situation. If you do not indulge them, the tears quickly end after a week or so. The child then becomes able to cope with that situation, and has another tool in their emotional toolbox.