This post was one of the first I ever wrote on The Awakened Parent, back when it was known as Free Your Parenting. I found it recently as it’s been Pinned on Pinterest and been linked to from there. Happily for me, I have found it a really helpful reminder as it’s certainly something I’d let slip a little with one of my children, so I thought it might be useful to re-post it with a more accurate title. Enjoy!
Ann writes: I would really welcome your input. I’d love to know what I can do to help my five year old daughter who cries about every little thing. She’s a really lovely caring little girl but I despair that the minutiae of daily life can bring her to tears. Her socks, the way I do her hair, even the odd numbers being left out when counting in two’s can leave her inconsolable. I really feel for her and try to rationalise that the little things are of so little consequence but my little girl doesn’t seem to want to be comforted. How can I help her “go with the flow” a bit more?
Oh gosh, I can really sympathise with this! Sensitive children can be very frustrating to parent at times. Something I’ve learnt in my struggle to understand my sensitive child, is that what makes her so caring and loving is the same thing that makes her so easily upset by things that, to me, seem so little and unimportant. That fine-tuned perception of other people’s feelings often goes hand-in-hand with heightened emotions – ‘highly strung’ would be a common description of such children (and adults!).
A couple of thoughts spring to mind when it comes to your little girl. Firstly, by reminding yourself that the things that seem inconsequential to you, are clearly not so to her, you may find it easier to empathise with her. Her feelings about her out-of-place hair are as real and overwhelming as your feelings might be about going to an important meeting with your lipstick smeared across your face. Except that you have the maturity and experience to be able to put your feelings to one side for long enough to try to rectify the situation. Your little girl is too young to be able to do that, and needs you to hold her feelings for her. And that means accepting them, which I’m sure you are trying to do anyway. But if someone said to you: ‘Your lipstick really isn’t important, stop worrying about it!’ but all you could think about was what a twit you must look, and you had to spend the whole meeting suppressing the feeling of embarrassment, it wouldn’t make you feel any better, and might make you feel stupid, even
Trying to rationalise a child’s feelings when they’re in the midst of them is rarely helpful, because they’re so caught up in them that they can’t think logically. I would suggest that she might find it helpful when she gets so upset if you can just hold her, or be with her, and remind her you love her, until her emotions are calmed enough for her to work out how to fix it herself
Secondly, children can be very frightened by the power of their emotions. There is a brilliant children’s book we have called ’Angry Arthur’, by Hiawyn Oram. Arthur loses his temper because he’s not allowed to watch tv, and his anger breaks up his bedroom, his house, his street, and so on until eventually he’s floating in space on his bed having destroyed the universe and wondering what made him so angry in the first place. When we let children’s strong emotions dictate how we behave, I think it can frighten them and make their emotions even more overwhelming for them because they think their emotions have power over you: the adult who is meant to be their stable rock. I’m not suggesting that we never change our minds when children produce a good calm argument as to why we should, or that we shouldn’t offer help when it’s needed, but it may be that doing it in response to an emotional meltdown doesn’t help the child learn how to manage her emotions and may simply make her feel frightened of how powerful her emotions are. If she senses that she upsets you as well when she gets upset, then she has that to worry about as well
It may help your little girl if, when she gets disproportionately upset about something, you focus first on helping her to deal with her emotions, which have taken over, in her subconscious, as the primary problem; and then, when she’s calmer, help her to work out whatever it was that triggered those big feelings
You may find that if you can see yourself as her emotional mentor – being there whenever you can to absorb some of her pain while she’s too young to dissipate it on her own – that she gradually starts to find her own ways of managing her emotions without suppressing them, and without letting them hurt anyone – herself or others.