After seeing so many families - including her own - struggle with similar issues, Catherine founded The Family Coach, LLC, to help parents solve the everyday problems that many of us experience.
Catherine is available in the New York area for private consultation and she's now joining Role Mommy as our Family Coach contributor who will answer your parenting questions and share advice on how to deal with stressful situations that are often accompanied with raising children. So without further ado, here's our first letter to The Family Coach...
My 6 ½-year-old son is a wonderful boy, usually full of energy and charm. However, he is also very sensitive. When he gets upset at something, his reaction often seems disproportionate to the disappointment. It also tends to last a long time, altering his mood for long stretches of the day. Is this normal behavior, and if not, what can I do to change it? I worry that his inability to handle everyday disappointments will interfere with his social skills with other children outside the family.
Concerned Mom, New Rochelle, NY
Dear Concerned Mom,
Let’s start off by saying your son is by all means “normal”. While he may often appear to be a big boy who goes off to school on his own, he is still very early in the process of learning how to negotiate the world. He sounds as if he has a sensitive temperament. That means that he may feel things differently or more strongly than others. We are all born with a temperament that cannot necessarily be changed. The truth is that your son is handling his disappointments, but in his own way. If your son displays a sensitive nature, it will be beneficial for both of you to learn ways to help him manage his feelings. The more you can understand and work with his temperament and not strain against it, the easier it will be for your son to let out his feelings in a traditionally appropriate way.
Additionally, often when children (adults too) have an overblown reaction it is usually because some other force is at work. Feeling tired, hungry or ill can deplete everyone’s coping mechanisms. Also, holding in feelings of anger or disappointment for an extended period of time can cause an explosion that often seems ridiculous relating to the moment.
There are several ways you can help prevent overreactions as well as some strategies to calm him down when he is upset. Here are a few:
1. Sensitive children tend to be sensitive in more than one area. Make sure that a sensitive child’s needs are met promptly by being proactive (not reactive) in feeding, putting down for a nap, dressing comfortably, etc. For example, if he usually eat lunch at 12 noon, don’t start preparing it at 12:10. Waiting just ten minutes more for lunch can ruin an afternoon.
2. During a time when your child is not engaged in a tantrum, try to talk with him about coping. Together you can explore how he feels immediately before the meltdown, if there are any signs that it is coming, ways he can let you know, and tricks that might help him calm down. He may tell you that he would like time alone to regroup. Agree to give him five minutes on the clock and use a timer. The sound of the bell will alert him that he has been reset and he can come back. Trying to coax, bride, or reason with him will only make him go deeper into his hole.
3. Talk to your son about how everyone has feelings and that there are many positive ways to deal with them. Some people play the piano to calm down, while others ride their bike. Some need a quiet place to get their thoughts in order. Others like to be surrounded by people listening to them talk. Remember that you son may have a different way of expressing himself. Help him figure that out. One way is to hang a feelings chart in his room. It has 20 or so drawn faces depicting different feelings: surprise, sad, angry, thrilled, etc. This chart is helpful in getting children to recognize a feeling when it comes their way. It can be easier to see the feeling in someone else’s face. If your son understands his feelings more, he might be more likely to share them or better equipped to deal with them.
If you'd like to contact The Family Coach with a parenting question that you've been having trouble solving the email us at email@example.com. You never know, your letter may make it in the next edition of Role Mommy 411!