Q&A: Too much crying from an almost-4-year-old?

Caro writes:

"Ihave a question about crying. My daughter (4 in May) is a sensitive and
really expressive kid. My concern is that her reactions to things like
fingernail cutting, hair brushing, and very minor bumps and scrapes, as
well as small non-physical disappointments, are often over the top. She
cries and cries and cries, and loudly. Although she sounds quite
convincingly traumatized, my sense is that this is somewhat under her
control—if something interesting happens to distract her, she turns it
off like a faucet and then (often) turns it right back on again when
the interruption is over. For the hair brushing and nail clipping, I
just do it as gently as I can while she screams. For the bumps (I’m
talking about falling and hitting her knee, but not even a scrape) and
disappointments, I give her some initial sympathy and snuggles, but she
wants to scream and cry for ten minutes, and I mean loudly, as though
she’s broken her leg, and I feel manipulated, and my ears hurt.

Lately I’ve been telling her that
I’ll hug and snuggle her as much as she needs, but I can’t do it while
she’s yelling in my ear, and if she wants to keep crying I leave her on
the couch to calm herself down until she’s ready to ask for a hug. And
more and more often I’ve been saying, “It’s ok that you feel sad/mad
about x, and I want to hear you talk about it, but it isn’t ok to
scream and cry about it for this long. It hurts my ears/is
disrespectful to all the other people in the grocery
store/lockerroom/post office/etc.”

“It’s ok to cry” is supposed to be
some kind of truism, though, right? I hate the idea of telling her it’s
sometimes not ok, because I don’t know that she can really grasp that
the emotion is ok but that way of expressing it isn’t. And I know that
what seems like a small disappointment or hurt to a grown up can seem
huge to a child. In public places I feel pretty justified in kindly
asking her to can it; I’m teaching her about appropriate public
behavior and respect for others. But at home it’s mainly for my own
convenience and emotional comfort that I’m asking her to keep the tears
in, and that seems sort of wrong. And yet I’m fed up with hearing the
wailing go on and on.

What are your thoughts on this?"

My thoughts are that this sounds *exactly* like my younger son, who will also be 4 in May.

I think that this crocodile tears stage is part of the horrible, very bad, no good 3 1/2-year-old stage. I wonder if kids this age just don't know how to deal with their emotions, but the crying kind of gets them into a physical rhythm that's simultaneously soothing and escalating. So they start crying to make themselves feel better, but then they actually get into a loop and have a hard time stopping.

Whatever it is, it's super-annoying. I told my son the other day that if he wanted to cry he could do it in his bedroom, but not in the living room with his brother and me because it was hurting our ears. It's just maddening, especially when you know it's not anything worth *that* much angst. No matter how comfortable and easy you are with helping your child get out his or her emotions, at a certain point it just becomes counter-productive, and 3 1/2 seems to be that age. Crying is good, true, but not if it's just this kind of habitual "I don't know any other way to process it so I'm going to kind of drone on wanly" kind of thing.

Things I've done with some success are: only allow crying in another room (he can still cry if he wants, but not where the rest of us are), distract him by asking questions about future plans (because if he really wants to tell me about being a cat named Owen he'll stop crying and tell me about it), or pretending to cry crocodile tears myself (which makes him mad at me so he stops crying and moves on to the next thing). I'm not sure that last one is an optimal parenting technique, but it doesn't seem to be hurting him, and it sometimes makes him laugh.

Is anyone else going through this? How did you strike the balance between being supportive when something was actually wrong and discouraging crying just to be annoying? Who wants to invest some seed money in my Preschooler Boarding School concept? Franchises available for purchase across the globe…

(Oh, and just because I forgot to say it: This too shall pass.)

72 thoughts on “Q&A: Too much crying from an almost-4-year-old?”

  1. We’re just hitting this stage, a few months shy of 3 1/2, and it’s good to know that I’m not alone in: go cry in the other room if you want and pretending crocodile tears myself. I also do a bit of “I know you’re sad/frustrated …”. So I guess it’s lather, rinse, repeat till this stage passes.

  2. We’re just hitting this stage, a few months shy of 3 1/2, and it’s good to know that I’m not alone in: go cry in the other room if you want and pretending crocodile tears myself. I also do a bit of “I know you’re sad/frustrated …”. So I guess it’s lather, rinse, repeat till this stage passes.

  3. My 8 year old step son is going through a similar phase right now – very overemotional about what seem to be small things.I’m right there with you as to how to handle it.

  4. My 8 year old step son is going through a similar phase right now – very overemotional about what seem to be small things.I’m right there with you as to how to handle it.

  5. My oldest is only just 3, but he’s just started really talking (he had a ‘mild developmental delay’) and I’m amazed about how much he seems to be processing while he’s playing with his trains or his cuddly toys.I just wondered if you could use play time with toys to discuss emotions.
    It might help with not feeling ‘guilty.’ The strategies that you use sound great to me, and I’ve already found myself having to use them. I just thought that maybe knowing that you’re ‘working on emotions’ in another arena would help with the parental guilt aspect.

  6. My oldest is only just 3, but he’s just started really talking (he had a ‘mild developmental delay’) and I’m amazed about how much he seems to be processing while he’s playing with his trains or his cuddly toys.I just wondered if you could use play time with toys to discuss emotions.
    It might help with not feeling ‘guilty.’ The strategies that you use sound great to me, and I’ve already found myself having to use them. I just thought that maybe knowing that you’re ‘working on emotions’ in another arena would help with the parental guilt aspect.

  7. Yeah! This topic makes me very happy! Sorry, but I’m thrilled to know that I’m not the only one with a rotten 3 and 1/2 year old! (My DD will be 4 in August). She is the source of all joy, but she’s driving me batty!I LOVED age 2, but age 3 is kicking my butt. We’re dealing with all the things we thought we had escaped: whining, clinging, sibling jealousy, drama queen crying, invisible friends who think they can boss Mama, potty talk, grabbing, shouts of “mine!”, etc. Add potty training and needing but not wanting a nap and you’ve got F-U-N!
    OK, ideas.
    1. Try to figure out what behavior she can and can’t control. Enforce where she can control herself, help her where she can’t.
    2. See if you can figure out what she gets out of the drama queen routine. Snuggles? Cuddles? Set up another way to ask. For instance, my daughter can now stop whining and say, “Mama, I need your attention.” (She sometimes pronounces it “tension.” To which I reply, “you’ve got it kid, you’ve got it.”)
    Maybe all the winding up results in a break (or is because she needs a break)? My DD was getting herself into trouble at regular intervals. I finally figured out she was trying to be sent to her room so she could have some quiet time by herself. I explained she could do that anytime she wanted without the trouble. She now excuses herself to go lie down at random times throughout the day (except nap time, of course!).
    One thing I can say for this age: my DD is still brutally honest. (Example: she had an accident on the carpet and I asked her what happened. “I just didn’t feel like going to the potty,” she replied. That kid has GOT to learn to lie better). So if I ask her if those are real tears or fake tears, she’ll tell me. Then I can make suggestions for alternatives. Maybe this would work for your daughter too? It seems that getting her to talk about it might be a start.
    3. Enforce your right to calm home. Expressing your emotions is good, but not any way you want any time you want. That’s just part of growing up. You’re not stifling the kid, you’re teaching her how to get along in the world. Refusing to listen to obnoxious behavior is good– no one else in her life is going to sit there and take it either.
    For behavior that drives me to xanax, I give my DD a choice. She can either behave nicely downstairs in the company of others, or she can go upstairs and act that way with her invisible friend Gordon. (Yes, my kid’s invisible friend is one of the trains from Thomas. The pompous and annoying train from Thomas). Now when I tell her not to do something she’ll ask, “Mama, may I do that upstairs with Gordon?” As often as possible I say yes so that she can have the outlet without my ears being involved.
    4. If she’s sensitive, reward her when she is tough or brave or courageous. As my husband says, “way to rub some dirt on it and get back in the game!” Reward and praise even when she’s borderline brave. It may help her think of herself as brave.
    5. Other ideas: distract, dissuade, reward, bribe, develop ears that “can’t hear X” (the doctor tells me my ears can’t hear whining), give lots of snuggles and attention at other times, help her express herself in other ways, be as consistent as possible, etc.
    Talk to her and explain the rules when everyone is calm, and then calmly (as if!) enforce the rules when she can’t pull it together on her own.
    6. Finally, have a drink and pray that this too will pass. Hell, if you’re in Utah, come have a drink with ME. No one else in this state will!

  8. Yeah! This topic makes me very happy! Sorry, but I’m thrilled to know that I’m not the only one with a rotten 3 and 1/2 year old! (My DD will be 4 in August). She is the source of all joy, but she’s driving me batty!I LOVED age 2, but age 3 is kicking my butt. We’re dealing with all the things we thought we had escaped: whining, clinging, sibling jealousy, drama queen crying, invisible friends who think they can boss Mama, potty talk, grabbing, shouts of “mine!”, etc. Add potty training and needing but not wanting a nap and you’ve got F-U-N!
    OK, ideas.
    1. Try to figure out what behavior she can and can’t control. Enforce where she can control herself, help her where she can’t.
    2. See if you can figure out what she gets out of the drama queen routine. Snuggles? Cuddles? Set up another way to ask. For instance, my daughter can now stop whining and say, “Mama, I need your attention.” (She sometimes pronounces it “tension.” To which I reply, “you’ve got it kid, you’ve got it.”)
    Maybe all the winding up results in a break (or is because she needs a break)? My DD was getting herself into trouble at regular intervals. I finally figured out she was trying to be sent to her room so she could have some quiet time by herself. I explained she could do that anytime she wanted without the trouble. She now excuses herself to go lie down at random times throughout the day (except nap time, of course!).
    One thing I can say for this age: my DD is still brutally honest. (Example: she had an accident on the carpet and I asked her what happened. “I just didn’t feel like going to the potty,” she replied. That kid has GOT to learn to lie better). So if I ask her if those are real tears or fake tears, she’ll tell me. Then I can make suggestions for alternatives. Maybe this would work for your daughter too? It seems that getting her to talk about it might be a start.
    3. Enforce your right to calm home. Expressing your emotions is good, but not any way you want any time you want. That’s just part of growing up. You’re not stifling the kid, you’re teaching her how to get along in the world. Refusing to listen to obnoxious behavior is good– no one else in her life is going to sit there and take it either.
    For behavior that drives me to xanax, I give my DD a choice. She can either behave nicely downstairs in the company of others, or she can go upstairs and act that way with her invisible friend Gordon. (Yes, my kid’s invisible friend is one of the trains from Thomas. The pompous and annoying train from Thomas). Now when I tell her not to do something she’ll ask, “Mama, may I do that upstairs with Gordon?” As often as possible I say yes so that she can have the outlet without my ears being involved.
    4. If she’s sensitive, reward her when she is tough or brave or courageous. As my husband says, “way to rub some dirt on it and get back in the game!” Reward and praise even when she’s borderline brave. It may help her think of herself as brave.
    5. Other ideas: distract, dissuade, reward, bribe, develop ears that “can’t hear X” (the doctor tells me my ears can’t hear whining), give lots of snuggles and attention at other times, help her express herself in other ways, be as consistent as possible, etc.
    Talk to her and explain the rules when everyone is calm, and then calmly (as if!) enforce the rules when she can’t pull it together on her own.
    6. Finally, have a drink and pray that this too will pass. Hell, if you’re in Utah, come have a drink with ME. No one else in this state will!

  9. My son at that age would scream when I cut his fingernails. As if I were removing his actual fingers. Finally one day, I told him I would give him a penny for every fingernail, but ONLY if he did NOT cry, and let him choose what finger to do next. There were lots of hurrays!! you didn’t cry, here’s another penny!!He loves putting pennies into his piggy bank, so afterwards he got to pick which bank, etc. I was astonished – he hasn’t cried once since then. In my specific case, he was trying to manipulate me. But all kids and situations are different. Good luck!

  10. My son at that age would scream when I cut his fingernails. As if I were removing his actual fingers. Finally one day, I told him I would give him a penny for every fingernail, but ONLY if he did NOT cry, and let him choose what finger to do next. There were lots of hurrays!! you didn’t cry, here’s another penny!!He loves putting pennies into his piggy bank, so afterwards he got to pick which bank, etc. I was astonished – he hasn’t cried once since then. In my specific case, he was trying to manipulate me. But all kids and situations are different. Good luck!

  11. Oh boy, can I relate! I’m not sure that there is anything more heart wrenching, and simultaneously irritating, than hearing your own child cry. I am both a parent and a child psychologist. I also have a very expressive daughter who seems to cry louder and feel things deeper than others her age. She constantly challenges my understanding of what’s “normal”.First, have you done any research on sensory integration and temperament? Books such as the Out of Sync Child and Raising Your Spirited Child have been really helpful for me in better understanding my little girl. It’s important for me to remember that a lot of it is biological and that she is not intentionally a sensitive kid.
    That being said, I really feel strongly that it is a parent’s job to help to teach their children how to process emotions. I feel like it is just as important (if not more so) as teaching our kids their ABCs. So, while I agree that it is okay to cry, I don’t think that it is okay to cry so much that it makes others uncomfortable. This is okay at home with parents, but can create major problems for making friends in a school setting. Other kids tend to be less forgiving and comforting when their ears are being hurt by the screams!
    Moxie’s idea of asking a child to cry in the other room works really well at our house. It usually results in my daughter realizing how much she would rather be with us. She can typically turn it around pretty quickly and comes out smiling and telling me she feels better now.
    But, this assumes that a child knows how to calm him or herself down. I spend a lot of time with my own kid, and others, working on this skill. Teaching a child how to identify a feeling at the beginning of an episode is really important. Feeling frustrated or disappointed is often a precursor to feeling overwhelmed with anger or sadness. These are great emotions for kids to learn to identify in themselves and to control. I give every emotion a label, throughout the day, so that my daughter has a vocabulary for the feelings. Then, I teach her how to calm down. We use a calming phrase, such as “relax”, and then work on deep breathing to relax our bodies. We try to be really consistent so that it’s almost automatic to start breathing slowly when she feels frustrated. We also work on using “big girl words” and asking for help in a calm voice.
    Don’t get me wrong, my kid still freaks out about inconsequential things ALL THE TIME!!! But, I am seeing improvement in her. And that helps me to tolerate the noise and tears a little bit better.

  12. Oh boy, can I relate! I’m not sure that there is anything more heart wrenching, and simultaneously irritating, than hearing your own child cry. I am both a parent and a child psychologist. I also have a very expressive daughter who seems to cry louder and feel things deeper than others her age. She constantly challenges my understanding of what’s “normal”.First, have you done any research on sensory integration and temperament? Books such as the Out of Sync Child and Raising Your Spirited Child have been really helpful for me in better understanding my little girl. It’s important for me to remember that a lot of it is biological and that she is not intentionally a sensitive kid.
    That being said, I really feel strongly that it is a parent’s job to help to teach their children how to process emotions. I feel like it is just as important (if not more so) as teaching our kids their ABCs. So, while I agree that it is okay to cry, I don’t think that it is okay to cry so much that it makes others uncomfortable. This is okay at home with parents, but can create major problems for making friends in a school setting. Other kids tend to be less forgiving and comforting when their ears are being hurt by the screams!
    Moxie’s idea of asking a child to cry in the other room works really well at our house. It usually results in my daughter realizing how much she would rather be with us. She can typically turn it around pretty quickly and comes out smiling and telling me she feels better now.
    But, this assumes that a child knows how to calm him or herself down. I spend a lot of time with my own kid, and others, working on this skill. Teaching a child how to identify a feeling at the beginning of an episode is really important. Feeling frustrated or disappointed is often a precursor to feeling overwhelmed with anger or sadness. These are great emotions for kids to learn to identify in themselves and to control. I give every emotion a label, throughout the day, so that my daughter has a vocabulary for the feelings. Then, I teach her how to calm down. We use a calming phrase, such as “relax”, and then work on deep breathing to relax our bodies. We try to be really consistent so that it’s almost automatic to start breathing slowly when she feels frustrated. We also work on using “big girl words” and asking for help in a calm voice.
    Don’t get me wrong, my kid still freaks out about inconsequential things ALL THE TIME!!! But, I am seeing improvement in her. And that helps me to tolerate the noise and tears a little bit better.

  13. 3 year olds are insane, aren’t they?I’ve been trying to teach mine to deep breathe – I hold up a finger and tell her to blow out the candle as many times as it takes to chill her out. I also tell mine that if she wants to cry about some stupid random crap, she can do it in her room.
    Amy @ http://prettybabies.blogspot.com

  14. 3 year olds are insane, aren’t they?I’ve been trying to teach mine to deep breathe – I hold up a finger and tell her to blow out the candle as many times as it takes to chill her out. I also tell mine that if she wants to cry about some stupid random crap, she can do it in her room.
    Amy @ http://prettybabies.blogspot.com

  15. Well, it’s either a phase or it’s not, right? I second the Out of Sync Child and Raising Your Spirited Child rec’s. My daughter never came out of the 3 year old drama (she’s 4.5 now). We gave it 6 months and then had her evaluated (she had always had sensory stuff going on. it just really started escalating at 3.5) by the school system (through their 3-5 early intervention program). She qualified for OT 3 days/week and speech 2 days/week. So, if she doesn’t come out of it relatively soon, and you’re in an area with decent social services, I’d recommend requesting an evaluation for sensory integration issues. They’re very nice about it – and either she’d qualify or she wouldn’t. Either way, good news!(“normal” or would get free help to work on issues).FWIW, there’s a girl in my daughter’s preschool who has lovely looooong hair that is always perfectly groomed. My child has short hair and we have to turn on the tv, give her a piece of candy and hold her down to brush her hair (hair brushing is a particularly difficult thing for her.)We often have to pull her from under the couch and believe me, we’re using a TON of leave-in conditioner and no more tangles. Anyway, I’ve heard through the grapevine that the child’s mother uses a product that is normally used to groom horses. Apparently, it really helps keep the tangles down and the hair nice (this child does have sensory issues, too, so she isn’t just freakishly cooperative). I’m going to ask her what the name of the product is when school resumes (why, NYS, must you have a week off in Feb?!) and I’ll happily share the name of this miracle stuff.

  16. Well, it’s either a phase or it’s not, right? I second the Out of Sync Child and Raising Your Spirited Child rec’s. My daughter never came out of the 3 year old drama (she’s 4.5 now). We gave it 6 months and then had her evaluated (she had always had sensory stuff going on. it just really started escalating at 3.5) by the school system (through their 3-5 early intervention program). She qualified for OT 3 days/week and speech 2 days/week. So, if she doesn’t come out of it relatively soon, and you’re in an area with decent social services, I’d recommend requesting an evaluation for sensory integration issues. They’re very nice about it – and either she’d qualify or she wouldn’t. Either way, good news!(“normal” or would get free help to work on issues).FWIW, there’s a girl in my daughter’s preschool who has lovely looooong hair that is always perfectly groomed. My child has short hair and we have to turn on the tv, give her a piece of candy and hold her down to brush her hair (hair brushing is a particularly difficult thing for her.)We often have to pull her from under the couch and believe me, we’re using a TON of leave-in conditioner and no more tangles. Anyway, I’ve heard through the grapevine that the child’s mother uses a product that is normally used to groom horses. Apparently, it really helps keep the tangles down and the hair nice (this child does have sensory issues, too, so she isn’t just freakishly cooperative). I’m going to ask her what the name of the product is when school resumes (why, NYS, must you have a week off in Feb?!) and I’ll happily share the name of this miracle stuff.

  17. Been there! I was just thinking how almost 3 and almost 4 were just awful, whereas almost 5 (Mouse’s current age) is clingy and frustrated but much more dealable. We did a lot of the above–you can cry but you can’t cry here, help (usually body hugs) with pulling it together when you’re ready, bravery prizes and bribes. She definitely developed a fakey cry around this age, and I always handled that with “give me a break, either tell me what’s going on or move on” (hopefully said nicely but alas not always).But at some point it got better–I don’t think it was any magic bullet though. Now, fairly often, I can say something like “oh ouch, that’s a bummer–let’s keep going right now because it’s about to rain” and she will pull herself together and keep walking. I’m trying to make sure and reinforce that explicitly as much as I can. “Sweetie, I know you just bumped your head and you’d rather not hurry, so I really appreciate that you’re cooperating and getting in the car without a fuss so we can be on time.” So…it will pass, and hang in there! Not much more to offer.

  18. Been there! I was just thinking how almost 3 and almost 4 were just awful, whereas almost 5 (Mouse’s current age) is clingy and frustrated but much more dealable. We did a lot of the above–you can cry but you can’t cry here, help (usually body hugs) with pulling it together when you’re ready, bravery prizes and bribes. She definitely developed a fakey cry around this age, and I always handled that with “give me a break, either tell me what’s going on or move on” (hopefully said nicely but alas not always).But at some point it got better–I don’t think it was any magic bullet though. Now, fairly often, I can say something like “oh ouch, that’s a bummer–let’s keep going right now because it’s about to rain” and she will pull herself together and keep walking. I’m trying to make sure and reinforce that explicitly as much as I can. “Sweetie, I know you just bumped your head and you’d rather not hurry, so I really appreciate that you’re cooperating and getting in the car without a fuss so we can be on time.” So…it will pass, and hang in there! Not much more to offer.

  19. Wow, once I started reading this, I actually had to scroll back up to see who wrote the letter, becaase I was sure it was my husband writing about our daughter, who will be four in June. Oddly enough, she usually tries to put on a brave face when she gets physically hurt, but the slightest emotional hurt or disappointment will bring on the tears.Our process for getting her to calm down is, in this order:
    1) Let her cry for a minute or two, then gently tell her she needs to calm down.
    2) If she won’t settle down, give her some mildly unpleasant thing that will happen if she keeps on going (TV goes off, toys get put away, she has to sit by herself, etc)
    3) Implement action in #2. Screaming usually increases with this, but hopefully it’s teaching her there are consequences to acting like a drama queen.
    4) Rub her back, help her take deep breaths, help her talk about what’s bothering her, remind her that when she calms down she can resume her fun activities, etc.
    5) Bang head on wall.
    6) Repeat from #4 until she finally gets a grip.
    7) Praise her lavishly for being able to settle down.
    8) Resume life.
    Oh, and I will shamelessly confess that I sneak into her room and clip her fingernails by flashlight after she falls asleep. I highly recommend this!

  20. Wow, once I started reading this, I actually had to scroll back up to see who wrote the letter, becaase I was sure it was my husband writing about our daughter, who will be four in June. Oddly enough, she usually tries to put on a brave face when she gets physically hurt, but the slightest emotional hurt or disappointment will bring on the tears.Our process for getting her to calm down is, in this order:
    1) Let her cry for a minute or two, then gently tell her she needs to calm down.
    2) If she won’t settle down, give her some mildly unpleasant thing that will happen if she keeps on going (TV goes off, toys get put away, she has to sit by herself, etc)
    3) Implement action in #2. Screaming usually increases with this, but hopefully it’s teaching her there are consequences to acting like a drama queen.
    4) Rub her back, help her take deep breaths, help her talk about what’s bothering her, remind her that when she calms down she can resume her fun activities, etc.
    5) Bang head on wall.
    6) Repeat from #4 until she finally gets a grip.
    7) Praise her lavishly for being able to settle down.
    8) Resume life.
    Oh, and I will shamelessly confess that I sneak into her room and clip her fingernails by flashlight after she falls asleep. I highly recommend this!

  21. I’ll preface this by saying that I have *NO* experience in raising a 4 year old, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt (or 10).The thing that stuck out for me in Caro’s e-mail was the fact that her daughter is sensitive and really expressive. Which, could be a hint that maybe she’s a ‘gifted’ (I know…that term is loaded, but I have no other word) kid – that she experiences emotions at a much more intense level than the average person. So, while it brings extra crying & drama, it also brings amazing abilities for expression and things that thrive on sensitivity – art, music, etc. Perhaps something to keep an eye on to see if it lasts past the terrible 3.5 ish stage?
    Lawprofmom has great suggestions, esp. #3 (even if she experiences really intense emotions, she still has to learn how to have a balanced approach to not drive herself crazy, and to get along in the world), and to help her figure out what it is she really wants, and then how to ask for it. Though I think it’s a good idea to reward when she displays toughness/courage/bravery to encourage that balance in her, I would also make a point of not making sensitivity out to be something ‘bad’…because it’s not. Sensitivity itself is good. It’s just the expression of it that sometimes needs management / re-framing etc.
    Anyhow, just some food for thought if this re-surfaces down the line. 2 cents from a very sensitive person (but not a drama queen 🙂 ) who has often been told she ‘cries too much’ or ‘feels too much’ or is ‘too sensitive’, luckily, never by her parents.
    @Lawprofmom “way to rub some dirt on it and get back in the game!” … I am so stealing that line to use on my DS!!!

  22. I’ll preface this by saying that I have *NO* experience in raising a 4 year old, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt (or 10).The thing that stuck out for me in Caro’s e-mail was the fact that her daughter is sensitive and really expressive. Which, could be a hint that maybe she’s a ‘gifted’ (I know…that term is loaded, but I have no other word) kid – that she experiences emotions at a much more intense level than the average person. So, while it brings extra crying & drama, it also brings amazing abilities for expression and things that thrive on sensitivity – art, music, etc. Perhaps something to keep an eye on to see if it lasts past the terrible 3.5 ish stage?
    Lawprofmom has great suggestions, esp. #3 (even if she experiences really intense emotions, she still has to learn how to have a balanced approach to not drive herself crazy, and to get along in the world), and to help her figure out what it is she really wants, and then how to ask for it. Though I think it’s a good idea to reward when she displays toughness/courage/bravery to encourage that balance in her, I would also make a point of not making sensitivity out to be something ‘bad’…because it’s not. Sensitivity itself is good. It’s just the expression of it that sometimes needs management / re-framing etc.
    Anyhow, just some food for thought if this re-surfaces down the line. 2 cents from a very sensitive person (but not a drama queen 🙂 ) who has often been told she ‘cries too much’ or ‘feels too much’ or is ‘too sensitive’, luckily, never by her parents.
    @Lawprofmom “way to rub some dirt on it and get back in the game!” … I am so stealing that line to use on my DS!!!

  23. My boy had a fake laugh at 3.5. More like a cackle that just went on and on, long after the initial joke stopped being funny. I think most kids at this age are drama queens/kings. He figured out quickly that fake crying got him isolated (go to your room to make that noise) but we tolerated laughing for longer. So he laughed. and laughed. and laughed. It was like living in a fun house. But then it stopped.

  24. My boy had a fake laugh at 3.5. More like a cackle that just went on and on, long after the initial joke stopped being funny. I think most kids at this age are drama queens/kings. He figured out quickly that fake crying got him isolated (go to your room to make that noise) but we tolerated laughing for longer. So he laughed. and laughed. and laughed. It was like living in a fun house. But then it stopped.

  25. I was just fantasizing last night about a boarding school for 3 year olds! I was also composing an email to Moxie about dealing with a 3.5 year old who just got a new sibling at home and is pulling a LOT of this stuff and what is the best way to give him the attention he so badly needs while not losing my shit because I’m soooooooooo tiiiiiiiiired and can’t we all JUST GO TO BED ALREADY?????The only thing I have about the constant crying that won’t stop is to get down on his level, get him to look me in the eyes and say, “Let’s start over, huh?” which usually gives him an out to drop the dramatics and move on. He’ll usually say “Okay” in his weepy, snuffling voice, and we’ll change the subject and move on.

  26. I was just fantasizing last night about a boarding school for 3 year olds! I was also composing an email to Moxie about dealing with a 3.5 year old who just got a new sibling at home and is pulling a LOT of this stuff and what is the best way to give him the attention he so badly needs while not losing my shit because I’m soooooooooo tiiiiiiiiired and can’t we all JUST GO TO BED ALREADY?????The only thing I have about the constant crying that won’t stop is to get down on his level, get him to look me in the eyes and say, “Let’s start over, huh?” which usually gives him an out to drop the dramatics and move on. He’ll usually say “Okay” in his weepy, snuffling voice, and we’ll change the subject and move on.

  27. My daughter also never really came out of the 3.5 drama (she will be 5 in June). We have chalked it up to personality, although the school is pushing us to evaluate for OT. I keep meaning to do it, but the thought of having all of these conversations makes me crazy (my little one was evaluated, and rejected, for speech therapy). Selfish on my part and could be helping her, so I will do it.Anyway, at various times we’ve tried isolating her until she can calm down, distraction, talking about her feelings to death. I never know what, if anything, will work or if it will just peter out. Most of it is emotional stuff that sets her off (as opposed to hair brushing, nail clipping, etc.)–with the exception of loud noises–like today when I picked her up from a playdate and expressed (to her only) mild horror that she had spent the whole hour watching TV (this was a kid she sees every day but only plays with outside of school very occasionally) and told her that her usual half hour of PBS before dinner would be suspended. This caused a tantrum, which she then blamed on not being able to have a sleepover with the child with whom she had “played” because she “loves him so much.”
    Whatever. It takes all of my willpower to get through the day without turning around and screaming, “THIS IS SUCH BULLSHIT!” ‘Cause a lot of times it is. She knows it, too.
    Sorry if this is not helpful…it’s been a long week already, on the heels of a week of school vacation.

  28. My daughter also never really came out of the 3.5 drama (she will be 5 in June). We have chalked it up to personality, although the school is pushing us to evaluate for OT. I keep meaning to do it, but the thought of having all of these conversations makes me crazy (my little one was evaluated, and rejected, for speech therapy). Selfish on my part and could be helping her, so I will do it.Anyway, at various times we’ve tried isolating her until she can calm down, distraction, talking about her feelings to death. I never know what, if anything, will work or if it will just peter out. Most of it is emotional stuff that sets her off (as opposed to hair brushing, nail clipping, etc.)–with the exception of loud noises–like today when I picked her up from a playdate and expressed (to her only) mild horror that she had spent the whole hour watching TV (this was a kid she sees every day but only plays with outside of school very occasionally) and told her that her usual half hour of PBS before dinner would be suspended. This caused a tantrum, which she then blamed on not being able to have a sleepover with the child with whom she had “played” because she “loves him so much.”
    Whatever. It takes all of my willpower to get through the day without turning around and screaming, “THIS IS SUCH BULLSHIT!” ‘Cause a lot of times it is. She knows it, too.
    Sorry if this is not helpful…it’s been a long week already, on the heels of a week of school vacation.

  29. Wow…my son turned 4 in late September and he’s still pulling the over-reactive responses, but mostly when he’s been told “no” for something. What? I won’t let you have a cheezy cracker for breakfast? End of the world. No ice cream before dinner? Travesty.Lately we’ve had to resort to extreme measures (lose a toy, extended quiet time, loss of privileges) just to get heard. Then, once he’s knocked the crap off and apologized for being rude (because generally this tantrum comes with name calling and/or hitting, kicking, etc), he gets praise for the gesture and we talk about earning back whatever he’s lost.
    I’ve got a nice pile of Star Wars toys, cars and small pointy things in my bedroom. At the rate he’s going, they’ll still be here when he starts high school.

  30. Wow…my son turned 4 in late September and he’s still pulling the over-reactive responses, but mostly when he’s been told “no” for something. What? I won’t let you have a cheezy cracker for breakfast? End of the world. No ice cream before dinner? Travesty.Lately we’ve had to resort to extreme measures (lose a toy, extended quiet time, loss of privileges) just to get heard. Then, once he’s knocked the crap off and apologized for being rude (because generally this tantrum comes with name calling and/or hitting, kicking, etc), he gets praise for the gesture and we talk about earning back whatever he’s lost.
    I’ve got a nice pile of Star Wars toys, cars and small pointy things in my bedroom. At the rate he’s going, they’ll still be here when he starts high school.

  31. I heard a child psychologist speak once and she suggested talking with children about “you can be a little bit sad” or “very sad”. Some things are a little bit bad and so you feel a little sad. My son has not yet hit three years, so I have no idea if this actually works.

  32. I heard a child psychologist speak once and she suggested talking with children about “you can be a little bit sad” or “very sad”. Some things are a little bit bad and so you feel a little sad. My son has not yet hit three years, so I have no idea if this actually works.

  33. 3.5 was HORRIBLE. I can’t believe we both lived through it, and I’m sure we’ll both be processing it in therapy for years to come! However, it does get better, even if you make bad parenting choices like screaming at her in the middle of the night “GO TO SLEEP! YOU HAVE TO SLEEP! THIS IS WHEN PEOPLE SLEEP!”I am still dealing with some of this though, at 5 (and a quarter!). I think it’s partly because we have a difficult domestic situation right now, and partly her personality, and partly (I’m sorry to say) that I have not done a good job of setting those boundaries thus far. What can I say? I don’t do it so well for myself, don’t know how to do it with her. But I’m working on it.
    I’m definitely going to adopt the “do it in your room with [whatever imaginary friend has precedence today…]” technique, as well as ‘a little bit sad’ or ‘very sad’. Oh, and I’ve got to keep working on naming emotions through the day.

  34. 3.5 was HORRIBLE. I can’t believe we both lived through it, and I’m sure we’ll both be processing it in therapy for years to come! However, it does get better, even if you make bad parenting choices like screaming at her in the middle of the night “GO TO SLEEP! YOU HAVE TO SLEEP! THIS IS WHEN PEOPLE SLEEP!”I am still dealing with some of this though, at 5 (and a quarter!). I think it’s partly because we have a difficult domestic situation right now, and partly her personality, and partly (I’m sorry to say) that I have not done a good job of setting those boundaries thus far. What can I say? I don’t do it so well for myself, don’t know how to do it with her. But I’m working on it.
    I’m definitely going to adopt the “do it in your room with [whatever imaginary friend has precedence today…]” technique, as well as ‘a little bit sad’ or ‘very sad’. Oh, and I’ve got to keep working on naming emotions through the day.

  35. @sueinithaca the horse stuff (this from a horse person) is called Show Sheen and is slippery as all get out. It’s basically a varnish you put on their coats and tails and it should work fine for kids’ hair, too. It comes in spray bottles and should be available at any farm supply or tack (saddlery) store, or via, e.g., statelinetack.com. Let it dry before you try to comb it out, and I’d advise trying to avoid breathing the mist — the stuff is in any case probably not appropriate for the organic set, but I do know of horsey moms who’ve used it in their kids’ hair, and once it’s dry I’d guess it pretty much stays put (also maybe not optimal for kids who put their hair in their mouths, however).@Moxie — wait, are you telling me there aren’t already preschooler boarding schools? Geez, why didn’t I get that memo before finding myself here (slaps self on forehead).

  36. Same, same, same. I only wish I was handling it as well as Caro. Becaiuse my way of coping is “Hey! Dramarama! can you use your words?”Just telling her that she has to use her words and I will help her makes a difference. I am stealing many of these tricks, though!

  37. Same, same, same. I only wish I was handling it as well as Caro. Becaiuse my way of coping is “Hey! Dramarama! can you use your words?”Just telling her that she has to use her words and I will help her makes a difference. I am stealing many of these tricks, though!

  38. One more book to consider: Tears and Tantrums: What to Do When Babies and Children Cry by Aletha Jauch Solter. I have it on order from Amazon, so I haven’t read it yet. But someone recommended it to me.”Children use tears and tantrums to release tension brought on by frustrating or frightening experiences as well as to express urgent feelings such as hunger, chills, or pain. Solter teaches parents and other caregivers about the psychological and physical benefits to children of crying and raging; the causes of crying in infants and older children; the implications of repressing tears and strong emotions, which include behavioral problems and stress-related illnesses; and providing emotional safety to encourage healing. Drawing on scholarship, professional and personal experience, and parents’ reactions to the crying workshops she conducts, Solter offers practical, compassionate solutions to problems posed by children’s emotional pain and strong feelings and the childhood memories and hurts that children’s pain and feelings can evoke in their parents. Her empathic tone, clear writing, and knowledgeable advice help make her handbook a welcome addition to parenting literature.”
    http://www.amazon.com/Tears-Tantrums-What-Babies-Children/dp/0961307366

  39. One more book to consider: Tears and Tantrums: What to Do When Babies and Children Cry by Aletha Jauch Solter. I have it on order from Amazon, so I haven’t read it yet. But someone recommended it to me.”Children use tears and tantrums to release tension brought on by frustrating or frightening experiences as well as to express urgent feelings such as hunger, chills, or pain. Solter teaches parents and other caregivers about the psychological and physical benefits to children of crying and raging; the causes of crying in infants and older children; the implications of repressing tears and strong emotions, which include behavioral problems and stress-related illnesses; and providing emotional safety to encourage healing. Drawing on scholarship, professional and personal experience, and parents’ reactions to the crying workshops she conducts, Solter offers practical, compassionate solutions to problems posed by children’s emotional pain and strong feelings and the childhood memories and hurts that children’s pain and feelings can evoke in their parents. Her empathic tone, clear writing, and knowledgeable advice help make her handbook a welcome addition to parenting literature.”
    http://www.amazon.com/Tears-Tantrums-What-Babies-Children/dp/0961307366

  40. @ Alex. Thanks for the name! I’ll have to do some research because I definitely lean toward the crunchy. I may be desperate enough to compromise my usual buying habits, though. Hairbrushing is a bitch.

  41. @ Alex. Thanks for the name! I’ll have to do some research because I definitely lean toward the crunchy. I may be desperate enough to compromise my usual buying habits, though. Hairbrushing is a bitch.

  42. @sueinithaca and alex: I have really long hair and also used to use Mane and Tail. We got it at W@lmart when I was younger, but I don’t know if they still carry it or if you have to go to a feed/tack store. It was just shampoo and conditioner, but the conditioner was really….condition-y?I have a 2 year old, so am no help to the current conversation. I think I will just stop reading now, because I’m really enjoying 2! (And my 3 month old slept for 6 hours last night! Today will be a good day.)

  43. @sueinithaca and alex: I have really long hair and also used to use Mane and Tail. We got it at W@lmart when I was younger, but I don’t know if they still carry it or if you have to go to a feed/tack store. It was just shampoo and conditioner, but the conditioner was really….condition-y?I have a 2 year old, so am no help to the current conversation. I think I will just stop reading now, because I’m really enjoying 2! (And my 3 month old slept for 6 hours last night! Today will be a good day.)

  44. I went through this and support the idea of crying in his/her room. I think it’s completely fair to everyone – child and other family members. Each person needs to learn that they are not the only person in the family – not that they are not important, but that they affect everyone else and vice versa. And this is something that you never stop learning, IMO. I also really like Amy’s idea of blowing on the finger and will also try that when I’m trying to get my kids to calm down. The only other things I can think of are walking the kid through what’s going to happen (we are now going to cut your fingernails, we have done this before, it won’t hurt, please listen to mommy and trust me) and praising the few and far between times when the child does not freak out over something.

  45. I went through this and support the idea of crying in his/her room. I think it’s completely fair to everyone – child and other family members. Each person needs to learn that they are not the only person in the family – not that they are not important, but that they affect everyone else and vice versa. And this is something that you never stop learning, IMO. I also really like Amy’s idea of blowing on the finger and will also try that when I’m trying to get my kids to calm down. The only other things I can think of are walking the kid through what’s going to happen (we are now going to cut your fingernails, we have done this before, it won’t hurt, please listen to mommy and trust me) and praising the few and far between times when the child does not freak out over something.

  46. Wow. 3 1/2 was challenging. La had this cry that was really gutwrenching, and it took quite a while for me to come out of that to be able to judge the severity of the actual offense.Sometimes it’s helpful (and it might take a Hey-Hey-Hey to get her attention) to review what she’s feeling (So, what you’re saying is, you tripped and it hurt your knee and it’s no fun? I hate when that happens too.)
    For tasks that she just doesn’t want to do, sometimes you can find a way to minimize them – La would not put up with combing/brushing or hair pretties, so her hair was pretty short for quite a while and we started using detangler. For nail cutting, you can combine it with having her toenails painted the color she picks, or I liked the penny-per-nail reward idea.
    Partial credit is always helpful too – positive feedback for whenever something is handled in a “big kid” manner (or if some aspect was handled in a big kid manner) is nice to do.

  47. Wow. 3 1/2 was challenging. La had this cry that was really gutwrenching, and it took quite a while for me to come out of that to be able to judge the severity of the actual offense.Sometimes it’s helpful (and it might take a Hey-Hey-Hey to get her attention) to review what she’s feeling (So, what you’re saying is, you tripped and it hurt your knee and it’s no fun? I hate when that happens too.)
    For tasks that she just doesn’t want to do, sometimes you can find a way to minimize them – La would not put up with combing/brushing or hair pretties, so her hair was pretty short for quite a while and we started using detangler. For nail cutting, you can combine it with having her toenails painted the color she picks, or I liked the penny-per-nail reward idea.
    Partial credit is always helpful too – positive feedback for whenever something is handled in a “big kid” manner (or if some aspect was handled in a big kid manner) is nice to do.

  48. @milliner – I had the very same thoughts that you did.My wee beastie hasn’t hit three yet, so I can’t speak from my parenting experience here. But, as a child that was frequently accused of being too sensitive and crying too much, I have very strong personal emotions tied up with this kind of thing.
    I know my crying and sensitivity drove my parents crazy, really I do and I can sympathize. But, I feel like many of the things they did in response to it actually made it worse. I would cry when something upset me. My parents never really seemed sympathetic to my distress. They either ignored me or brushed it off. Because I did not feel like I was being acknowledged, I would escalate my crying. This would lead my parents to frustration, and they would start getting impatient with me. This just distressed me more, so I’d ramp it up more. Until I’d get yelled at. Then I would shut myself down.
    What I eventually learned from this is that my feelings were not valid, that my parents didn’t want to hear about it, and that there was something wrong with me. What I did not learn from this was how to control my responses to my emotions or that for some kids, being sensitive is normal.
    I’ll never know if this pattern resulted in the depression I’ve struggled with since I was a child, or if the depression is what lead to the sensitivity. I have a feeling that they both feed each other into a downward spiral.
    I’m not saying this to make anyone feel bad about how they are treating their children’s crying and tantrums. I’ve had to leave the room on a few occasions when my two year old has been tantruming. Ignoring bad behavior can be a good idea as long as the desired behavior is rewarded. I’d just encourage people to make the overall goal to be validating your child’s feelings and teaching them more appropriate ways to handle their emotions. I’ve seen some great ideas in the responses posted already and I’m taking notes for the future.

  49. @milliner – I had the very same thoughts that you did.My wee beastie hasn’t hit three yet, so I can’t speak from my parenting experience here. But, as a child that was frequently accused of being too sensitive and crying too much, I have very strong personal emotions tied up with this kind of thing.
    I know my crying and sensitivity drove my parents crazy, really I do and I can sympathize. But, I feel like many of the things they did in response to it actually made it worse. I would cry when something upset me. My parents never really seemed sympathetic to my distress. They either ignored me or brushed it off. Because I did not feel like I was being acknowledged, I would escalate my crying. This would lead my parents to frustration, and they would start getting impatient with me. This just distressed me more, so I’d ramp it up more. Until I’d get yelled at. Then I would shut myself down.
    What I eventually learned from this is that my feelings were not valid, that my parents didn’t want to hear about it, and that there was something wrong with me. What I did not learn from this was how to control my responses to my emotions or that for some kids, being sensitive is normal.
    I’ll never know if this pattern resulted in the depression I’ve struggled with since I was a child, or if the depression is what lead to the sensitivity. I have a feeling that they both feed each other into a downward spiral.
    I’m not saying this to make anyone feel bad about how they are treating their children’s crying and tantrums. I’ve had to leave the room on a few occasions when my two year old has been tantruming. Ignoring bad behavior can be a good idea as long as the desired behavior is rewarded. I’d just encourage people to make the overall goal to be validating your child’s feelings and teaching them more appropriate ways to handle their emotions. I’ve seen some great ideas in the responses posted already and I’m taking notes for the future.

  50. AAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!we *just* listened to a tantrum about using the upstairs potty vs. the downstairs one. really? wtf? i told my husband i feel like a hostage negotiator- or one of those people that talks folks down from a ledge. ugh. believe me, (and like julie, much depends on how much sleep i got the night before) some days/times i handle it a lot better than others.
    on a good day, we let pnut know that we know she’s frustrated, it’s ok to feel emotions, etc. but when she cries on and on about whatever, it frustrates us, too. i like the idea of giving her “somewhere else” to express her feelings. on a bad day, i’ll admit i’ve been known to tell her to just shut it already and let’s all move on.
    add to that an 8 month old who hates sleeping and is teething, and it’s a big barrel of fun here at casa de legume.
    don’t even get me started on the pre-k application process here in nyc. maybe i need a do-over!

  51. @ Maria, our daughter is only 2, but we are also guilty of shouting “It’s nighttime, go to sleep!” at 3 a.m.I feel what everyone is saying-freak-outs over hair styling, nail clipping, refusing naps, etc. But you’re telling me this isn’t just a ‘terrible twos’ phenomenon?? I need to buy a vineyard to keep up with my future wine needs.
    “Raising Your Spirited Child” is a wonderful book, and if the author would come and live at my house, all would be right with the world.

  52. @ Maria, our daughter is only 2, but we are also guilty of shouting “It’s nighttime, go to sleep!” at 3 a.m.I feel what everyone is saying-freak-outs over hair styling, nail clipping, refusing naps, etc. But you’re telling me this isn’t just a ‘terrible twos’ phenomenon?? I need to buy a vineyard to keep up with my future wine needs.
    “Raising Your Spirited Child” is a wonderful book, and if the author would come and live at my house, all would be right with the world.

  53. It may just be a phase but check this outsensory integration disorder or sensory processing disorder.
    I now know my son just processes things different and is not being a pain in the butt.

  54. Oh, yeah.I do recommend looking into The Out of Synch Child, or The Highly Sensitive Child or (my personal favorite) Sensational Kids (by one of the major experts consulted by the authors of the other two books).
    My kids all have some kind of borderline sensory processing issue – just enough to be a problem, not enough to be a crisis. Whee.
    Interestingly, the ones who are loudest and most dramatic about their feelings are not the ones who are most sensitive to the physical reaction of those feelings. It is the ones who are LEAST physically sensitive to the feelings who drag them out on and on most of the time (at least at that age). It is almost like they’re doing it because they’re not really sure how much is the right reaction, and are kind of winging it. Like they’re guessing how much is the right amount of upset for this, expression-wise.
    And, for two of them, they learned to use their voices as weapons (the two who can hit that eardrum exploding E above high C at full volume). We apply a little Safe Respectful Kind to that issue – ‘we don’t hurt people with our voices, just like we don’t hurt them with our hands. Not safe.’
    We also do the ‘you can go continue that elsewhere’ but that only worked for one of the two at that age. Mr B would panic if separated from people (ignore or separate were his two biggest terrors – not even ‘fear’ but serious white-faced panic reaction), so that wasn’t a good option for him. Miss M is okay with this to the point that she’ll go take her sobbing self upstairs without even mentioning it. But… well, Mr B, we had to help him learn how to identify his feelings in a more fine-tuned way, help him figure out what his triggers were, how to spot when they were coming (because one of his issues was the very sudden-ness of the emotional reaction – it took him by suprise, came out of nowhere and grabbed him and shook him in its jaws, and he really did not know that it was something that was a) HIS, and b) POSSIBLE to manage. He just didn’t see how that could be right!). Once we helped him figure out how to feel the signs of the upset coming on, and made sure he knew that he could ask for help de-escalating himself, it was a whole different planet. (The Explosive Child is good for that, especially if there are any developmental disabilities – including speech delay and sensory issues – involved.)
    So, our methods:
    1) Make sure they understand how to tell when a feeling is coming, and know what to do when it is there. Modeling the same feeling in myself at another time (repeatedly) and talking out how I handle it is a basic move. Especially when I’ve been really calm and on top of things, my kids start thinking that I never EVER feel that way, myself – they don’t see me acting like them, so they assume that I can’t possibly be FEELING like them. It’s a very lonely and powerless place to be, which may be why they advertise the misery so much – please join me in my misery so I don’t feel so alone with it!
    2) That said, normalizing the feeling also means saying ‘this feeling is normal, the feeling is acceptable, the expression of the feeling causing a problem for others is not part of how we do things in this house.’ I’m glad to help them with their feeling, caretaking, problem-solving, etc., but I don’t need to accept and allow all behaviors. Like Sharon has said before, be true to your own limit, and you’ll respond fairly and not punitively. Let them run you past your limit (which is more our fault than theirs) and our reactions tend to be less appropriate. So, when you see that you are reaching ‘I have had enough of this’, be honest about it. Better to do so before it becomes ‘I have had so much more than enough of this that I’m ready to throw you in your room and lock the door for a week!’ 🙂
    3) “When you are ready” is useful. “When you’re ready to come for a hug and a cuddle, let me know. I would love to give you a hug and a cuddle, but I don’t do it when people are hurting my ears. You let me know when you are ready.” The whinge and scream turns off very rapidly sometimes – they were just announcing the need, and were stuck in the announce part. If I prompt them for the next step, it works. It is like the pyschology studies of ruminating versus objective problem-solving for emotions in adults. People who spend a lot of time ruminating on a feeling (chewing it over, sitting in the feeling, turning it over and over in their minds) tend toward more depression and anxiety. A little rumination to get a sense of the shape of the feeling, cause, issues, tie-ins, whatever, that’s fine. But more than a little and you start getting stuck in rumination mode, and can’t get out. People who are able to shift quickly from ruminating to objectively looking at their situation and problem-solving on it are the most resilient. So, teaching the problem-solving on the other side of it is useful. JUST ‘go off and handle that elsewhere’ is the first part, and it is important to come back and problem-solve as the next part (at least have the opportunity to do so – often they don’t need anything other than a sympathetic nod and a cuddle, because they’ve determined on their own that it wasn’t that big a deal or they know how to handle it).
    RE: Hair combing. We suck at hair combing. We have lovely stories about hair combing (the fairies come and leave jewels in Miss M’s hair, and tie knots around the jewels to keep them from falling out where they’ll be stolen by the bad elves…), and we have hair detangler that works pretty well (super-fine hair so anything substantial will make it gross instantly), but the best case is actually (I think) a Paul Mitchell product that is like lotion that we put on her hair after washing, and it keeps it from getting tangled in the first place. It’s like a leave-in conditioner, I’ll have to look at the bottle to see what it is, exactly.

  55. Oh, yeah.I do recommend looking into The Out of Synch Child, or The Highly Sensitive Child or (my personal favorite) Sensational Kids (by one of the major experts consulted by the authors of the other two books).
    My kids all have some kind of borderline sensory processing issue – just enough to be a problem, not enough to be a crisis. Whee.
    Interestingly, the ones who are loudest and most dramatic about their feelings are not the ones who are most sensitive to the physical reaction of those feelings. It is the ones who are LEAST physically sensitive to the feelings who drag them out on and on most of the time (at least at that age). It is almost like they’re doing it because they’re not really sure how much is the right reaction, and are kind of winging it. Like they’re guessing how much is the right amount of upset for this, expression-wise.
    And, for two of them, they learned to use their voices as weapons (the two who can hit that eardrum exploding E above high C at full volume). We apply a little Safe Respectful Kind to that issue – ‘we don’t hurt people with our voices, just like we don’t hurt them with our hands. Not safe.’
    We also do the ‘you can go continue that elsewhere’ but that only worked for one of the two at that age. Mr B would panic if separated from people (ignore or separate were his two biggest terrors – not even ‘fear’ but serious white-faced panic reaction), so that wasn’t a good option for him. Miss M is okay with this to the point that she’ll go take her sobbing self upstairs without even mentioning it. But… well, Mr B, we had to help him learn how to identify his feelings in a more fine-tuned way, help him figure out what his triggers were, how to spot when they were coming (because one of his issues was the very sudden-ness of the emotional reaction – it took him by suprise, came out of nowhere and grabbed him and shook him in its jaws, and he really did not know that it was something that was a) HIS, and b) POSSIBLE to manage. He just didn’t see how that could be right!). Once we helped him figure out how to feel the signs of the upset coming on, and made sure he knew that he could ask for help de-escalating himself, it was a whole different planet. (The Explosive Child is good for that, especially if there are any developmental disabilities – including speech delay and sensory issues – involved.)
    So, our methods:
    1) Make sure they understand how to tell when a feeling is coming, and know what to do when it is there. Modeling the same feeling in myself at another time (repeatedly) and talking out how I handle it is a basic move. Especially when I’ve been really calm and on top of things, my kids start thinking that I never EVER feel that way, myself – they don’t see me acting like them, so they assume that I can’t possibly be FEELING like them. It’s a very lonely and powerless place to be, which may be why they advertise the misery so much – please join me in my misery so I don’t feel so alone with it!
    2) That said, normalizing the feeling also means saying ‘this feeling is normal, the feeling is acceptable, the expression of the feeling causing a problem for others is not part of how we do things in this house.’ I’m glad to help them with their feeling, caretaking, problem-solving, etc., but I don’t need to accept and allow all behaviors. Like Sharon has said before, be true to your own limit, and you’ll respond fairly and not punitively. Let them run you past your limit (which is more our fault than theirs) and our reactions tend to be less appropriate. So, when you see that you are reaching ‘I have had enough of this’, be honest about it. Better to do so before it becomes ‘I have had so much more than enough of this that I’m ready to throw you in your room and lock the door for a week!’ 🙂
    3) “When you are ready” is useful. “When you’re ready to come for a hug and a cuddle, let me know. I would love to give you a hug and a cuddle, but I don’t do it when people are hurting my ears. You let me know when you are ready.” The whinge and scream turns off very rapidly sometimes – they were just announcing the need, and were stuck in the announce part. If I prompt them for the next step, it works. It is like the pyschology studies of ruminating versus objective problem-solving for emotions in adults. People who spend a lot of time ruminating on a feeling (chewing it over, sitting in the feeling, turning it over and over in their minds) tend toward more depression and anxiety. A little rumination to get a sense of the shape of the feeling, cause, issues, tie-ins, whatever, that’s fine. But more than a little and you start getting stuck in rumination mode, and can’t get out. People who are able to shift quickly from ruminating to objectively looking at their situation and problem-solving on it are the most resilient. So, teaching the problem-solving on the other side of it is useful. JUST ‘go off and handle that elsewhere’ is the first part, and it is important to come back and problem-solve as the next part (at least have the opportunity to do so – often they don’t need anything other than a sympathetic nod and a cuddle, because they’ve determined on their own that it wasn’t that big a deal or they know how to handle it).
    RE: Hair combing. We suck at hair combing. We have lovely stories about hair combing (the fairies come and leave jewels in Miss M’s hair, and tie knots around the jewels to keep them from falling out where they’ll be stolen by the bad elves…), and we have hair detangler that works pretty well (super-fine hair so anything substantial will make it gross instantly), but the best case is actually (I think) a Paul Mitchell product that is like lotion that we put on her hair after washing, and it keeps it from getting tangled in the first place. It’s like a leave-in conditioner, I’ll have to look at the bottle to see what it is, exactly.

  56. Oh man. I dread the onset of this issue (my little one is just 15 months).I fear that my response to excessive crying will be all tangled up and complicated by my own remembered childhood experiences. My mom didn’t put up with crying — I don’t remember how it went when I was a toddler, but I do remember, as an older child, hiding in my room and crying as quietly as possible so that my mom wouldn’t hear me. (She was *not* abusive, just stern and rather unsympathetic to expressions of negative emotion.) Possibly as a result, I never got very good at safely expressing negative emotions, and I started self-injuring when I was 15.
    So, um, basically I have no *idea* what I’ll do if/when my little one starts exhibiting behavior like the kid in the original question. I got freaked out enough when he started with the toddler head-banging behavior a few months ago (whenever he was upset about something, he would start banging his head against the floor or a table edge). My husband thought that we shouldn’t react to it, but my feeling was that ignoring him would only exacerbate whatever negative feelings he was trying to deal with, with the head-banging.
    So basically I can’t imagine sending a crying toddler to be alone in his/her room until they stopped. Except, maybe that’s the best thing to do and I’m just inappropriately projecting my own issues onto my baby! Gah. Parenting is hard.

  57. Oh man. I dread the onset of this issue (my little one is just 15 months).I fear that my response to excessive crying will be all tangled up and complicated by my own remembered childhood experiences. My mom didn’t put up with crying — I don’t remember how it went when I was a toddler, but I do remember, as an older child, hiding in my room and crying as quietly as possible so that my mom wouldn’t hear me. (She was *not* abusive, just stern and rather unsympathetic to expressions of negative emotion.) Possibly as a result, I never got very good at safely expressing negative emotions, and I started self-injuring when I was 15.
    So, um, basically I have no *idea* what I’ll do if/when my little one starts exhibiting behavior like the kid in the original question. I got freaked out enough when he started with the toddler head-banging behavior a few months ago (whenever he was upset about something, he would start banging his head against the floor or a table edge). My husband thought that we shouldn’t react to it, but my feeling was that ignoring him would only exacerbate whatever negative feelings he was trying to deal with, with the head-banging.
    So basically I can’t imagine sending a crying toddler to be alone in his/her room until they stopped. Except, maybe that’s the best thing to do and I’m just inappropriately projecting my own issues onto my baby! Gah. Parenting is hard.

  58. I used the magic “I’m going to count to three” and told him he would have himself under control by then. And at two he would take a deep breath, and at three the flow of tears had stopped. Once in a while they hadn’t, which told me it really was something he was upset about, and then we would talk about it.I think crying is a good thing, but I think we all need that ability to reign ourselves in. Sometimes crying begets crying, you know?

  59. I used the magic “I’m going to count to three” and told him he would have himself under control by then. And at two he would take a deep breath, and at three the flow of tears had stopped. Once in a while they hadn’t, which told me it really was something he was upset about, and then we would talk about it.I think crying is a good thing, but I think we all need that ability to reign ourselves in. Sometimes crying begets crying, you know?

  60. Aargh things are so busy at work I don’t have time for any real comments except to say that this is a topic close to my heart in regards to Eldest who is 5.5… and I am reading these comments closely. Hopefully will have more time later. Carry on, brilliant Moxites!

  61. Aargh things are so busy at work I don’t have time for any real comments except to say that this is a topic close to my heart in regards to Eldest who is 5.5… and I am reading these comments closely. Hopefully will have more time later. Carry on, brilliant Moxites!

  62. My 2 1/2 year old does this sometimes and when this happens she is told to go and cry in the living room (if we aren’t there already) or another part of the house. Then I go and check on her in a minute or two when she is quieting down and I’ll ask her if she’s done crying. If she says she is then she gets a hug and she can move into other part of the house. Sometimes she will just come “out” of the holding space on her own and tells us she is “done crying”. It seems to work pretty well so far.

  63. My 2 1/2 year old does this sometimes and when this happens she is told to go and cry in the living room (if we aren’t there already) or another part of the house. Then I go and check on her in a minute or two when she is quieting down and I’ll ask her if she’s done crying. If she says she is then she gets a hug and she can move into other part of the house. Sometimes she will just come “out” of the holding space on her own and tells us she is “done crying”. It seems to work pretty well so far.

  64. @AmyinMotown — “Hey! Dramarama!” made me laugh right out loud at my desk, and made me want to steal that instead of all these other good tricks. Not exactly sure what that says about me as a parent. Probably nothing good.We are mostly dealing with excessive whining and whimpering rather than loud crying, but the effect is the same. Sigh.

  65. I’ve got nothing on dealing with dramatic 3.5 year olds, since my little drama queen is not yet 2.However, I am someone who STILL has trouble with tangles in my hair but insists on keeping it long. We have some very funny pictures of my with a rat’s nest for hair when I was a kid. And the above referenced drama queen’s preferred calming method of running her fingers through my hair has seen a return of that rat’s nest. Anyway, here are my favorite tricks (which you probably have already tried) are:
    1. Holding the hair at the roots while attacking the giant tangle.
    2. Spray on detangler/conditioner
    3. I used to braid my hair before going to bed. This kept the worst of the tangles away.
    I have a feeling I’ll be coming back to read the comments on this thread in about a year and a half….

  66. I’ll 2nd (3rd) the comments on highly sensitive children (HSC). Google it and you can see a list of traits and see if your kid qualifies. If you do have a highly sensitive child (and often highly sensitive people have highly sensitive children), this isn’t manipulation…it’s the way their brains are wired.HSC *do* feel things more…everything’s brighter, louder, ouchier, itchier. It seems ridiculous to us, but it’s deadly serious to them. With a child like this, it’s a daily balancing act between acknowledging the person he/she is while helping him/her stretch to be more resiliant. These kids do have to live in the real world after all, so we have to give them the tools to deal with some of that sensory input.
    (The upside is, of course, that these kids are generally highly intelligent, sweet and very attached to their loved ones.)
    When my 3-year-old seems to be having an inappropriate reaction to something, I give him the option of a) talking about it and/or b) cuddling with me until he feels better. Sometimes he chooses to just work it out himself, and will call me when he’s ready for something else. This took a lot of practice to get to, however. Now I often hear a sniffly, “Mommy? Will you come hold me?”, and then we reconnect.
    I wouldn’t personally send my super-sensitive kid away from me when he’s dealing with his big emotions. My job is to help him work through them.

  67. Also, there’s nothing wrong with eliciting a laugh to lighten the mood. I’m a regular improv actor now that I’m a parent, and have been known to say strange things to my son to get him out of his funk. (“Did the cat just toot??”) Nonsense rhyming is great, as is music and dancing.My mom used to “reinflate me” by gently blowing into the end of my thumb to improve my mood. She would also challenge me to whistle while crying. It would intrigue me enough to try it, and you really can’t do both at the same time…

  68. @meggiemoo, yeah – potty mouth comes in handy! Anything bathroom-humor-related is guaranteed to work for 3 of 4 (of our) kids, and likely to work for the eldest, even though he’ll try to pretend it isn’t working.One of the kids (Miss M), who is very sensitive to everything, is also the one who will take herself away to deal with her own outburst. BUT, I wanted to say that she also needs (desperately) to have a warm welcome back when she’s ready. If she’s taking a while, I need to pursue her just a little, to see if she’s feeling too overwhelmed to be able to come back. Which is, um, just like I was as a child. It felt SO GOOD to me to have my mom come check on me, sit down, ask if I was feeling better, ask if she could help. She didn’t do it often, but the idea of it stuck. It was kind of like a big ‘come home, all is forgiven’ after I’d lost control of myself. She wasn’t as good at coaching effective responses (she was just learning them herself) I think, but she did get that part right – even being around people when I was feeling fragile felt ‘spikey’ – like I could feel them against my skin like a bunch of cacti, or like my skin was raw and they were sand blowing in a high wind. Just awful. Alone and away was my best place to calm down, but once there, having a sure welcome back or someone come to me (siblings sometimes did this, too, which was also warmly welcomed), that was so soothing and reassuring in so many ways.
    We do also talk about better ways to tell me how you feel – to the point that sometimes one of the kids will just up and say, ‘I need your attention, can you play with me?’ or ‘You’ve spent too much time on the computer, I don’t like it, I want you to pay attention to me, now!’ – which honestly, is super-hard to say no to! It’s WAY easier to say no to whining and pestering and annoyance than to a direct and honest request. That payoff is their feedback that the system (communicate clearly!) works.

  69. Hmm. I think the combination of HSC and introvert/extrovert may be important here. Mr B is an extrovert – alone is awful, he needs people in order to have enough energy to bring himself back to function. But Miss M is (while engaging) much more of an introvert (I was somewhere in the middle at that age, but became more extroverted as I got older, gradual process) anyway, Miss M likes to be left alone, and when she is working, EXTRA likes to be left to herself. Company is fine as long as it is quiet and not interactive. It bugs her to death that kids at school want to TALK when she’s working. Um, WORKING, here! Heh. When she’s not working, she’s up for play. And when she’s upset, she needs her internal energy to not be messed with so she can get herself back together. After that, she is ready to be-with again.Contrasted to Mr B, definitely a difference in when ‘alone’ is allowed and useful.
    I wonder if our parental reactions aren’t also tied into the Introvert/Extrovert thing (in the Meyers Briggs way – where it is about where you get your energy, not about how socially adept you are). Introverts really do need to draw energy by being without outside input – so ‘being with’ may be okay if it is very calm and quiet and not too involved, but may also be a drain even then. And Extroverts would need being with, and being alone would be a punishment. Tuning to which you are, and which your child is, may help select a best course of action for the response. Most of us tend to assume our kids are the same type, and get frustrated when they’re not (at least according to the people who write books on this stuff, which I’m reading for work, can you tell?).

  70. once again, Moxie is ahead of me–i’ve been debated emailing her all week about this very topic. although in my case its a nearly 4.5 year old. Today I think she might be coming through it though, but I’ve been sick and haven’t caught up.and I think she just is a drama queen and i must deal with it. her general need for communication and contact is just really high. My favorite trick is the make them laugh game. Pretty much nothing else works. We do the go to your room thing as well and sometimes it works but usually just makes her escalate. If it works I think she just needed some down time and is totally unable to just do it on her own.
    this parenthood gig is just hard. We’ve all been sick, the baby isstarting to scootch around and needs more attention, my 3x a week job that is really full time work is barely squeezing in, DH has had shingles so the baby couldn’t be too close to him and he was too sick to play–its no wonder we’ve had some breakdowns on every side.
    and the baby wakes. 8 minutes total after getting him to sleep.

  71. Late to post, but I wanted to add something. I agree with Meggimoo, it was how I handled things with my two and how I suggest parents do it too.My son Tall is definitely HSC. All I can say from an educators standpoint and the back end of parenting is my motto is to address, teach, support and re-invite the child back to the family as often as possible during the toddler and preschool years.
    Why, because as I’ve said a bunch of times when I post, these are the foundational years. This is the time when how you handle things becomes the emotional well that guides this human being for life, no pressure LOL!
    When your child is a tween and or teen they’ll have an unconscious sense of how you handled big emotions and disobedience when they were toddlers and preschoolers. Think back to when you were a kid, you knew if crying/emotions were okay, or you knew if you were going to be ignored or punished for your emotions. Some of your rebellion was probably based on that knowledge, you might even remember just wanting your parents to know you for who you really were. Those are the basic needs you’re filling now with your toddler and preschooler, you’re showing her that you accept who she is and her emotions.
    Does this mean there shouldn’t be any boundaries as go through this phase? Not at all, you have a right not to be kicked, hit or screamed at. Your boundary IMHO is when you do as Meggimoo, Hedra and Moxie stated, you offer options and remain connected. Stay connected, no matter which way you choose to do it. Use any suggestions that appeal to you because there isn’t one way to do anything, it’s about what’s comfortable for you and which way fits for your child.
    With Tall people would always tell me, “oh he’s just manipulating you, he’s so needy —ignore him.” I knew in my soul that he needed help. He’d hit the point where he didn’t’ know how to recover from his strong emotions, he had no idea how to get back to calm, to his center. He needed guidance. This was when I would offer a hug or suggest some private time, or insist on having this fit in his room, or do you want me to sit here until you’re ready to talk, it all depended on how he was reacting to what ever caused the fit. Did I think it was over the top, yes I did. Did it matter what I thought, no it didn’t because that was my adult point of view, not the toddler or preschooler point of view and they are vastly different. As an adult I felt it was ridiculous but I have control over myself. A toddler or preschooler does not have control over herself, this is one of the moments where she is learning to have control and the crying needs to be perceived from that place of understanding.
    I wouldn’t back down on whatever had upset him; I’d just stayed connected supporting his emotional reaction. I would always go and find him to see if he was okay, and work with him to rejoin the family. This sent the silent message; emotions are fine and while you’re little I’m here to show you HOW to regain your calm and accept my boundary.
    Taller on the other hand would always follow me around house and insist that I stay beside him sharing in his grief as he worked it out, that was fun!
    I’m not going to lie, this was hard and time consuming, but SO worth the effort as they grew. My motto is to fill their needs now and teach them HOW to deal with things, then you can draw from that well as they grow. Good luck.

  72. Thank you so much for posting about this issue. My older son has sensory issues and we dealt with a variety of behaviors as a result- but he never tended towards the overresponse of my 4 year old. The yelling, wailing, and gnashing of teeth response to being told a simple no can get very overwhelming (especially since he goes from calm to yelling his head off in 2 seconds flat). I’ll be revisiting some of our sensory books to see if any of them apply, the key thing is we’ve got to figure out a way to help him learn to handle his own emotions without victimizing everyone else with his screams in the process.

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