My girl has always been very sensitive. As a babe it was easy to comfort her by nursing, rocking or just whispering "I love you". Now that she is 5, I find myself more and more at a loss.
She gets frustrated or mad so easily and immediately jumps to extreme behavior. If I suggest that it is time to brush her teeth, she throws herself down on the floor screaming "this is the worst day ever". Yesterday she wanted to paint so I got everything set up. I mixed the paints and dug out a canvas I had been saving in our craft bin for a rainy day. I thought it would be especially fun to paint on canvas. My daughter was also excited and immediately began to paint, but only 2 minutes into the project she began getting really mad at herself that it wasn't perfect. She started screaming at herself that she hates herself and she wants to hit herself. I was horrified! I told her that the paints were meant to be fun and that her work looked like she was having fun. I tried to explain that art wasn't about being perfect. That artists just keep working at it until they like what they see but it doesn't happen right away. I suggested that we go outside and try to meditate, thinking that we just needed to get away from the project. She was sobbing for over an hour because her painting wasn't as perfect as she wanted.... Last week I got a phone call from my mom who was babysitting. She said that my 5 year old DD had bit my 2 year old DD on the arm because my 5 year old didn't want to share her toy. My 5 year old goes to a Montessori school and we try to incorporate household tasks into her daily routine. But almost every time I ask for her help setting the table, or cooking, or laundry. She starts screaming that I am not the boss of her and that she hates doing work.
These are just a few snapshots of the kind of outbursts she throws almost every day. My two year old, is constantly trying to comfort my 5 year old. I heard my toddler singing to my 5 year old, "It's okay, I love you. I'm right here. You're okay." How strange (and amazing) is that!? But even with such a nurturing song coming from my littlest, my 5 year old started screaming at her to leave her alone.
I have tried being calm, patient, empathetic, stern, and just plain ignoring it, but nothing seems to work. I have tried reasoning with her and explaining that she is choosing to get upset. I've explained that she is making it harder on herself. I've tried to coach her in meditating or counting to 5 before she gets so upset. We've worked on deep breaths and assessing the situation on a scale of 1 to 5. None of it seems to help.
She is not only making life harder for herself, but she is holding our whole family captive to her explosions. I very much want a third baby, but my husband is feeling too drained from dealing with our 5 year old. He is worried that we will have another highly emotional child.
To add one more layer of complexity to the problem, I remember feeling the same way that she did. Only in my memory, my emotional outbursts were in reaction to an insensitive and authoritarian mother. I have made many efforts to respond to my daughter's anger and sadness in the way I wish I had received as a child. I used to think that I would have been so much happier if my mom had been more loving. But now, here I am being that loving, empathetic and validating mother and my child still resents me and treats me the same way I treated my mother. I thought I could break the cycle, but my daughter is perpetuating it in spite of my greatest efforts.
I don't know what to do or how to help her and would greatly appreciate some advice.
My daughter is also a perfectionist and yes, things not being perfect - particularly stuff she's done - was a frequent trigger for her tantrums, and is still a trigger for her moods. I've tried to talk about things I've done that didn't turn out how I want but in a more positive way. "Oh drat, I didn't want to do that! Oh well, I'll do my best to make things work out OK." I think modeling can help a lot. Are you or is your dh a perfectionist? If so, try to model handling imperfections in yourselves well.
One of the things that really helped my daughter get over her explosiveness was diet. Might your daughter have a food sensitivity? Gluten sensitivity can cause some major emotional reactions. With my daughter, what helped was to limit sweets, particularly in the morning, and to make breakfast a protein-based food like eggs rather than a grain-based food like cereal or toast. It's amazing how much her behavior improved and how quickly with just that change. So that's something to look at.
Keep being loving and kind! You are her soft place to fall, and she is comfortable exploding around you because she knows you're safe - that you won't stop loving her or wanting to be with her because of a tantrum. Hugs and keep posting here for ideas and support!
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