Really need some guidance and support with highly sensitive and emotional 6-year old boy - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 4 Old 08-26-2010, 10:07 AM - Thread Starter
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Hi ladies, I could really use some support, kind words, and most of all, guidance on dealing with my 6-year old son. He has always been very emotional, sensitive, and "needy". From the minute he was born he hated if he wasn't being held, especially by me and has been attached to me nearly exclusively up until about a year ago when he started gravitating to daddy a bit more. He had very intense separation anxiety from about 8 months to 3-years, especially if it had to do with parting from me for any length of time. He met all his milestones on time if not early, babbled a lot, and was very affectionate. He loves other kids and is very playful and funny. He's very physically active and is doing terrific in t-ball.

It always took him a lot of time and emotional energy to adapt to any kind of change, but in recent years has become very good with 5-10 minute "warnings" before any kind of change in routine or schedule to the point where now all I have to say is "We're leaving in a minute" or "Time to brush your teeth so we can go" and he's good to go.

He doesn't "lose" very well in games or activities and it took a lot of practice with board games and activities to where he understands that sometimes I win, sometimes daddy wins, sometimes his friend wins, sometimes he wins. However in the past losing at Candyland resulted in crying fits or sitting by himself in a corner while he hid from us for a while.

He gets frustrated with himself VERY easily and gives up quickly when something doesn't go his way. We've been trying to practice his reading and spelling this summer and if he can't figure out a word he just completely gives up and says he doens't want to do it anymore. We're VERY patient with him and never force him to continue to sit and do something he doens't want to do, but we do ask him to try and when he gives himself a minute he usually gets it. His teacher in kindy this year said at the beginning of the year he would break down in tears when he didn't know the answer to something or couldn't complete a task. That's the main issue - the breaking down into tears over EVERYthing - from doing schoolwork, to how his shoe fits, to his friend not sharing the sliding board, not finding a game in his room that he misplaced, to his pants being itchy. That's been going on really from day one, and his inability to cope or find a tool to calm himself down and find another solution. I've tried redirecting, holding him, helping him count to 10 or take deep breaths but I want to find something to help him from breaking down to begin with. I'm just tired of suddenly hearing crying and screaming and finding him having a fit because the legos "don't work". He's going into first grade and is right on par with his skills, ability to learn in a group and cooperate in class but he needs a tool to stop himself when he feels like he's going to "lose it". Kids can be cruel and I don't want him to feel singled out and lose his confidence because he's "the kid that cries in class". He needs to find more confidence and I thought we always did a good job of supporting him and being there for whatever he needed but for some reason we're missing something.

I admit to not always being the most patient with it and not being the best parent I can be purely out of frustration and helplessness. After a particularly bad day yesterday (and I think he was very tired and feeling out of sorts) I ordered "The Highly Sensitive Child" by Elaine Aron". We really need to help find some tools and support to help him (and us!) with this, without making him feel embarassed about being a sensitive child.

Thank you for reading this far if you have.... I appreciate any help or support

Happy Wife since 9/18/99, Mom to crazy sweet boys Noah Richard 7/24/04 & Jeremy Michael 1/27/11
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#2 of 4 Old 08-26-2010, 10:43 AM
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My son has the perfection issue going on, slightly less intense than you describe your son. He never had the separation anxiety at all though, but in all the other things you describe he sounds just like your son - the happy, outgoing, friendly, well liked, physically very capable. His emotional lability didn't really appear until around when he turned 5. Up to that point, he just had what appeared to be the upper range of (age appropriate) low frustration tolerance. Last year he held it together all year in Kindy except for one time in the last week of school when he misheard a direction given and colored the wrong thing on a worksheet - he kind of lost it in class for a few minutes. Other than that one time though, he'd save his breakdowns for home. I would always know when he had a stressful day at school, because he would start crying over something seemingly insignificant and would go on for an hour about it, then finally admit he was frustrated about something at school. Any time he "blames" his tears on something that normally doesn't bother him, we know there's something bigger related to the perfection issue going on that happened in the past couple days.

It breaks my heart that he has these perfectionist tendencies, as we've never been the kind of parents that tell him he's doing something wrong, or not well, or whatever. He's been in play therapy for a true phobia he needed help getting through and to help work through the perfectionism....the phobia is gone, but the perfectionism lingers. His therapist says that he's very emotionally perceptive, and pretty advanced in emotional IQ...however, his social/intellectual maturity is still at age 6 so it's a lot of turmoil. He gets choked up when I sing "You are my sunshine" to him, he teared up at the end of Toy Story just like I did; he seems to "get" deeper, more advanced emotional things and articulates pretty deep emotional things. Which again, is great when you're able to handle them and cope. Not so great when you're 6.

Many people think perfectionism is a positive thing to have, but it's really not. It's feeling like you're worthless if you don't do things the way you wanted to, feeling like the day is ruined if things don't go the way you pictured they would, and thinking no matter what you do it's not good enough - what could possibly be good about that? Wanting to achieve and expecting your personal best is positive, expecting perfection is NOT.

One thing that helps with the breakdowns is staying away from dairy. We found that if he has dairy more than a couple times a week (and I mean major dairy sources like milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream) he breaks down easily over things, butt if we keep him down to a serving or two a week he's much more able to handle things without crying and mentally beating himself up. He beats himself up for whatever it is he did "wrong", and then beats himself up for being so upset about it, so it's a double whammy.

I don't have much else to offer, other than comisseration and the idea about restricting dairy if he has it regularly. It took about 2 weeks until we saw a difference, and if we slack off and let him have more for a week, he starts melting down and we can see it within a few days. I wish I knew how to reach him to let him know that perfection is unrealistic, and that just because he does things he shouldn't do or doesn't do everything perfectly the first time every time, he's not a bad kid or dumb. It's so heartbreaking to hear your 6 yo say that about himself, and in that moment really, really mean it. He absolutely refuses to do any of the work I've seen on processing perfectionism, making mistakes on purpose, boosting self confidence, etc. He just flatly refuses. We got a book, "When good enough isn't good enough", but he won't read it with me. We bought guided meditation CDs, but he won't listen to them. He's convinced that this is the way he's meant to be and that nothing can change him. My glimmer of hope is that it's not *always*, and that after he takes his own tiem to process things, he seems to be able to get over them, it just takes a LONG time, and a LOT of tears and negative self speak. Sometimes, he can handle imperfection. Sometimes, he can even laugh about it....but other times, he so, so hard on himself. Last night he cried for an hour because he mistakenly thought his sister was goofing off but had actually hurt herself, and he laughed at her before he realized she was actually hurt. He was upset through the night and still this morning, and it took him about 2 hours this morning before he piped up out of the blue, "mom, I feel better about what happened last night." So there IS hope.

Editing again to add that things that might not *seem* like they are perfection issues can actually be perfection even the friend not sharing the slide; in his mind, friends share. Period. So if the friend is not sharing either he did somehting wrong and the friend is mad at him, or maybe they're not really friends, or maybe he didn't describe the game right, it's more than just the friend not sharing the slide.

My son's world is a lot of absolutes. Either good or bad. Either smart or dumb. And if you do the negative thing even one time, the other 99 times you do the positive thing don't counteract that, you ARE the negative thing (in the moment of frustration).

Actually, typing this out has really, really helped me get a little more perspective and better handle on this - so thank you! I'm so glad I clicked this thread!!

Heather, WAHM to DS (01/04)DD (06/06). Wed to DH(09/97)
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#3 of 4 Old 08-26-2010, 02:39 PM
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I'm glad you bought the Highly Sensitive Child. It's a great book (it's one of the few parenting books I own). I would also recommend "Freeing Your Child From Anxiety" by Tamar Chansky. IMO, perfectionism and anxiety are closely related. There's a real fear of getting something wrong.

Our son is somewhat like this, although I don't think he was ever as intensely perfectionistic as you describe. Several things helped him: Breaking down tasks into very manageable bits and limiting the time he had to spend 'trying'. The other thing that helped a lot was reminding him/describing for him things he'd already mastered that he'd found hard.

Finally, I would talk to your school counselor about ways to help him with emotional regulation. While it's very common for kids this age to have black and white thinking (it's developmentally where they are), they should be able to regulate their emotions somewhat. Learning a few tools for this might really help him.

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#4 of 4 Old 08-26-2010, 02:45 PM
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Lynn, I was kind of hoping you'd post. Do you have any ideas for a kid who doesn't *want* to learn to regulate or cope? I've tried in calm times, etc. but he just refuses to try to learn how he might feel better in the moment; it's like he thinks he "deserves" to feel badly because of not being 'perfect'. he's pretty much told me that, though not in those words. We're working on ideas with his therapist, but thus far it's not getting anywhere, so I was wondering if you had any thoughts on it, I always appreciate your posts.

Heather, WAHM to DS (01/04)DD (06/06). Wed to DH(09/97)
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