Sensitive, emotional, passive-aggressive 4-year-old - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 4 Old 06-30-2014, 10:01 AM - Thread Starter
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Sensitive, emotional, passive-aggressive 4-year-old

I hope someone here can give me some advice or share an experience that will help me deal with my difficult 4-year-old DS. His temperament is cautious, slow to warm up, fearful of rejection, and very sensitive. I understand this because I'm the same way, and so are both my parents. The big problem with this kind of temperament is the fear of rejection and of getting in trouble leads to passive-aggressiveness and emotional manipulation. It's not on purpose; it's just a way of protecting yourself from emotional injury. I finally figured that out about myself, and it's STILL hard to figure out ways to manage my stress and handle issues without resorting to passive-aggressiveness (my default).

As an example, DS will say "I can't have a cookie" instead of asking if he can have a cookie. That way, if I say "no", he's already prepared to handle the disappointment. But even so, he will often break down in tears and tantrums if I say "no" to something he really wants, like TV time or pushing him on the swing. (Sometimes I just have things to do!)

My current conundrum is about school. He loves preschool, but of course he's nervous about it too. The big problem is that while he clings and cries and says he wants to go home, he actually enjoys himself while he's there. I have tried staying with him to ease him into the day, but that just makes it worse. If I basically drop him off and run out the door, I can literally look in the windows and see him almost immediately go from tearful to happy and engaged. Then when I pick him up he is invariably enthusiastic about all the things he's done that day and can't wait to tell me.

The big problem for me is I know there are real emotions involved. He IS scared, and he does want me there, but OTOH, there is emotional manipulation involved. Again, it's not on purpose; it's just the way he knows how to be. There are signs - he will be tearful but then look my way to make sure I'm seeing him, then he might smile a little and go back to the tearful thing (he could honestly be a fantastic actor - he can be very convincing). I need to learn how to deal with this and teach him other ways to handle his feelings and deal with his fears. I honestly just don't know what I should be doing. I was just like him, EXCEPT I was also a stoic and had an adventurous streak, so I was eager to do things even if they really scared me, and I refused to let people see that I was scared. He doesn't have that inclination.

So I'd love to hear your story if you have had a similar experience with a child. Please?
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#2 of 4 Old 07-01-2014, 07:55 AM
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Some of your questions and comments remind me of this video:

He turns the crying on/and off quickly depending on whether the parent is there to watch. Is it real emotion? acting? manipulative? I think none of the usual categories we want to use are good fits.

You may have get by without ever being able to pidgeon-hole this behavior into any of the usual categories.

Last edited by tadamsmar; 07-01-2014 at 08:01 AM.
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#3 of 4 Old 07-01-2014, 09:56 AM
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This sounds a lot like my dd except she hasn't ever really "warmed up" and then had a good time if I am not there. So, that is different. She still hasn't participated in a class setting without my presence. My mother gave me the advice to not look directly at her in those times, like "be busy" looking around, or something. She gave me that advice to handle the looking back thing.

For the cookie thing, if he says that, you could come back with, "you think you can't have a cookie? How do you know? Did you ask?" of course, it would help to let him have whatever the first few times so he sees asking is good. My daughter never really got to the point where she made statements like that, because I had worked on this. we talked about how you don't get things if you don't ask, and that it is always better to ask and know for sure even if the answer is no. Now, she actually says to me, "well, I am going to ask for another cookie, but I know you might say no"

Mama to a wonderful girl since 12/2007

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#4 of 4 Old 07-02-2014, 11:16 AM - Thread Starter
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Thank you both for your feedback. I'm finding this a challenge, for sure.

I have worked with DS a bit on asking for things in a different way: "Would you like to try asking if you can have a cookie?" He seems amenable to that, but I have to prompt it every time so far.

I do worry about the emotional manipulation thing, like in that video - I know it's common for some kids and doesn't necessarily mean he's going to be a manipulative jerk. I think to a degree he does have real feelings (fear, apprehension) about some things; but he certainly seems to dramatize those emotions for effect as well.
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