Handling 5 year old sensitivities and anger/emotions.
I have a smart 5 year old daughter. She has no siblings. Her father and I are older and fairly mature. I have studied a tad in the areas of psychology and education, therefore I am fairly aware of some aspects of child development. There aren't any big stressors in her life, as we try to keep any stress to ourselves so that she isn't affected. Her home life is fairly healthy, in my opinion. She likes to play with certain friends and is learning to have decent social skills. Nothing too abnormal here. She is in preschool and seems to handle herself fairly well. She is liked by all kids. As mentioned, our daughter seems fairly bright and I think this brings some interesting challenges and behavior complexities. I have 2 concerns.
1. Sensitivity and uptightness. She tends to be sensitive to everything that is being said or done to her. She gets upset quite easily if people don't say what she thinks they should say or do what she wants. She hates to be touched. She wants things exactly so. She is very specific in her routines and her desires. She likes only certain people and actually shuns others by turning away. She doesn't like her grandparents much (although I understand why, sometimes), yet we ask that she be nice. She has an incredibly hard time being nice or pleasant. She is often shy of people, at first. We are starting to time her out when she isn't pleasant to people (saying thank you, etc). We just ask that she especially try to be nice to her relatives and certain preschool peers. She pushes grandparents away (although they also agravate me, so I get it) and she can scream at her dad, if things aren't just the way she wants. We ask that she be pleasant and in private, she can talk to us and explain as to why she doesn't care for a person, etc. She has started whispering to us about her rude comments, which is fine to me, as long as she doesn't say it to the person outloud. (I have told her that I will accept this.) I understand being sensitive and not wanting to be nice, but it is, again, hard to deal with an overly sensitive, sour-puss 5 year old. The thing is that she is physically beautiful. People want to hug her, talk to her, etc all of the time. They give her candy and smiles constantly, just because she is a beautiful child. All of this attention is unwanted by her. She just can't reciprocate. What is going on here? What do you suggest we do? Do we ask that she be pleasant? Is it fair to time her out? (We don't do it all of the time because we can't force a smile on her face. But, in extreme situations, we do time her out. For example, when she screams at grandpa or says something not so nice to him.) I forgot to mention that she could be a little empathic. I think I am slightly empathic. I also am sensitive to others. I just seem to understand them better and I am not rude to them!
2. Anger. She like to control her environment. We know and understand this. It's normal for this age, I believe. We deal with misbehaviors with 1-2-3 warnings and then a time out, along with a toy removal, which she has to earn back. This works quite well. The thing that I am having difficulty with is how to handle her emotion- specifically anger. I want her to have her emotions. In the past, I've timed her out when she misbehaves. I've told her that she can go to her private space and yell or hit pillows, etc. I've also taught her how to breath and ground (using imagery), which, when directed or when I sit with her to do this (after the time out), she can do it and it does wonders within minutes. But, the tough part is when she has anger, but she doesn't get a time out. I am, of course, not going to time her out for feeling angry. She is too angry to calm down and breath and ground. (I don't blame her. I have problems with this too.) Again, she is an extremely sensitive and emotional child. It is hard for her to calm down. She screams and yells. Sometimes we don't even know why she is angry because she is so sensitive to everything! What can I do when she is angry? How do I handle this? I want her to have her emotions, but how do I teach her to calm herself? Any suggestions or books on this topic? I am most concerned that she doesn't bottle her emotions. She gets angry and impatient so often. How do I get her to calm down. Talking to her doesn't seem to help in extreme situations. Eventually I will get her into meditation, yoga, etc, but for a 5 year old, what do I do now? She seems to have the need to be physical. Have you ever heard of using a punching bag or something? How about a martial art? Would this allow her to breath and do something physical? She doesn't resort to hitting us, although I know that she is tempted. Would a martial art be ok? Or a punching bag? How should she get aggressions out?
I may be "way off base" here but your posting has many elements common to children suffering from social anxiety - the sensitivity, the anger, the perfectionism, the "slow to warm up" to others (especially adults), the controlling and manipulating behaviour, the need for physical activities, the impatience/frustrations, and the tantrums. Does your daughter have toileting, sleeping or eating issues? These are also common problems/issues to children suffering from anxiety.
I guess I would suggest that you google phrases as "social anxiety and young children" or "behaviors of anxiety in childen" or similar words/phrases to see if this might be the "problem". If so, I do not think the anxiety is severe. Please let us know if this might be the issue; if so, there are many on this board who can help you. All the best ...
A lot of times, only children of caring parents who do a lot to try to make them wonderful, happy children, develop (ironically enough) less tolerance for things not going their way than do kids who are being knocked around by siblings and don't get as much care or attention from their overloaded parents. A kid whose mom lives and dies to make life un-stressful for her is not going to get as much practice at handling frustration and disappointment than the average child. Not as much practice = acting out when things happen that would not trigger the average kid.
It might not be a bad idea to tell her that sometimes she is just not going to get what she wants, and that this is going to happen at home as well as elsewhere. This will be a novel idea to her more than it might to the fifth child in a big family, and she won't like it, but she may as well get the bad news from you (who have bent over backwards to make everything stress-free up to now) than getting it pounded into her at recess by classmates later on. Explain that you have all along wanted things to be very good for her and for her not to have frustration, but now that she is a bigger girl, she is ready to learn to deal with frustration too. And then darn well let her. Set some boundaries about her rude behavior to others, whether or not you personally agree with her opinons about them, they deserve respect as her grandparents and as adults and guests in your house. Set some other boundaries about this or that at home, selecting things where her behavior has caused you to alter the usual way you would run something in your lives. And stick with it, unmoved by her tears and yelling and undistressed by her anger. By walking on eggshells and all worried about poor her not bottling up her emotions and so forth, you are preparing her to expect that all her life, all she will have to do is pout or yell and someone will do things her way? She should not be leading the family like this.
I think you may definately have something here, jdtm. I looked up social anxiety in children. I think that you are right in that she may have mild anxiety. Come to think of it, I think I was the same way when I was a child, but just not so verbal, etc. She is definately very shy around others, as I mentioned. She doesn't like to talk in front of others. She prides herself in being "quiet" in class. She hates to do some things in front of others (new things that she is unsure of). Even when she feels joy, she tries to hold back a smile. She is very concerned about being embarrassed. Even when she was about 3.5 years old, she would hide when she hurt herself. She didn't and doesn't like to be around others when she is crying, due to embarrassment. This surprised me. We respect that, but we have been surprised by this type of reaction, especially at an early age. She is a perfectionist. If something isn't "perfect", she will not want to show it due to embarrassment. (We absolutely don't emphasize perfectionism. She somehow had that quality herself.) She hates it when people laugh because she thinks that they are laughing at her instead of the situation. She also hated it when people talked about her, even in a kind way. This started very early as well. The list goes on. Thank you for your info. This is extremely helpful and makes tons of sense. It sort-of ties it all together for me. It also makes me able to handle her better. It give me renewed energy to be able to handle her in an even more patient way. I was already quite patient, but this really does help. I felt that there was something going on here, so as I told my husband, I want to error on the side of patience before non-tolerance or pushiness because I think that there's some stuff we don't understand here.
In response to Annie. I appreciate your comments too. I get your response the most, from relatives and others. I agree with the idea that she doesn't have siblings, therefore isn't used to not getting her way. We have started to integrate her with a few chosen children so that she can figure this out. We have had some incidences and I have let her cry it out. I think she is smart enough to catch on, pretty soon. I also don't want her to be a spoiled brat. I think we've begun setting up appropriate boundaries, especially lately. I think that the balance is to determine as to whether or not the problem is about getting what she wants and/or the possible phobias (social anxieties) that she could be experiencing. This new enlightenment, for me (the social anxiety) will definately help me determine what actions to take at which moment.
She doesn't like to talk in front of others. -- your words
Will she speak in front of others? Does she speak to her teacher and to her peers while at school? If not at all (or rarely), then this is a more serious form of social anxiety called Selective Mutism. The best site on the internet re sm (as the disorder is often called) is "selectivemutism.org" where I might suggest the first place to read is the FAQ's. It might be wise to discuss this with your daughter's teachers to see if she does, in fact, speak at school. If not, let us know, please let us know. All the best ....
Thanks for the info, jdtm.
Thankfully, she will talk in front of family and people that she likes or warms up to. She will talk to her teacher and her peers, quietly in class, especially if spoken to. She is spirited and highly competitive, so she will also speak out and defend herself if absolutely necessary. But, my understanding is that she is quite quiet, in general, in class.
One of the things I worry about is how to teach her to healthfully express her anger. I haven't had time to look into this much, but I'd better research this further. Any ideas on how I can let her express her anger? She's not wild, crazy, but she does like to express her anger with screaming and yelling. I am not good at this, myself, admittedly. I am trying to get her to go into her private space, breath, ground, etc, but what do I do with the initial, immediate anger? Let her quickly go into her private space and punch pillows and scream? What do you think? Do I talk to her about her feelings, immediately or let her scream it out alone, first? Not quite certain on the order of things. Any good books you know of?
I belong to a support group for teachers and parents of children suffering from anxiety. The issue of frustrations and anger and temper tantrums comes up often. Most parents in my group send the child to his/her room for some quiet time alone - no talking or reasoning - the child is already "worked up" and so this does not work (usually exacerbates the issue). This is not punishment; just an oppportunity for the child to "regroup" so don't worry if she watches TV or uses the computer or plays with her toys. Some of our children are so exhausted from "holding in their frustrations" that they fall asleep prior to dinner. Often, several of our parents find this to occur as soon as the child returns from school or some other social event (perceived to be very stressful to the child). Or, some parents find their child will "destress" with a special pet - or some with extreme activity as jumping on a trampoline - but most find their child needs "alone" time.
You're lucky - our granddaughter was selectively mute for several years at school so she was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression at six years of age. She did not speak aloud at school for several years. I thought it would never end but today she is doing very, very well. I suspect your daughter will also do well. Just be sure to socialize, socialize and socialize with her - malls, grocery shopping, Sunday School/church, sports activiities, playdates, going to the playground or even McDonald's, visiting relatives, club activities as Sparks - whatever interests her or you or her father. Don't expect your daughter to "rush in and have fun immediately"; it takes a very long time - and I'm talking years not weeks or months. But, the result is so worth it!
There are many, many books in bookstores, on-line or in the public library system which can help you. A couple I like are - (1) "Keys to Parenting Your Anxious Child" by Katharina Manassis and (2) "the highly sensitive child" by Elaine N. Aron. If you google the title of these books, you will find more information about them. The googling also suggests other books of similar topic. If there is any other way that I might be able to help (now or in years to come); just write. All the best ....
Thanks for the response, please don't think I was talking about "tough love," which I feel is cruel and useless. I was reading an article that mentioned that well-raised kids of parents who try hard and are considerate of their needs and issues, paradoxically often get less practice at calming themselves out of frustration than do other kids. (For the obvious reason that they experience less frustration.) It's not spoiling that I'm talking about, but the caring parent with high emotional intelligence working hard to make the child's environment satisfying and enriching. The article mentioned boredom as an example. Good parents respond to the child's complaint of being bored. It suggested that the parents might do better to simply let the child experience the boredom in order to develop the ability to figure out something to do. Anyway, it was quite specific about frustration. It pretty much said that a generation is being raised that doesn't have as many resources to combat frustration because they are not dealing with frustration on a daily basis.
If your daughter is 5, it's a big help because you can talk about some of this as well as putting things into action. For example, my son is a fan of doing things a certain way ... climbing into his carseat himself rather than one of us lifting him in, being able to put the potatoes in the soup, being allowed to screw the screw in rather than just watch, etc. We usually are fine with this, thinking it's developmental and autonomous. But sometimes in a hurry (or for safety), we can't. Then he cries, pleads and rages, and will want to actually get out of the carseat and climb back in, or to have us unscrew the screw so he can screw it in, or turn off the light so he can turn it on. This doesn't work when we're late, or can't do the thing because it's dangerous, or he is just not good at it. So, I've had 'the talk' with him when he was calm, along the lines of "Mommy isn't always going to let you do something over even if you are upset about the way it went. I'm telling you now because if it happens like [examples of a recent time] you're going to be mad, and although I love you I will not be letting you change things. I'll help you calm yourself but I won't change the thing." Then if he does get upset and I can't do much to ease the situation, I can reference the conversation ("Honey, this is one of those times we talked about.") Putting him in his room to calm down would work OK if these events didn't seem to regularly happen in the car when we were in transit somewhere! So maybe you can put this into your bag of tricks.
My dd had similar behaviors when 2,3,4 year old, she used to ignore people that not like when talked to, very quiet, afraid of cry in public, not showing reaction when hurt ,some anger issues and perfectionist behavior, it got much better since we started to set limits for her behavior like you always have to respond even if it is " I dont know", you always have to answer when said hello even if it is waving your hand, please and thanks are a must even if you dont like the person,a lot of books about emotions and something that help a lot was to always have paper a crayons or pencil ready in a cool down place for her to go when angry, drawing gave her the outlet to manage her emotions even though a got a lot of i dont like/love you, i want a different mommy letters :), x mommy etc.good luck
Hello, all. Sorry for my late response. (Juggling school, business, and you-know-who!) Anyway, I want to thank you all for taking the time to respond to me. These are ALL great ideas and make me feel TONS better. I am printing them off right now so that I can share them with my husband. I've already started implementing some of the ideas and I feel a little more patient with her as well. Thanks again for your responses. If you have any other ideas, feel free to write! Hugs to you all.
Hi, how is your daughter now? I stumbled on your post whilst looking for something else entirely. Many of the things you describe are issues our daughter had at that age. She is eleven now and was diagnosed with high functioning autism (what used to be Asperger's) when she was ten. Many girls fall under the radar because it is something generally associated with boys. It is an autistic spectrum disorder and the science nowadays is pointing towards the Fathers age at conception ie the older they are - generally over forty - the more likely the child will be to fall somewhere on the spectrum. I hope I haven't alarmed you but it could be something you might want to explore.
But I will add that my son has sensory integration disorder and has the sensitivity. It's related to dysfunction of the nervous system. My son was diagnosed with spd at four. SPD is often an overlapping symptom to autism but is also something a child can have on their own. We had our son in occupational therapy and they worked on helping his nervous system through targeted activities, behavior modification and coping skills. He's now 10 and doing great--- friends, great grades, plays sports, just like any other kid. But he does still have his sensitivities. He too can try to control his environment which is a rudimentary survival skill.
I would encourage any parent to not think of autism when the main symptoms are described here. Look into sensory integration disorder. We had many specialists evaluate my son and the conclusion was he had sensory processing/integration disorder alone. The diagnosis was right on the money as the therapy he got provided him with what he needed to overcome much of it. (even the sensitivities that all but go away when he is well regulated!).
BTW: there is a l ink to physical therapy and executive function issues (also common with kids that are diagnosed with sensory and autism) and by exercise, one strengthens the function. We are but one family, but I can attest to this in that my son is involved with year round athletics and his EF issues seem to be gone. As in gone. As in straight A's, organized, focused-- gone.
Thank you very much for your response to my question. I appreciate the info. I will definitely check into SPD. I hadn't heard of that.
My daughter is functioning somewhat ok, still with some unusual sensitivities. I definitely would put her in the anxiety (general and social) arena. But, she also has sensitivities. And, she's pretty bright. So, we've homeschooled her this year, at 7-8 years. That helped. And, she's matured quite a bit, developmentally, so that has helped too. I will also be getting her into counseling, soon, hopefully. But, we are dealing with the same issues, now, at age 8, but she is handling things a lot better. It helped me to consider that she had anxiety with sensitivities, so I could manage it better and be more patient and kinder. Still, I hope to get some more therapy, as she gets older. Money is an issue, so I have to wait, but I've relied heavily on this blog, which helped me consider anxiety with sensitivities. Without a formal diagnosis and formal counseling, and as a parent, I've just decided to error on the side of love and patience, since I may not completely "get it". It seemed to help her, if I did this. Luckily, she's a really good kid and tries hard and communicates better, now. Thanks again for your info. I always welcome other people's wise words and experience.
Hello, MsMi. Thank you, also, for your kind response. I appreciate it! I have also thought about Autism or a variation of that. The only thing that I wondered about was....well, my daughter is extremely athletic in ballet and gymnastics. She is in junior Olympics gymnastics and is doing well. So, I wasn't certain if a child could have autism or Asperger's, if she is highly coordinated and athletic. What do you think? I don't know. Would love to hear what you think.
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