Q: I am a mom of 2 daughters ages 4 and 9 . I am working parent. My elder daughter is very emotional. Lately she has been crankier and wants more attention in everything she does. Is this normal at this age? My younger one is happy. How can I help my elder one ?
A: To begin, it is important to remember that all children are different, and even the same child can change significantly throughout the course of his or her childhood. Having said that, it is always a good idea to pay attention to any change that occurs in a child's personality and/or behavior. At times, such changes can be an indication that there has been some increase in stress in her life - often an issue that has arisen in school or with family or friends. Keep in mind that changes in a child's life that may be causing additional stress are not always obvious to their parents. As always, it is essential to check in with your children regularly to get a sense of how their social, academic and family lives are going from their perspective. Often times the answer will be "fine" or some variation, but consistent inquiries keep the door obviously open for when she is ready to talk about something. If you have done your investigation and it seems that no new stressors have occurred, it may just be that she is going through a phase where she needs more attention from you. When you can, make plans to spend some on-on-one time with each child doing something that they enjoy. Family time is great, but some kids need time with you without their sibling to feel emotionally nourished. In addition, I strongly recommend that you evaluate the amount of positive reinforcement you provide for her when her behavior is good. At times, children get the unspoken message that negative behavior/emotions get attention much faster than good behavior/positive emotions. If you put a lot of emphasis (an I mean a lot) on giving attention for positive behaviors, you may find that she seeks your attention more in positive ways over time. Make sure you keep the reactions to her "cranky" behavior very calm and brief to avoid accidentally reinforcing it. You can do this without being dismissive towards her (sometimes they just need to be heard and given some validation then they move on).