Q: My 5-year old daughter is very sensitive to certain things/situations. She breaks down or is prone to anger easily. I would love any suggestions as how to better handle or control the situation so there is less fighting and better understanding!

A: Handling anger and disappointment is difficult when you are a child, and developing the skills to effectively deal with these situations is a process that kids can use some help with.  So here are some tips:

Look for the common triggers Although it may feel that way, your child probably does not have a meltdown every time something doesn’t go his way.  So it is important to look for what situations and factors tend to lead to these difficulties.  Is it when he doesn’t get his way? When he is tired? When he is told to turn off the television? When he is not allowed to do extra chores and homework (I know, wishful thinking)?  Being able to specify when it happens – and when it does not – let’s you target your interventions better.

Avoid the situations that you can If, for example, the tantrums come up because he doesn’t want to stop playing a game to take a bath, set a rule that bath always is taken before playing any games; if every time you go to the store he gets upset if you don’t buy him something, consider going to the store when he is at school.

Figure out what skill you want him to use, and practice it  When he doesn’t get his way, perhaps you want him to tell himself, “It’s o.k; maybe I’ll get to do it later”. Learning to do this is a skill like anything else: the more he practices, the better.  So first practice it by pretending you are in one of these situations, and have him practice saying this out loud.  Then, when he gets good at it, go over it with him before the actual situation is about to arise, and have him practice it at that moment.  Then, each time the situation actually does arise, have him stop and use this new skill.

Practice it Yeah, I know I already said this.  But it is really, really important, so I wanted to make sure that you were paying attention

Praise and reward acceptable behaviors.  When he does handle situations well, catch him being good and praise, praise, praise.  Also, keep a chart of every time he handles anger well, and reward him after a specified number of times.

Model the behaviors yourself.  Kids learn a lot by watching us; “Do as I say but not as I do” just doesn’t work.  Make sure that you and other adults in his environment handle your own anger and disappointment well. And try to actually out-loud use the same coping phrases that you want him to use, so he can see and hear you model the exact skills that you want him to use.

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Answered by Dr. Wayne Fleisig



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