Any child loves attention. Dramatic children know how to get it. Some are born into that role by coming out of the womb with a roar! These vibrant little personalities are great charmers yet can also wear down their parents since they seem to have a huge need to be the center of the show. The dramatic child does this by having big emotions that seem out of proportion to the actual event.
What Can Parents Do?
1. Avoid the meltdown by giving choices
These sensitive personalities tend to feel more empowered when they have just a bit more control in their lives. To do this, they need lots of small choices. If you don’t share a bit of power through choices be warned – they will take the power! The key is to give choices throughout the day on your terms, filling up their need for control. When your children are younger the choices can be incredibly small yet fills up their need for control. Choices for simple things that don’t matter to you make this easy. “Do you want your milk in a mug or in a glass?” “Do you want to put your left shoe on first, or the right one?”
Where this can go wrong
Don’t give big choices such as, “What restaurant do you want to go to?” Keep them almost inconsequential to you. If you can’t accept the choice they might make, don’t offer it or you’ll have a mutiny on your hands!
2. Build emotional intelligence by reflecting their feelings
When the inevitable meltdown does occur, it is time for you to reflect their feelings. This is the exact moment you are either training your child to use drama or you are diffusing drama. When you reflect your child’s feelings, they are immediately calmer because they feel that someone understands what they are experiencing.
As an adult, you have many years on this planet and will have a perspective on tough moments. What is small for you might seem like a fire alarm for your child. Dig down and accept that for your child this is a new and difficult moment and they need you! When you acknowledge that you know how it feels and that it makes sense to be upset, your child will no longer need to SHOW how frustrated they are. The desire to act out the feeling disappears, and therefore the undesirable behavior stops as well.
Where this can go wrong
If you instead choose to correct or admonish your child when they start to be emotional or try to get them to see your point of view this will create a feeling in your child of being dismissed. Some children will shut down in this moment and go silent. However, the drama kings and queens will amp up this moment. They will intensify their emotions because they desperately want to feel understood. If you continually dismiss your child’s feelings during these moments, you are training them to need to have bigger and bigger reactions to be “heard”. You will have plenty of time once emotions have simmered down to help your child see things from a different perspective.
3. Dramatic language to reduce dramatic reactions – build an emotion vocabulary
When you reflect your child’s feelings, such as in “Oh, I can see you look sad right now.” They learn to connect their internal body sensations to words. In the future when they feel the same sensations and emotions again, they will connect it to those words and communicate verbally instead of acting out. Your child will learn to regulate their emotions because they understand those feelings and now have a way to appropriately express them.
Where this can go wrong
Reflecting your child’s emotions – emotion coaching – is different than diminishing, minimizing, criticizing or dismissing. “Honey, you seem very upset right now.” Is emotion coaching. “You’re too sensitive.” Or, “You’re always angry.” Is critical and dismissing. This will only lead to more drama. As a parent, part of your role in preparing your children to be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted teens and adults is teaching them how to regulate their emotions. This means you must be able to do that too. If you become frustrated and raise your voice, they will learn to raise theirs. If you are upset and are sarcastic or critical, they will learn to do that to you.
Need help parenting a drama king or queen? Parent coaching might be what you need to gain tools and feel confident in your parenting. If you want more support for your child, child/play therapy can help them gain new tools to manage their big feelings. Learn to be empathetic, stay emotionally calm, and coach them through their difficult emotions, and they can learn to do that too. That will make their teen and adults lives much happier, and yours!
by Csilla Vegvari, child therapist at Bellevue Family Counseling.
Spending Time with Your Children?
If you have children, getting yourself and them through the morning, afternoon and evening routine can be crazy hard! I bet you still find time to worry you’re not spending enough quality time with your children.
No doubt you go full throttle from the moment you wake until your head plops on the pillow, hardly having time to stop and smell the espresso. You’re doing the best you can, yet every once in a while do you ask yourself, “Am I giving them enough?”
We know that it is imperative for a child’s healthy development to experience emotional connection and presence from you, their parents. When you talk and interact in a way that allows them to direct the play, it contributes to healthy self-esteem and a sense of closeness with you. This creates an internal sense of safety and security because they experience you as accessible and available.
Will Children Ever Have Enough of Your Time?
From their perspective, no. Your children will almost always want more time then you could ever give them. They will almost always be disappointed when play time with you is over.
This is good news! It means you’re doing a good job somewhere because they want you.
However, when you’ve given all you can and they seem disappointed, what can you do?
20 Minutes: The Magic Number
There has been enough research into what creates a healthy internal sense of self for us to know the bottom line. The magic number is twenty. Twenty minutes per day of non-directed play. If you can deposit twenty minutes of your attention – that is twenty minutes of non-goal-oriented time every day, they will have a strong chance of developing that important internal sense of secure attachment.
Four Easy Ways to Find 20 Minutes a Day:
- Remember it is the process of play, not the product that is key. Adults commonly want an objective, a goal, to win or encourage the child to win. Forget about all that and focus on the process of the play. It’s about time together, not a goal or project.
- Make a big deal out of turning off your phone, laptop, tablet and the TV.
- Set an alarm for twenty minutes you both know it really is twenty minutes.
- When the time is over, transition into something else they will enjoy. Dinner time, movie time, storytime. Do this and the transition will be easier for everyone.
by Csilla Vegvari, child therapist at Bellevue Family Counseling.
Divorce is undeniably a social, emotional and financial upheaval for families. The time of divorce will almost always be held as an incredibly sad memory for children. Unfortunately, we cannot protect our children fully from the inevitable impact of this moment. This inevitably leads to the question, “How do I tell my child about my divorce?”
Fortunately, we can do a lot to help children attach this painful transition to a memory of parental unity and nurturing. The makes divorce merely a thing that happened, not a traumatic event they’ll never get over.
When is it Best to Tell Them?
It’s best if you and your spouse tell your child(ren) together and on a day where there will be enough time for them to process the information. Here are some key steps on how you can manage emotions, at the moment and afterward, in a way that will set them up to handle this successfully.
Prepare the Family Story
This first step is the hardest and requires that you come together, manage your emotions and practice restraint. Ideally, you and your spouse agree on a reason you are getting a divorce; a reason that can be shared with your child at an age appropriate level. The details of your divorce are private and not for the ears of your children. Keep your story very short, simple and honest.
Your Story Has Four Parts:
1. A general reason for your decision
2. The clear fact you are going to be living apart
3. Reassurance that the child plays no role in this dissolution
4. How you love your child, and this will not change
“You know how much mommy and daddy fight. It is really awful and sad for us. We have tried different ways to get along better but finally, have decided that we cannot live together anymore. It is hurting us too much. The reasons we fight have nothing to do with you; it is just about us. We love you, we love being your parents. Being your parents is the best thing that has ever happened to us. We will always together be your parents.”
Avoiding the Blame Game
Children can be very black and white thinkers and will be looking to assign blame and finding the “bad guy” where they can direct their anger. They can easily view one parent as the “bad” parent if you are not careful and give any reason for them to take sides. You may be emotionally driven to look good in your child’s eyes especially if you don’t want the divorce, but it actually does greater harm to your child if you put them in a position of splitting their loyalties between the two people they love the most in the world. You are divorcing to get them out of conflict not to place them in more conflict.
Your child will also look to themselves as the possible “bad guy”. Even if the situation appears self-evident that it is between the parents, every child will still think they play a role. Wipe this out of your child’s thoughts by making it clear that this is purely an adult issue and has nothing to do with children. Reassure them of your love.
Plan on communicating the idea that they play no part in the reason for the divorce. Repeat this periodically over the next few years. No child wants to hear that you are divorcing as some sort of gift to them; to get them out of conflict, to give them a more stable life etc. If you play it this way, they will carry that burden of being responsible for your divorce.
Try to own the divorce as your choice and what is best for you, as adults.
What to Say When They Ask, “Why?”
Your child may ask “why”. This again is not a time to air personal details. For most children what they want to know most is how this decision will affect them. Explain together how things will progress. If they persist in asking why – take that moment to reiterate that this is private between the adults and the reasons have nothing to do with the children.
Focus on explaining what does concern them which is the rearrangement of family life. Early in the process, keep the details general, because at this point you may not clearly know the structure of your divorce agreements. Children are going to want to know what directly affects them so focus your conversation on their stable life. Talk about where they will live, whether they will need to change schools, where they will sleep, where they get to keep their toys if they will have their own room.
Managing Your Emotions
Some parents believe that they need to be emotionless in order to create a sense of security for their child. Not only is this hard on your own body, but it also creates a lot of confusion for your child. A divorce is a crisis event and we feel emotions during a crisis. Children look to their parents as a model for how to be in the world. If they see no emotion from you, they may come to believe they are not allowed to express emotion and it is wrong for them to be sad or angry. Your child will feel confused if you tell them everything is fine yet they can see the red-rimmed watery eyes or the inexplicable angry outbursts.
Children will work to make sense of your emotional displays. Therefore, it is important that you are authentic, otherwise, they will make up a story in their own head and it may once again be self-blaming. How you create security for your children is by owning and naming the emotion they see on your face so they are not confused with mixed signals.
Modeling Emotional Leadership
Next, let your child experience how you are going to take care of your emotion. Label your emotion, demonstrate how you are going to take care of it, reconnect back with your child so they do not come to believe that emotions create distance.
I feel very angry right now. I even want to yell, but instead, I am going to use that energy to go for a run and that will make me feel better. When I come back how about you and I play a game? I am sad today, I feel like I am going to cry. I am going to go take a nice warm, bubble bath and that will make me feel better. When I come back you and I can read a story together.
Helping Your Child Manage Their Emotions
When your child feels anger or sadness, know that this is okay. Your job is to simply sit with them. Take the pressure off yourself to remove the pain and rescue them. Just sit with them in their feelings and be empathetic. “I know this is a really sad time right now.” “It must be hard to feel this way inside.
As parents, our job is to raise our children in a way that gives them the tools and skills to manage real life. In real life, there are situations that we encounter that are not solvable. This is one of them for your child. Divorce is out of your child’s control, so allowing those feelings to be expressed and flow through them will be an important way for them to gain their own resilience.
Don’t Rescue Them
You will be tempted to rescue them from their own emotions by distracting them, making promises, offering gifts, or pointing out solutions. That is not what they need. Right now your child needs to know it is safe to express emotions. They need to be able to feel their emotions let those emotions flow through their body and not get stuck inside. Your ability to be calm with them, to make sure they are not feeling alone is critical. To do this, you must control your own internal and external experience. If at all possible do not hijack this moment from your child by having your own emotions and anxiety overwhelm their moment.
You Can Do It
You and your family do not have to limp through a divorce. By modeling emotional leadership you and your children can do more than just survive, you can thrive and become closer.
by Leah Koenig MA, LMHC. Leah is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Family Therapist, and PCI Certified Parent Coach®. Leah specializes in working with children, teens, and parents on creating their best self and best family relationships.
Contact Leah at Bellevue Family Counseling in Bellevue Washington.Learn More