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.