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Parenting advice for when a child has trouble coping

billcorbett_2We had a question from a parent for Bill Corbett (our blog Parenting Expert ). This parent has a child who is having difficulty coping with decision making. She worries so much that she will make the “wrong” choice – that she gets so upset and argues. Here is the original question:

“One of my 7 yr old daughters gives us a run for our money. She can be very moody and will throw a fit at times when she doesn’t get what she wants. She struggles making simple decisions (like which shirt to wear), and gets very worked up worrying that she is going to make the “wrong” choice. I’m always assuring her that there is no wrong choice and even limit her choices to just 2 things to make it less overwhelming. But when she is in one of her moods, there is no talking to her. And she also gets very “fresh” and argumentative with me about almost everything. When she gets that way, I generally walk away from her and tell her that I won’t listen to her when she is speaking to me that way and that I will only listen when she talks nicely and treats me with respect. Eventually she comes around, but this is practically an everyday occurrence. Bill – my other two kids are not like this at all, so I can’t really figure out how to deal with her. Her behavior really affects our entire family. If she is having a good day, the whole family has a good day. But when she is having a bad day.. watch out !! I’m considering taking her to a child psychologist or something since I feel she needs to be taught some coping skills in order to be able to better function in life. Any thoughts or strategies?”

Bill’s response:

Once again, let me mention the things you are already doing right: giving her a choice of two items to pick from and declaring the boundary that you don’t have to listen to her guff and walking away. Please keep in mind that you cannot control someone’s attitude or emotions, all you can influence is behavior through your own words and actions. Each child must learn “self-regulation”, which means learning how to calm and soothe the self. We can’t do it for them but we can help by remaining calm and not engaging in the emotion. I know this is easier said than done, but it is something you must do.

When high level energy (positive or negative emotion) from one person comes in contact with high level energy from another person, it escalates and increases. In other words, if we are angry and the next person we come in contact with matches our level of anger, both beings get angrier. But if the person we run into is calm and more peaceful, we are inclined to calm down to match their energy level. Again, this is easier said than done, but you are the adult and must model how to remain calm for the 7 year old to learn from. She may be expressing frustration with decision making and you must let her own that frustration and learn to deal with it.

It sounds like you are limiting her choices and not solving her problems for her… good job! Give her the space to be frustrated but you don’t have to be in her same space while she is like this. Go into a different room and lock the door if you have to. This will teach her that we must be responsible for the boundaries we set for others.

If her mood sets the mood for the rest of the family, the rest of the day, there is not much you can do. That’s the problem with families sometimes. Ask everyone else to remain calm and not get into any battles with her. If they do, it will energize her to repeat this behavior. And it is not a bad thing to seek out a good therapist. It is not out of the question that she may have some deeper issues that need to be resolved.

Thank you Bill for your advice. Do you have a tip or experience to share in relation to this question? We’d love to hear from you! You can also ask a question for Bill or any of our experts by using the blue form on the right!

Bill Corbett, the author of the book Love, Limits, & Lessons® and the founder and president of Cooperative Kids.


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