My 4 year old daughter cries at everything. If you do anything from look at her funny to discipline her, she cries. It is getting so bad now that her younger brother is starting to act the same way. We can't go a day without her crying about something. What is your advice on how to handle her temperament?
"Crying in N.J."
Dear “Crying in N.J.”,
Some children are sensitive and seem to cry at a drop of a hat. Sometimes they cry because they are frustrated, insulted, tired, hungry or sick. If you eliminate all of the factors that you can control, such as making sure she has enough sleep, she is not hungry and she is not sick, and she still cries a lot then behavior modification can help. When children develop an undesirable behavior, we can help change that behavior by not rewarding the behavior. Children thrive on their parent’s attention, whether it is positive or negative. Therefore reprimanding undesirable behavior many times does not work. Rewarding good behavior teaches children to behave a different way.
The first thing you can do is explain to your daugher that mommy cannot understand her or help her when she is crying. Tell her that you will not talk to her until she is done crying. Remind her that when she stops crying you will listen and help her. It’s important to not give in, and ignore her when she is crying. You may need to help her at first because she will not be used to this approach. Tell her to take deep breaths, relax and have a drink of water. The second she attempts to stop crying and use her words, pay attention to her and attend to her needs. She will soon learn that it is more beneficial to control her crying.
This may be very difficult for your daughter at first and you can help her by using a star chart. Put a chart on the refrigerator and separate the day into morning, afternoon and night. Give her a star for each part of the day that she doesn’t cry. Set a low goal in the beginning (for example 6 stars) and work up to a higher number. Agree on a reward that she can receive once she reaches her goal. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a gift; it can be alone time with mommy at the library or staying up an extra fifteen minutes at night.
Some preschoolers are perceived to be more emotional because they do not have the ability to express themselves due to a speech or hearing delay. Therefore if her excessive crying persists despite your concentrated effort to help her, it would be a good idea to have her speech and hearing evaluated. I would be concerned about a child who has excessive emotional outbursts or tantrums on a regular basis that last more than 30 minutes. This may be an early sign of a psychological problem and would need to be addressed by a health care professional. Lastly, it is important to remember that children can become depressed too. If a child has a change in their normal temperament, difficulty making friends, a change in their eating or sleeping habits, or a major loss in their life (such as divorce or death of a pet or family member) it would be important to have an evaluation by a health care professional to rule out depression.
Lisa Kelly R.N., P.N.P., C.
Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Pediatric Advice about Raising Healthy Kids