An unhappy child

Question: I have a six year old daughter, nothing makes her happy. If she is excited about something, it last for just a second and before we can do what she was excited about she is mad about something else. This is from the time se wakes up till she goes to bed. I am so tired of it.
– Brandy

Answer: I can understand your frustration. The situation sounds emotionally draining for everyone involved. Parents must take care of themselves in emotionally demanding times if they want to have the stamina required to help their children. First, I want you to make a list of all the things you can do to keep your reserves up during the day. Are you doing things every day that make you happy? Taking a walk? Reading a magazine? Bringing home flowers? You may even need to take a few extra breaks from your usual mom-schedule. Do what you can to take care of yourself so you will have the emotional energy to deal with your daughter’s negative emotions.

You can help your daughter explore her feelings by asking her questions about what she feels and sharing your observations about the messages she is giving you. There is nothing wrong with your daughter being unhappy or mad. She needs to learn to express those feelings as easily as she expresses happiness. The goal is to make her behavior consistent with her emotions. When she changes her mind about something she wanted to do, explore if she really wanted to do it or if she is worried about something else. Help her to figure out what is creating the mood swings. There will be many situations where it is her choice to participate and others where you will decide. For example, it can be her decision to go to a friend’s house to play but not her choice to join the family on vacation to Sea World. Let her know that you respect her feelings when expressed appropriately. If you see your daughter’s mood fluctuating for no apparent reason, nonchalantly grab an iced tea and sit it out. Do not react emotionally to the negative emotions.

Your daughter may also have difficulty making choices between two things she likes. Sometimes children get “stuck” in their thinking and they need a little push to move past the troubling moment. If you sense that she is excited about doing something and she starts to fall apart, acknowledge that you see that she is mad (unhappy, frustrated, whatever) but you think it still seems like a good idea to stick to the original plan. You’ll be able to judge if it was worth it later. It will get easier as you get a better understanding of what upsets her. Then you can be on the look-out for things that threw her off.

Coach your daughter to articulate what she needs in difficult situations. Make lists together of “things that make her happy” and “things that make her mad”. Use the lists to help her to make decisions when she seems confused about what she wants. Give her time to choose what she wants to do. Remind her that you are listening to her choices. Allow her to change her mind if she is uncertain. Try to remove any distractions that prevent her from knowing “what she wants”. Slow down the pace of your day if it seems full of activities.

In time, she will learn that she can make decisions that make her happy. She will discover what brings her joy and be able to communicate easily about what upsets her.

Good Luck,
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.

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