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“Mama I love it when you hug me. It makes my heart grow bigger,” my little four year old told me as I gave her a good night hug. This is the sweet side of the four year old emotional roller-coaster. The high. The lows involve melting down into a puddle of hurt feelings over you asking her to put pants on. Preschoolers can be quite emotional. The lows are low, but the highs are so high.
These highs and lows can literally be from one minute to the next. Your little cutie can be laughing her head off one second, then laying on the floor crying about something you “never” let her do. Literally one minute later, she will be back up to joyful.
It is basically a year-long ride and it goes and goes. I love thrill rides, but every so often you need a break. The ride can leave you feeling disoriented and confused and you have no idea how to respond. I have some tips for you.
I find it very helpful to empathize. I don’t do it in a way that says, “Yes, you are so right. Your life IS the worst!” I do it in a way of, “Oh, are you feeling sad? I am so sorry you are sad!” Whether or not we find it justified, her favorite boots being too small for her seems like the end of her world right now. Just be happy you have raised her in an environment so far that something like that is the most upsetting event in her life. No matter how important it seems to you, it is important to her and she is trying to figure out how to deal with emotions.
Help her explain how she is feeling. Upset. Frustrated. Mad. Sad. Angry. Disappointed. Help her recognize and label the feelings. These will help her understand and grasp her feelings better.
3-Hug It Out
I find it is very helpful to wrap that child in a hug and let her be upset. I do the “sorry you are sad” and the labeling while in the hug. The way my personality is, I will hug them even if they protest. I manage to keep things light while doing this and it basically just turns in to her laughing instead of crying. If you try a hug it out with your child and that doesn’t fly, abandon the hug idea.
The tools of distraction and substitution worked wonders for the toddler and they still can be effective for the preschooler. “You can’t wear shorts when it is 30 degrees outside, but you can wear these beautiful pants! Look at these! Wahoo!” Be excited, sell the option, and your child will move out of the grump and into the fun.
5-Issue a Time-Out
Sometimes an emotional outburst will turn into an all-out tantrum. If the emotion turns to a screaming tantrum, I tell her that she needs to get control of herself or she will need a time-out. Taking a time-out when you are not in control of your emotions is just a good idea in general. This is true for adults and four year olds alike. I have her go to a time out until she has calmed down. I don’t do this unless my steps above don’t work and only when it has turned into the tantrum.
6-Recognize it is a Time of Learning
The wild emotions can be confusing and frustrating, but remember that this is a time of development. Your child is developing emotions. Just like the story I shared at the beginning, that comes with good as well. That comes with greater love and the child starting to look outside of herself more.
7-Respond With Patience
Your attitude as a parent carries so much power over your children. I know sometimes you have had it and need a time out yourself. If that is the case, get your child in a safe place and go compose yourself. Do all you can to maintain control and patience with your child. If you respond to the big emotions with frustration and anger, it will not help your child break the emotional outburst. The things above can help.
Just keep some things in mind. Your child is not being emotional to get to you. Do not take the behavior personally. It isn’t about you. It is about your child. Your child is feeling new feelings and doesn’t know how to navigate them. Your example will help your child learn how to respond when she is feeling anger and frustration. Be gentle and patient and you can help your child turn that frown upside down quickly. Remember, roller coaster. Hang in there and you will be up on a high in no time.
You might find your child is having a hard time coming out of the bad mood. Typically with a preschooler, that ride is driving itself and you will be at a peak cheering before you have fully processed the low point, but in case the ride gets stuck, be sure to read my tips on correcting for attitude.