My four year old little girl cries about everything. She’s very particular about things, and it’s hard to keep everything the way she wants it.
I think it’s actually because she’s really very intelligent. My husband and I want to be sensitive to her preferences, but because she’s so young, she has a hard time expressing what she needs.
We do our best to keep to a regular schedule so that she isn’t thrown off base, but life isn’t predictable, and it it never seems to be enough. She cries every day. Okay, not just crying. Screaming, too. If something is even a little bit off, she makes our life miserable. We’ve tried talking to her reasonably, and allowing her to express her feelings in healthy ways- and what happens is that she will say she’s sad.
I’m thinking about asking her pediatrician about it, because we can’t think of anything in the home or in her past that should be causing her to be so emotional. She’s healthy in every other respect, but I’m beginning to think it’s a chemical imbalance.
Thanks for any advice.
Imagine that you are the employer at a busy restaurant. You’ve got a lovely hostess who has been employed by you for four months. She’s intelligent and you feel that she has a lot of potential for advancement. Unfortunately, she’s very particular and inflexible, and when things aren’t the way she prefers, she cries and screams all the time.
Do you think adjusting the schedule and procedures of the restaurant to her preferences would fix that problem? What about getting her to express her emotions in healthy ways?
Of course not. That’s silly.
Now, I know there’s a big difference between a toddler and an employee. But there’s not actually a lot of difference between managing a restaurant and managing a home. In both cases, you are in charge of the schedule and routine and procedures of your environment- and your employees and children are most benefited when they are a part of that team- when they know their role in the larger scheme.
But can I be quite honest? You’ve got a little screaming dictator in your house. I’m sure she’s intelligent and sensitive and particular… but she’s steering the ship. She’s running your home.
And this should not be.
First of all, none of you are happy that way. Is your husband? Are you?
I suspect there are two reasons your child is distressed all the time.
The first is that she doesn’t see that she’s a member of a team that has more vision than “make me happy.”
Have you ever seen a movie with a little prince or princess that makes everyone in the castle miserable? There’s something about power, or lack of restraint, that makes a child into a monster. They get everything they want, but they’re never happy.
Do you know why?
Because they’re a child.
And while a child’s world should be nurturing and sheltering, it should never revolve around them.
Your role as a parent is to lead by example. You and your husband should find what God is calling you to do- and then happily pursue it, with child in tow.
If your life is spent, as a family, passionately living out your faith in humility, giving, and loving others- you will have less time and less patience for catering to the whim of a little dictator. And she will learn that there’s a bigger world out there- and that it’s healthy to lay down the way “I” want it for the sake of the way others need it.
The second reason why she’s unhappy is because she probably feels unsafe. You see, when you’re a child, you don’t have long-term wisdom. You don’t know why chicken nuggets aren’t healthy every night. You can’t decide that it’s time for a nap. You only have desires- and they’re often completely selfish and short term.
That’s why God gave us parents.
That’s why your little girl has you. It’s YOUR job to make decisions- to care for her- not only her wants and desires and (some) demands, but her long-term survival and health and LIFE.
I’m sure you know this in your head. But let me give an example.
She has a pair of blue shoes. I’m making this up, play along with me.
Her blue shoes are ballet flats, cloth.
It’s winter. There’s mud and ice outside, and you’re heading to the bank. You’ll have to walk through an icy, wet parking lot.
She wants to wear the blue shoes. She has reasons. Her blue shoes are more comfy. Her blue shoes match her shirt. Her blue shoes are the only ones she likes right now because her favorite color is blue. Some of her reasons are logical and understandable- some aren’t. But whatever her reasons, you have reasons why you don’t want her to wear them.
So now you have to decide. You can either let her wear them or make her wear her pink snow boots, but she won’t like that. She’ll resist. She’ll try several approaches.
First, she’ll say no and run behind the couch. You’ll ask and then beg for her to come out. Your husband will go back and pick her up, and she’ll kick and whine while he’s bringing her over to you.
He’ll hold her down while she yells and you try to put the pink boots on. You’ll both say, “Honey, please.”
At this point, you might try to reason with her. You’ll say,
“Princess, it’s cold out, and your blue shoes will get wet.”
If she’s very vocal, she’ll put a lovely puppy-dog look on her face and say something like,
“No, I won’t, mommy. I won’t step in any puddles.”
You might give in here. She’s entitled to make some decisions, isn’t she? But a glance at the window shows that snow is starting. You really think the snow boots are a better choice.
Now she looks injured. She’ll cry a little and flop back on the floor. She says, “You’re making me so sad!” Your heart aches a little. You might halfheartedly try to pull the boot on her.
And then she screams. Your husband looks at you over the top of your collapsed dictator with an exasperated expression.
I suspect you’ve been through this. Many times. At various points in the scenario, you’ve decided you don’t have the time or energy to go through with this. Or you worry you’re causing this delicate flower too much distress, and you’ve given in. The blue shoes get worn. Maybe you end up carrying her through the parking lot.
She’s in charge.
You think you’re keeping the peace, but you’re creating a monster. You’re creating a child who, not only thinks that if she fusses, she can have anything she wants, but who deep in her heart, feels unprotected. Who considers you someone to take cotton candy and snuggles from when she wants to but not someone to obey and CERTAINLY not to respect.
So your love is becoming worth very little.
I’m sorry, I know this is hard to hear. It’s hard to write. I don’t want this for your daughter. I don’t think you do, either.
Let me suggest another way.
Be the boss. Be in charge. Don’t let your princess hold the reigns just yet. Love her and hold the line. If she screams, ignore her. Or better yet, spank her. Screaming at a boss is never okay.
Make her wear the pink boots. Tell her why if she asks, but DON’T GIVE IN. Be the parent. Care about her enough to think about her long term.
Because when she’s walking along, stomping in puddles with her warm feet in pink boots, she’ll be holding your hand and feeling very safe and secure, knowing that even though she’s a very sensitive child, there’s someone very tender who loves her- and who keeps her safe in the big wide parking lot of the world.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
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God bless you!