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Ideas for helping a *highly* emotional child (4yo) learn to cope w/ emotions (long)!

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My youngest is now 4 1/2. We giggle that he is our drama king - always has been. He is the youngest of three and a very good baby of the family in the good sense. Still loves to snuggle and cuddle. Still loves to be rocked and read books at night before bed. :) Still loves his mommy and isn't trying to grow up too fast. He has a wonderful imagination and just cracks us up so often.


This one has always been highly emotional. And I mean *highly*! He can cry at the drop of a hat. He goes from delighted and delightful to frustrated/angry in about 2 seconds flat. You never quite know what will set him off. Anytime life doesn't meet his expectation - weeping and wailing. Anytime he gets his feelings hurt - hitting and/or weeping and wailing. Anytime we ask him to do something he just doesn't want to do - you guessed it - weeping and wailing. ;)


He does have some very strong sensory preferences and at times those are his triggers. This year it took us 2 full months to transition to winter clothing - one article at a time. First long sleeve shirts sent him into fits. Once we got past that we moved on to wearing socks and tennis shoes (he wore flip flops all summer long) and finally to jeans. Even now if his socks don't feel just right he will begin crying instantly. No words, just instant tears. He has strong sensory preferences when it comes to food as well.


He has a big brother with Asperger's and that is sometimes another source of frustration. My oldest requires a lot of alone time to recharge. He loves his brothers but can only handle so much brother time before he needs some alone time. This hurts my 4 yo's feelings. Also big brother can model inappropriate responses when he gets frustrated or overwhelmed or just plain tired. That doesn't help either.


That is a lot of background to say that I need some fresh ideas. We have been talking and modeling and acting out appropriate responses for a very long time now. When he is calm he can totally tell you the correct way to respond to his emotions. If I ask him, "What can you do when you feel sad or frustrated?" he will tell me, "I can ask Mommy for help and she comes right away. Or I can use my words to tell someone to stop. Or I can walk away from whatever is making me mad." But when it comes to the situation he has never once acted on this knowledge. And this is not overspeak to say never.


Ideas? Books/articles to read? I love this one but he wears me out. I am emotionally exhausted at the end of the day from constantly dealing with his emotions. How do I get him to begin the process of owning his feelings and not being controlled by ever emotion that floats across his mind? I realize his is 4 1/2 but honestly his maturity is about at a 2 1/2 year old level in many, many ways. His preschool teachers would confirm this as well.


Help this momma please!

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On the clothes it may help if you buy all the same socks to wear year around--exact same color and style. When they need replacing, replace the whole lot instead of replacing as needed. Ditto with underwear.


Also don't go back and forth between short and long sleeved shirts--stick with the tshirt and then add layers so at least most of what's next to the skin remains the same. We used Land's End zipper sweatshirts and fleece coats. I prefer Land's End as their styles tend to be similar from year to year so it makes transitions easier. If shorts to pants is a problem, wearing thin nylon basketball shorts in summer would let him later jeans on top.


As for the emotional responses--you might check out the Joy Berry "Let's Talk About..." books and do a search on social stories.


I've heard parents rave about these Model Me Kids DVDs so you might check those out as well.


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Is it possible (not throwing stones - promise) that he has learned to use his outbursts to manipulate situations to his benefit?


* Brother getting too much attention - little guy screams - mom comes running

* Dislikes socks - little guy screams - mom fixes the socks

* Asked to do chores - little guy screams - mom does chores herself


My oldest (a sensory seeker) tried this trick, and I fell for it hook line and sinker. DH had to sit me down and show me exactly what was happening. It took a while but I learned to look at her screaming and kicking on the floor (usually in public, of course) plant my feet in place, stare at her with a gentle but unresponsive expression and wait - sometimes for a very long time. Eventually she learned that I wasn't going to respond to her unnecessary screaming or tears, and she started doing more for herself. I even overheard her tell her brother "Don't bother fussing, Mom is so patient you'll have to do it yourself anyway." :lol:


When she was calm we would talk about proper ways to ask for help/attention, and of course if she was hurt or really in need I responded immediately, but for the over the top outbursts, I actively ignored her.

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My girls have gone through this. The best advice I can give you is something you're already doing: be patient. My girls are 10 and 7 now, and they're much better. My 10yo is still very sensitive to clothing. What I've done it to allow the t-shirts all year long, but insist that she wear a hoodie over them, or another shirt under them. Somehow, just being allowed to continue wearing the t-shirts really helped.


My 7yo still has emotional outbursts like you describe. And I haven't forgotten what 4 was like with both of mine. But it mellows with time. One thing I always tried to do was to diffuse each and every outburst as they came. Often, I was able to step in and say things like: "Okay, now, this is one of those moments. You need to calm yourself down. Don't take this too far. Talk to me. Right now. Talk to me." A light touch on the shoulder and some well-timed eye-contact would often help.


And sometimes it worked. I would be able to diffuse the moment and talk about the feelings happening at the moment. Those were times where I think the girls learned more because they were in the emotions and were able to step out of them and then talk to me. Often, I found that there was some sort of misunderstanding on my part that escalated the situation. To have big feelings at 4 was so hard for them; to have big feelings and be misunderstood by mom was too much to handle.


For those times that we couldn't diffuse, the girls had to go to their beds until they were done with the outburst. The rule is: you cannot hold the family hostage with your emotions. Have them as big as you need to, but not in front of all of us. The minute they were done freaking out, they could come talk to me about it. But I refused to listen to the tantrum.


So it goes. My 7yo just yesterday had a mild outburst right before it was time to go to the library. I'm pretty sure it was a misunderstanding of some sort on my part or on her sister's part. But she simply took herself right to her bed, cried for a few minutes - very loudly - and then came out and finished her lunch, and the three of us talked the whole thing over. At 7 years old, these outbursts are shorter and easier to handle. At 4, though, ack. Four was really, really hard.


Hang in there, is all I can say for sure.

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