Dialing Down the Drama

November 3, 2012
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My 12-year-old daughter has a friend who is what some parents might call a Drama Queen. Whenever something happens, her reaction is always over-the-top. Her reactions are so dramatic that sometimes her parents feel the need to calm their daughter down by saying, “Come on, it’s not that bad,” or “Seriously, don’t get so upset!” Having endured their fair share of stomping and door-slams, they have concluded that often the best approach is to not pay attention at all. None of these responses really “work.” In fact, she seems to escalate no matter what her parents do…or don’t do. So her family has simply concluded this is just her personality and they just try to deal with it.

If you have a son or a daughter that sounds a bit like this, it can be frustrating to be dealing with emotional outbursts and handling temper tantrums on a daily basis.  Consider what you want when you have a problem: Do you want a quick solution?  Do you like to be left alone to figure it out for yourself? Do you like to talk it over with someone? Do you want advice? Lectures? Probing questions?

When youngsters have emotional outbursts, in nearly every way, they are just like adults in terms of what they want and need. They come to the problem, however, with less cognitive maturity as well as less experience at putting their feelings into perspective and expressing them appropriately. Here are some suggestions for helping youngsters at all developmental stages learn to process emotions and feelings in a way that will teach them how to resolve these feelings for themselves:


  • Give full attention with direct eye contact and a smile or nod. No one likes someone to listen to them halfway.
  •  Acknowledge what you hear with “Um-hmm?, Oh!” When people don’t want to talk, just simply let them know that you care and if they change their mind, you are there for them. Never push!
  • Give wishes in fantasy, such as “I bet you wish we could stay here all day!” Most of the time, the youngster just wants to know that you understand how they feel. This helps them accept unpleasant limits.
  • Name the feeling and then put that feeling word in a sentence that connects with what happened. “It’s annoying when Johnny bothers you while you do your puzzle.” Youngster need to learn feeling words as much as they need to learn any other kind of word. To a child, if a feeling has a name it must mean it’s okay to feel it. This is reassuring, because negative emotions can be scary!
  • Avoid journalistic questions like “Who?” “Where?” “When?” and especially “Why?” “Why” tends to put people on the defensive. Instead ask questions that focus on feelings rather than events.
Image creator’s user name:
“David Castillo Dominici”

Remember that accepting feelings is different from allowing hurtful behavior or acting out those emotions. Tell your youngster, “It is okay to feel (feeling name), but it is not okay to (unacceptable behavior).” Then brainstorm options for what the child can do if the situation happens again.

It is not the parent’s job to figure the problem out and solve it for youngsters. A parent’s job is to help their child sort through their thoughts, feelings and emotions so they can figure out a solution to their own problem! One of the most valuable gifts you can give your child is the ability to critically think through a problem and solve it! High Five!

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