Dear Mama Drama:
My 5 year old son seems to be very sensitive. He cries at nearly everything; if we say no, if things don’t turn out how he hoped, if he doesn’t win a game. I’m not sure how to help him deal with his feelings. I am not sure if he reacts this way at school, or just at home. I just don’t know what words to use.
Mom To A Sensitive Boy
Dear Sensitive’s Mom:
Many children struggle with being told no or things not going as expected. Five-year-olds are increasing their autonomy, but often experience difficulty modulating their emotions. They are very rule oriented and can have strong feelings about justice and fairness. Five-year-olds are also still very ego-centric and struggle to see things from the perspective of others.
I encourage you to talk with your son’s teachers to determine how he is responding to similar situations at school. He may be doing well at school and you can build on that at home. He may be struggling at school and need more support there as well.
A trick to helping your son handle being told no is to say yes as much as possible, even if it is yes later. If your son asks for a cookie and you want him to have his dinner first, you can say, “Yes, you can have one after dinner.” Once we say no, children often don’t hear anything else. If we say yes, they are able to listen to the rest of what we have to say. Saying yes honors the desire of your child and the when sets the limits you need to set as a parent. Of course, there are times we need to say no, but finding a creative way to say it can help.
For losing games and situations not turning out as hoped for preplanning is a great strategy. Help your son prepare for the possibilities that may occur by having discussion beforehand. I addressed a similar issue with siblings in a column in October. Practice with your son how he can respond if he doesn’t win a game. Give him some simple phrases to say that can assist him in handling his emotions such as, “Good game. I had fun playing.” or “I’m sad that I didn’t win, but I’m glad I got to play.” Model being a good sport when you are playing games together. Talk through your thinking and about how you are feeling so he can develop a better understanding of how others feel.
If you are still having concerns after trying these strategies, it may be helpful to seek additional behavioral or mental health support.