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Q: My five-year-old daughter is an early-entrance child to kindergarten. She is very smart and ranked high first-grade to second-grade level. My problem is this: She gets very frustrated with herself if things she works on are not perfect. She kicks and whines and cries, and it makes me crazy! I have tried to console her and say that I understand her frustration, but that makes her even more irritated.
A lot of these imperfections seem minor to me, like a tear in a piece of paper she was writing on, or a letter she didn't write correctly. She is very outgoing and very smart; I don't want to squelch her spirited personality, but how do I deal with her frustrations? I try to give her suggestions on how to fix these things, but she doesn't want to have anything to do with that, either. Help!
A: It sounds like this behavior has been going on for a while. I'll assume that things are okay at school, that she is making friends, getting enough rest, etc. You might be "too understanding" when she has her blow-ups. If she's having a big problem, she needs your attention. But if she doesn't make a letter correctly on her paper, then you say, "Here's an eraser. I'll be happy to look at it again, if you like, after you try again." And then you go do something else.
An "audience" often serves to keep an upset going. If she asks for help, you can certainly make a suggestion or offer an item (like tape for the torn paper), but if she rejects your offer, then calmly repeat your solution and pull back. You see, she may not be looking for understanding, but rather for you to "make it perfect." You can't, so she gets irritated.
This is a good time for her to try again and then accept the best she can do. Afterward, she gets a little praise from you for the effort -- not necessarily for the finished product. You will not be squelching her, but helping her to calm down and to like herself and her own effort. You may have to listen to some screaming at first, but she'll live. Don't play into this; her teachers certainly won't.
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Noreen Joslyn is a licensed independent social worker in the state of Ohio and is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She has a master's degree in Social Work, specializing in family and children, from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a psychiatric social worker in private practice with Ken DeLuca, Ph.D. & Associates, where she counsels parents and children.