Reader Question: My 4-year-old daughter, when I do something that upsets her, like reprimand her for something, begins to cry and tell me that I don’t love her anymore. (She’s actually very obedient and well-behaved, so the incidents in question are quite small.) When I’m finally able to calm her down, I reassure her of my love and explain that Mommy getting stern about something she has done doesn’t mean I don’t love her. This began about six months ago, shortly after she turned four, and despite my reassurances, it’s getting steadily worse. Are some children just more naturally insecure than others? Is there something else I need to be doing?
It may be that some children are naturally at the high end of the “sensitive” scale and therefore more thin-skinned than most when it comes to being reprimanded. I’m not aware of any research on this issue, but enough parents like yourself have testified to having emotionally-delicate children to convince me that there’s some innate quality at work here. Then there’s the bell-shaped curve, which predicts that relative to a “sensitivity norm,” a minority of children will be hyper-sensitive and a somewhat equal minority will be hypo-sensitive.
Regardless, children – all of them – if given the opportunity, will produce great drama, and it would appear to me that you are certainly giving your daughter the opportunity. In the first place, you obviously take your daughter’s operatic outbursts seriously enough to think they warrant equally serious reassurances. In my experienced estimation, these comforting conversations you have with her are why her “sensitivity” to your discipline has become more and more of an issue over time. In short, she has an audience for her drama, so she puts on bigger and bigger productions.
Not that it is her conscious intention, but her drama also serves to distract attention away from her misbehavior and focus it on the rather silly issue of whether or not you truly love her. Granted, it’s not silly to her, but little does she know you would give up your seat in a lifeboat for her.
It is axiomatic that if one wants to raise up a child into emotionally-sturdy adulthood, one must treat said child as if he or she is, in fact, already emotionally sturdy. Children rise (or sink) to expectations. Therefore, my advice to you is to stop allowing yourself to become sidetracked by your daughter’s drama. The next time you discipline and she begins to cry and claim emotional orphan-hood, simply say, “We’re not having that conversation again…ever. You misbehaved, I reprimanded you, end of story. Now, if you need to cry, you may go to your room until you can get control of yourself.”
Children need equal amounts of love and leadership. Love is not your problem. You obviously need to begin working on strengthening your leadership muscles.