Casey’s 5 years old and reminds me of Edith-Ann. She sometimes even stomps her foot and tosses her head. And that’s the truth!

Casey’s what you’d call “high-maintenance.” She likes things to be just so, reacts strongly to what’s going on, and tends to get wound-up. We’ve been working on emotional intelligence.

The other day I took her to the Kiddie Park, and then to McDonald’s for supper. It had been a fun afternoon, but once we got to McDonald’s, her fatigue caught up with her.

She loves to play with other children and calls them all “my friends.” At McDonald’s she faced one of childhood’s hardest tasks – breaking into a group that had already formed. There were 4 girls there her age who didn’t want her to join their playgroup. Casey’s very bright and tried several different things – just joining in (they chased her off), telling them to “be nice,” (they ignored her), and then asking them to please, please let
her play with them. Nothing worked, which sometimes happens to the best of us.

To make a long story short, it didn’t end well. Casey decompensated, then spilled her drink, then dropped her ice cream cone, at which point the others made fun of her. I helped her through that incident, and the suggested she was tired, we could find other friends, and that it was time to go. This made her furious. “I’m not tired,” she screamed.

Finally I had to carry her out to the car, a ball of tears. You can imagine how she felt, as nothing had gone right. I thought about distracting her, like talking about what we’d do tomorrow. Then I remembered how I felt when someone didn’t let me talk through my feelings. Like when your partner says, “I think you’re overreacting.”

Go toward the sound of the cannon.

“Casey,” I said. “How are you feeling right now?’” The volume of the crying immediately increased. This is exactly why we tend to avoid dealing with emotions. It’s more comfortable for us to avoid the issue of someone else’s pain, anger, etc.

“Are you angry because we had to leave?” I continued.

Suddenly there was silence. “Yes,” she said, after a minute. “I was angry.” She felt respected, and also, I think, she had become curious. This moved her away from the reptilian brain and into the neocortex. She was now
thinking instead of reacting.

“Are you remembering to breathe deeply?” I asked, helping her self-soothe. “Yes,” she said.

“And were you ashamed you dropped your cone?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “And I wasn’t tired,” she repeated, adamantly. This was a very important point to her because my saying she was tired to her meant I wasn’t addressing her distress.

We went on to discuss other feelings she was having – frustration with the other girls, sadness they wouldn’t include her, disappointment that I hadn’t been of much help.

Then, because she really was very tired, she started into a downward spiral – “And remember that girl who was mean to me at the ice skating rink…” she began, getting into an incident that had happened the day before.

“What would an optimist do right now?” I asked her, gently. It was time to move the focus away from emotions.

“Oh,” she said, stopping and thinking for a moment. “An optimist would remember something good that happened. Like when I got to ride on the ferris wheel.”


Adults have trouble figuring out the layers of emotions that occur. For a young child it’s extremely difficult. When we help the child sort out the different feelings which often get expressed in tears, it helps them manage their emotions better. Be able to put something in
words is empowering.

Her little brother, Ted, who’s 2, has just learned how to say “don’t like peas”. I was there when the “light went off in his head”. When the peas were placed in front of him, he started to cry and push the plate off the highchair tray and then he stopped, and said, “Don’t like peas” and the look on his face said it all. He had learned a new way to manipulate his environment and get what he wanted – words!

To tell Casey she was tired, negated all the other things she was feeling, and wasn’t helpful. We know that fatigue exacerbates negative emotions, but those emotions are still real and need to be acknowledged.

“I felt bad,” she finally said, and sometimes that sums it up, but working through the layers helps children learn words of emotional expressions and helps them replace acting out with talking.

Author's Bio: 

(c)Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach. Emotional intelligence coaching, convenient interactive Internet courses, EQ assessments, business EQ culture programs, and products available for licensing. Improve every area of your life. Results-oriented coaching., for FREE ezine. Affiliates in UK, Australia,Malaysia. Ofrece coaching personal y cursos de Internet sobre inteligencia emotional (EQ). Se habla espanol. Develop your emotional intelligence so you can teach it to your children.