Dear 100 Hour Board,
We have a six year old daughter. She needs ways to deal with her emotions (particularly anger and self deprecating comments). I am going to bullet point a few things about her. Any ideas for books, activities (drawing her feelings, sticker books etc), objects (like stress balls?) appreciated.
- Spoke earlier than average with clear pronunciation, has always had a large vocabulary for her age
- Since the age of two has periodically said her brain doesn’t turn off at night so it’s hard to fall asleep
- Has said that sometimes she’s stressed but doesn’t know why but maybe cause it’s noisy
- Connects to people through conversation
- Enjoys music, math, art, making plans
- When she was 4 or so she would occasionally hit herself when she was mad
- Last Thanksgiving the kindergarteners had a race and she got last place. To this day when she is flipping out she will say she’s the worst kid ever and mention how she got last place.
- Anything less than first place is no good for her
I know you’re not doctors and I don’t think there’s much that needs to be said in the medical route. Her father is brilliant and a perfectionist but unorganized. The sort of person who can’t organize a binder but will agonize over hand writing or how well a sentence is written. Her dad hears things once and they stick. Dad and daughter are quite similar.
I'm sorry I've taken forever on this. I hope you've found something that works for you in the meantime, but I do have a few suggestions for you.
First - even if you feel like there's not necessarily something there medically, I'd encourage you not to rule out taking her to meet a doctor, psychiatrist, or counselor. It's very possible she's just being a kid, but you never know. Some of the things you mentioned sound similar to my own experience, and I'm currently working on getting evaluated for ADHD and a few other conditions. Of course, you know your daughter best and can make informed decisions about her healthcare.
As far as advice for dealing with emotions, I'd like to pass along something that my dad did with me when I was really little that has stuck with me and helped me throughout my entire life. He taught me the power of language. If you can name your emotions, you can control your reaction to them. My dad used to sit with me when I was really upset and he would tell me to name what I was feeling, and then he would help me come up with good ways to deal with that emotion. There was no judgment, no "good" or "bad" feelings, just an earnest attempt to understand what I was experiencing. And by telling him what I was experiencing, I'd understand it better myself. So, if there's some activity that you think might help your daughter connect to her emotions (drawing her feelings, guiding her through naming her emotions out loud, etc - you know what she resonates with), I'd suggest that.
Similarly, for perfectionism, I'd suggest giving her any sort of activity or book that helps her internalize the idea that her value isn't tied to her actions or accomplishments. Words and language are really powerful for me, so books (I'm partial to "You are Special" by Max Lucado) and other language-based exercises (for example, writing out character traits and non-temporary strengths that make her feel special and worthwhile) come to mind as good options.
I think your daughter sounds like a combination of me and Pebble. Pebble was evaluated for Asperger's when he was younger, and the psychologist said he had pretty much all of the symptoms, but they didn't feel quite like they should classify him... so they didn't. We both are highly anxious, and he has some sensory sensitivities towards things like water.
When I was younger, I didn't even know what anxiety was, and I didn't understand how to communicate the stress that I was feeling, so I expressed it in angry outbursts.
In response, my mom gave me a Feelings Journal. I was supposed to write down angry and mean feelings in the journal and then we would tear out the pages and talk about why we needed to let those feelings go. It was not very effective because I didn't understand my own emotions well enough to articulate them... and when I tried, she didn't know how to respond. I really needed her help at that stage in my development to understand what 'anxiety' felt like, and how I could talk about it, and how to cope with those feelings. I wish that when I was anxious about school, or friends, or going to a social activity, that my feelings were validated. It would have been even better if I was allowed to say when I was too overwhelmed and couldn't handle a situation, so I could choose to take a break.
So to you, I would advise talking to a child psychologist or consulting the web for research. Your daughter might be like me and just need help understanding and processing her emotions. Learn about anxiety in children, maybe look into sensory sensitivities, or Asperger's (it seems unlikely, but you never know, especially in young girls.)
You have to keep in mind that your daughter doesn't have the prefrontal cortex development to do this alone, so you have to try to work through it with her and teach her the words and tools to express her emotions in healthy ways. If she is so perfectionist, it's important to talk about why we get frustrated when things aren't perfect (man, I'm STILL working on this.) You can talk about the pressure in her chest and mind when things don't go her way, and talk about how we can take deep breaths to help those feelings go away. We can say "I love myself, even when I make mistakes!" and try to teach those lessons.
I think are an amazing parent, so keep being forgiving toward your daughter when she loses patience, and be kind to yourself when you don't know what to do. I think you should lean into what she likes - have family dance parties to enjoy music and get some movement and serotonin going, go for walks and hikes (the calmness of nature and exercising have always helped me process all the buzz in my mind), and work on small projects that are quick and easy to complete. If she's disorganized like her father but still incredibly intelligent, I think intricate projects might frustrate her, especially if she can't get them just right. I loved art, but it also triggered my anxiety because my watercolors would never look the way I wanted them to, and I'd get mad that I wasn't a better artist... but art could still work for her! I think ideally she should have activities that don't really have a "best" or "winning" outcome - things that you don't have to do correctly. Something like Legos, or reading, or making slime (seems appropriate for her age.)
Reading books with her about feelings and anxiety can help give her the words she needs to talk about her feelings. I really liked The Way I Feel growing up, as well as Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon (a book about being yourself and loving your quirks), and there are a lot of mentions for There's A Bully In My Brain on family therapy websites.
I think you will want to talk to a child occupational therapist. They won't give you 'medical' advice necessarily, but they'll be equipped with tactics to deal with the quirks and neuroses your daughter might have. Given she seems to be similar to her father, that can help you understand him better as well!
You got this, mama.