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Caring for the High Maintenance Child
By Kate Andersen.

Child with Short Fuse. February, 2018.
Dear Kate:
We have a 5 1/2 year old daughter that has been chronically inflexible and easily frustrated.....
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Children with a Short Fuse-Negative Mood & Inflexibility

Kate's Answer

Dear Wits End

Dear Parents,

Your use of the terms "chronically inflexible" and "vapor lock" suggest you have been reading "The Explosive Child" by Dr. Ross W. Greene. (See the review later in this newsletter.) I am sure that there is much in his book that would be helpful. However, I would suggest that you explore the question of triggers a little deeper. You suggest that you are not answering your daughter's questions in a definite way and that she wants to know "for sure". A normal child of her age can find it difficult to realize that parents are not 'all-knowing' and cannot predict the weather, for example. If she also has some type of learning disability, she may have even greater problems understanding other's perspectives (and knowledge). I trust she will have a thorough evaluation of her cognitive abilities, certainly by the time she is in school if not sooner (around the age of seven is a good time).

In the meanwhile, there may not be much you can do about her lack of tolerance of ambiguity. You may have to endure some "meltdowns". However, there are probably many occasions when you can anticipate these. It is a good idea to be careful to frame a plan in ways that warn her of any uncertainties. Is it possible that this is also a strong-willed young lady who wants things she likes so badly that you live in fear of disappointing her? Or do you find yourself raising possibilities just to appease her ("we might go to the park later if you have a rest now" and then find yourself changing the plans "but I didn't realize Grandma would phone"! If this is the case, avoid making appeasing promises!) As well, sometimes introducing more routines and fewer options can reduce the stress of changes and uncertainties. She may be one of those youngsters who thrives on a rigid routine with no choices offered.

It is also worth trying sitting down with her and identifying this "need for certainty" issue in simple terms that she can understand. "Sometimes you ask us something and we don't know and that makes you mad. You want to know FOR SURE. But even Mommies and Daddies don't know everything FOR SURE." Then invite her to help you develop a "certainty" scale: "Sometimes we will give you a "yes" answer, sometimes a "no", sometimes a "little maybe" and sometimes a "big maybe". You could suggest something to satisfy the magical thinking, characteristic of her age: "I wish there was a fairy princess who knew the answer to that". (The idea is to inject a little humor or fantasy into the topic which may help her thoughts loosen up a bit!) You could even write a story about "the little girl who had to know FOR SURE and blew up like a big balloon and BURST with frustration when she had to hear a 'maybe'". Then perhaps when you have to deliver "maybe" answers you can say them with a tickle and a giggle, reminding her of the story (unless that would infuriate her even more). These techniques are early forms of the type of problem-solving that Dr. Greene describes. Find a method to fit YOUR child.!

I am relieved to hear the empathy you feel for this youngster you describe as 'loving'. Chances are great she is NOT being manipulative but genuinely finds uncertainty stressful. Punishment is definitely not the answer. However, it is fine to draw an end to empathy and to ignore any meltdowns that cannot be avoided. A lot of kindness and understanding likely cannot help her "in the heat of the moment" whereas a objective, calm reaction could, by sending the message that "no matter how out-of-control you behave, and feel, grownups are in control and the world is a safe place"

I hope this helps.

Best of luck,


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