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What to Do if (You or) Your Child is a Drama Queen

Posted by Jen on February 24, 2010 at 6:28 AM in Raising Girls
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As mothers we love to complain about our daughters being too dramatic, while being completing forgetful of all the ways we were overly dramatic as girls ourselves--or in my case, overly dramatic yesterday. I keep thinking we should take this show on the road--Madeleine and me, but thankfully, there's a young troubled starlet on the cover of every gossip magazine to remind me that life as a child star (with or without the dramatic stage mother) means rehab is just a few years away.

Here are a few ways I'm trying to play the role of "mature grownup" when Madeleine is responding to life's every turn with drama, drama, drama:

Some of this is normal. Notice I say "some." Madeleine has been an expressive child since birth. It only makes sense that her capacity for self-expression would grow right along with her verbal and reasoning skills. She's got the full range of emotions going from across the spectrum and that's a good thing. My work is to channel her energy, not squelch it. Understanding (and honoring) her as a naturally expressive person helps me put this behavior in perspective.

Just because your drama queen is in hysterics doesn't mean you have to be. High strung kids can pull everyone else into their drama in no time. Before you know it, you're pacing, emoting, yelling, and throwing your hands around for emphasis, too. I find it helps most when I take a calm, quiet and somewhat detached demeanor. She's caught up in her own emotion, but Mom is doing just fine. This conveys a natural boundary that gives her confidence and something to count on. Not an easy posture for me, but I'm learning.

It's okay to step away from the fire. Sometimes Madeleine is too upset/tired/animated and/or offended to really entertain any other point of view. In these cases, things go better if I'm empathetic ("I can see you are really having a hard time") and clear ("I'm not going to talk about this until I have a chance to calm down myself and think it through") in the midst of her storm. By giving myself a little timeout to process, I offer an example of how to get through heavy-duty emotions. Just because her intensity is turned way up doesn't mean I need to react immediately. Giving myself time to think helps both of us.

Try passing notes. When Madeleine is really upset about something, sometimes we communicate best through writing. At eleven, she's well acquainted with the brilliance of the phrase "circle yes or no." By writing back and forth, we can boil things down to the underlying issues and say the most important things on our minds. Most of the time her outburst is connected to a tiny need she's feeling too big to own up to, like--"I need more alone time" or "I need quiet time with mom". These are the kinds of things that notes bring to the surface.

Don't feed the elephants. There's an disproportionate amount of media/books/music focused on the insecure girl, desperate for reassurance and approval. While I understand that much of this is designed to validate feelings and help girls get on towards empowerment, sometimes I wonder if we're telling our girls that it's normal to be unsure of themselves--that part of growing up is playing the part of the tentative ingenue, afraid of the world. I know Madeleine is listening hard when I tell her that this classic "girl" behavior doesn't have to be her destiny--and that working on social and academic skills is one way to keep her standing tall and calm in the inevitable storms.

Cry if you want to. Sometimes our drama queens are tuned into the big feelings that we long ago learned how to stamp out. It's okay to spend a little time in meltdown mode until the waves wash you back to shore. A gentle bubble bath is the perfect place to get it all out while doing some important self-nurture at the same time. Madeleine is learning how to self-soothe--an important skill for grownups as well.

Are you a drama queen? Is your girl (or boy)? Share with us what works well in the comments below.


home wall art writes...

Maybe there's something wrong, I will talk to my daughter and ask whats the problem.I will explain to her why do i need to tell her whats the good for her.

Amber writes...

My first child, at 5, is becoming something of a drama queen. She's my explosive and expressive girl. I am still figuring out what works and what doesn't. Stepping outside the drama as much as possible, and occasionally taking a moment to compose myself seems to be the most helpful. Because the answer is definitely NOT me becoming a 5-year-old drama queen myself. Although, in honesty, I have done that.

Gail writes...

No wise mothering or parenting words, Jen. Just an observation - that is a fantastic photo of you and your daughter. You look amazingly beautiful, aglow in that picture. Absolutely aglow. Wow!

PS> I love you dearly!!!!!

Trish writes...

Hi, this is my first time on this site. I got here after receiving an email alert from another blog site. Things always happen for a reason, I believe. And here's my reasoning on why I arrived here, to read this very apt blog. Although, my kids are grown, a boy and a girl, both being somewhat dramatic at times. And yes, I do remember much of my dramatic youth. I think I was led here to realise just how dramatic I can still be. Maybe it's an even bigger problem than I thought. A relationship has just broken down because I was determined to have progress on an issue. I gave him time to think, but maybe I myself think too much. Stress at times I don't need to. Typical silly Virgo, analysing, and determined, methodical and detail driven. I think those things are a great asset to me, but they are a two edged sword. My daughter is Virgoan too, we're so much alike that it gets in the way sometimes. I'm still learning to live life in the most authentic way possible in the here and now, and I'm finding these blogs very useful and inspirational. When you stop learning you die, right? Anyone else out there like me? Who find they can apply those suggestions in Jen's blog to all relationships in life. I'll be back. This is a great site. Thanks Jen.

Lee writes...

One thing I'd say NOT to do is to roll your eyes and call your daughter a 'drama queen' in her presence, or within earshot. (And yes, I've witnessed this.) It totally discounts her feelings. However she's expressing them at the moment, the underlying feelings are very real to her. And look objectively at your own behavior - you my be unknowingly modeling the very behavior you're discounting or finding objectionable in your daughter.

reji writes...

my adult kids think
i am the drama queen

Lilith writes...

That's good advice about the remaining calm, but as an emotional over-acter myself, I remember a different reaction.
Still sometimes as an adult even though I'm aware of it, I find that if the person I'm slowing getting wound up with doesn't show any emotion or is standing there unaffected, I feel taked-down too, and become more angry or outraged.

It might be a personal memory, but if my mother hadn't shown some personal concern for what I was worried/mad about, I had a very hard time calming down.

So I'd amend your calm natural barrier with it might not extend confidence but might instill further uncontrolled panic if not coupled with empathy and consern. It's really hard to remain calm while being visibly empathetic when someone is becoming over emotional. The only thing I can think is, you know your son/daughter, know if they're over-acting or genuinely worried about something.

Your articles are always awesome, thanks so much!

Tracy writes...

Love this, thank you you for writing. My daughters are young, 4 and 1, and already they are very emotional beings. I am as well, but I've learned to detach (staying nearby and remaining loving, but allowing them to have their own feelings). I would get so stressed and felt almost sick to my stomach when they would go off over the littlest things. I would start hovering and make everything worse, it seemed. It just wasn't healthy on so many levels. I want to be the strong force in my family who models good emotional health because I'm the adult and I can control my emotions on most days better than a 4-year-old. I save the big emotional responses for the important times. But, in staying 'detached' I never abandon my daughters. There is a big difference and you have struck that balance as well with your daughter.

kathy writes...

I have 2 grown daughters that feed off of each other. As children they were raised by me, a single parent that had been through much personal trauma. They have 2 brothers who were very active, actually all my kids are hyper and very smart so they learned how to manipulate and overwhelm me often. It took years to develop my own self control and gain dignity through acting upon the issues instead of reacting to the drama. It's been hard for me.

Jene writes...

Hi Jen,

I really appreciated your earlier post on connecting to your introverted child, and I love this one too! I know you are writing about two different children, but in our case, my daughter (age 2.5) and I are both introverts AND drama queens.

I, too, have found it helpful to give her some space to have her emotions, before trying to problem solve. As your commenters have noted, it is a balance. My daughter freaks out if I actually leave the room, and, as an adult, I still find myself trying to get my mom to get worked up about what I'm worked up about if I feel she isn't hearing me. That said, there is a point at which adding fuel to the fire just isn't helpful and being a calm, quiet presence is the best way. I sense you've found that balance with your daughter. I'm learning with mine to look for the moment when she's ready for me to engage. Usually, it's when she stops screaming and starts talking. I'm so looking forward to trying your "passing notes" strategy when she's older.


Gabbi writes...

Currently, I am dealing with an 11 year old who is full of attitude and eye-rolling. Sometimes she seems so negative about everything. It is difficult for me to deal with because I am a self proclaimed "Eternal Optimist", and so dealing with what at times seems like her constant griping, drains the life right out of me.

We had an argument on the phone because I was asking how her day was, and she said it was boring, her strawberries at lunch were mushy, why didn't I pay the library late fee yet, she can't find any jeans she likes, she has to many chores and not enough time and on and on. It was super frustrating. I asked her "Did anything GOOD happen today?"



I had to get off the phone and take a time out. I put some thought into it about what was the real issue.
I had a conversation with her and realized she is feeling overwhelmed with her 11 year old life. So, we declared Fridays a no chore day. As long as she gets her chores done during the week. If she does her stuff in a timely manner, Fridays are her day off.

That definitely brightened her mood. Knowing she gets a day off made her feel relieved and validated because I acknowledged her frustration.

I wish I always could have these kind of outcomes.


Kathleen writes...

My daughter is a drama queen, she is 3 1/2 years old and I am most likely 100% to blame. I returned from OIF with PTSD and to this day have yet to receive any truly helpful counseling/advice/assistance in coping with my disease. I was a wreck during my pregnancy with her and most of her 1st year of life. To this day I too often overreact to situations and I see the same trend in my daughter. How long will I berate myself for not being in the right place before I had a child? Probably until the day I die, alas, now I have to live with the consequences of my life and teach her how to live with them as well.

GeorgeL writes...

I agree that it's quite normal for girls to be too dramatic sometimes, but it's usually not a big deal. On the other hand, if you are cooking pancakes and they get stuck to your electric griddle and you can't separate the pancakes from the surface - that's much more annoying than a drama queen in my opinion. Overall, it was an interesting read, so good job.

julie writes...

Why do people expect this behavior from girls? Whenever I complain about my daughter's screaming fits or general hysteria to another adult, they always say, "She's a girl; that's normal". Is there any biological basis for this? I want my daughter to toughen up. I understand all children will cry, but my boys have never been this dramatic.
My daughter is an extroverted, social creature in every sense. Does anyone else think these two traits (outgoing and prone to hysterics) are linked?

scot writes...

if not coupled with empathy and consern. It's really hard to remain calm while being visibly empathetic when someone is becoming over emotional. The only thing I can think is, you know your son/daughter, know if they're over-acting or genuinely worried about something.
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