23 answers

Coping Skills for Super Sensitive 3 Year Old

Hi, My daughter is 3 1/2, very bright, funny, gentle and smart. Her preschool teacher tells us she is gifted. The problem we are having is that she is unbelievably sensitive. She is terrified of loud noises, machines etc. but the main issue is that she just melts down into a pool of tears if things don't go as she hopes, and she quickly gets absolutely hysterical and unable to calm herself. Her teacher says it's because she is a perfectionist and she struggles with impossibly high standards for herself. I know meltdowns and screaming sound like typical three year old behavior but she seems to be much more highly strung than many of her friends. I am wondering if anyone can recommend any reading material which will help us figure out how to help her get some coping skills.

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Hi H.
she may really have a sensory issue and if so you will want to have her evaluated so you can get her some occupatianl therapy. that will help a ton with her melt downs and some of the other things she may be sensitive to. There are some really good sensory books out there but I can not think of any of them right now. sorry. T.

You may want to read The Children of Now. I don't know that it will help with coping skills but it may help with what's going on...you mentioned she was gifted.

More Answers

I strongly second Raising Your Spirited Child. Addresses some of the sensory issues as well as the perfectionism and the emotional volatility and a wealth of other related topics - this book has saved my sanity on many an occasion!

Hi H. -

I think you should check out "Raising Your Spritied Child." I was only able to read a little of it before I had to return it to the library, but the author addressed some of the issues you are describing, ones I am dealing with. Hopefully it will help you out!

take a class, or look online for information on temperment. this is just who she is! :D knowing what her temperment is makes it easier for you to understand where shes coming from. i was like ths as a child, very structured, very afraid of or hating change. im still that way, but i can deal with it. its ok for her to be upset.

the best thing you can do is to prepare her beforehand - telling her when an activity is coming to an end, allowing PLENTY of time for her to wind up what she is doing before having to end it. try your best not to make anything be last minute or surprising. there will be times where this is unavoidable, but try to give her SOME time to process the change and be able to do it. dont surprise her with company, dont surprise her with having to leave..

good luck.

Let me preface my comment by confessing I am a type a mom. I have DEFINITELY mellowed out as my parenting continues, and I am more of a mellow mom than I am at other things, but I still sometimes struggle with my Type A and my reaction to situations that really stress me out. So, let me ask you, who is she around every day that is modeling some of these behaviors for her? It might not look exactly like her reaction but it is there. I would say a book isn't going to help. You need to work to train her. She will probably always be sensitive (I cry, and always have, when I got yelled at by anyone - parents, boss, etc - you need to help her figure out how to control this!). And sensitive in itself isn't a bad thing. With my 3 yr old we started very early talking about "getting control". She would start to cry over not getting her way and we would say "I can't talk to you when your like this. You need to get control." Then we taught her about taking deep breaths until she felt more calm. After about 2 years (or a little more) of this, she can turn the tears off like a switch. There are still times when she can't seem to get control. Sometimes she still asks for help - and I talk her through breathing or just hold her tight in a chair (no words). But those feelings of frustration, anger, etc are really kind of scary when you think about it. But most of us know what the feelings are and how to control them. I would start by having a conversation with her when all is well about how to act when something goes wrong. Then pray it does. You are hoping she will give lots of chances to practice this and learn it! But walk away from her drama and tell her you will talk to her when she is calm. In a few months of practicing calming down and not getting any attention when she is losing it, she will figure it out. Just make sure you share what you are doing with her school so they can do the same thing. Good luck!

Her behavior is a lot like my granddaughter's. Have you had her checked for autisim? Contact the administrative offices for your local schools and a nurse at her doctor's office. See what services are available to her. Sometimes you have to push to get any attention.
One thing we recently learned is that both MSG and yogurt can make austic children violent. The strange thing is that austic children will crave yogurt, my little granddaughter will eat 3 a day. Try making sure that she does not get any of these food items and see if her behavior changes. There is a lot of information out there on line and in books but you need to weed through and determine what works for you and you daughter.
Good luck with her.

Hi H.
If you contact your school district they have a birth to 3 program (they have one after 3 also) tell them what is going on with your daughter and your concerns. They will test her for sensory issues. If she is found to have sensory or other issues they will be able to help. This is a free service. In my case 2 of my 3 kids were serviced through the school district, the got to go to preschool for free do to needing services through the school. One of my kids had speech and sensory problems. The other one come to find out has Aspergers. (that was a whole different can of worms) :o) I still deal with an ultra sensitive/emotional child. He just melted down the other day in kindergarten over a broken crayon. He doesn't tantrum his cry's like he just lost his teddy bear. It is so heart felt.

Hi H.,
She sounds like a type A personality, but you might also have the school district test for signs of Aspergers, just to make sure there isn't anything else going on.
My 4 year old is a total perfectionist, type A. She gets so upset if she doesn't do something right or doesn't write her name perfectly and has to start all over again. We talk to her about what is important is she does her best and not that it is perfect - no one is perfect, even mommy and daddy. We try to focus on the process instead of the outcome. You can also work on some self-coping strategies. We do an exercise that we start in her chest and imagine a beautiful white light spreading through her whole body (using our hand to spread it down her legs, arms, head, etc.) and do deep breathes to calm down.

Good luck,

This sounds exactly like my daughter, who is now 13. There was one book that I read at the time that really helped us called the Explosive Child. Sounds horrible, but it was a great book.

I second the person that recommended reading The Highly Sensitive Child. This book changed my life and really helped to understand my own daughter better. If I would have read this earlier, it would have only helped. Basically, your daughter sounds like she has a highly sensitive NERVOUS system (hearing, touch, taste, smells, etc), and all that can really overwhelm her. It's easy to lose it when you're constantly overwhelmed. Read it to understand what she's dealing with and also to educate her on how to manage all those sensory details flying at her that other people totally miss.

Yes, read the "Out of Sync Child", it is about dysfunctional sensory integration. Another good book to follow it up with is "Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight" about adults who have had to learn on their own to cope with sensory problems. It's easier to understand and people talk about the problems they had in childhood (these are all people who learned to cope on their own...without treatment). Sensory problems can be treated with Occupational Therapy. Both my kids have sensory problems as do I though I was able to catch theirs at an early enough age that they don't have the problems that I do as an adult who wasn't treated (because the medical community didn't know about it when I was a kid). It's easy enough to treat and if caught at an early enough age you can help her mature her nervous system to the point that it won't be a lifelong problem as it is for me. Also, take a peek at this link to a symptom checklist: http://www.sensory-processing-disorder.com/sensory-proces...

Good luck to you hun and if you have any questions about it, please feel free to ask! :)

Hi I'm reading a book called The Survival Guide for Parents of Gifted Children, by Walker, Sally Yahnke. I got it at my library. So far, think I'm half way through it. she has a lot of other resources in the book. I have learned a lot about my kids, and my super sensitive little boy!!

Read Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. After reading this, it turned out my children are just active, but what you describe sounds like some of kids I read about in this book. Good luck!

I would have her evaluated. many of her challenges sound like Aspergers.I have a stepson (teen) with it. I was not in his life when he was her age, but looking through his behavior reports and history- very similar. Best of luck.

Read the Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron.

Hi H.
she may really have a sensory issue and if so you will want to have her evaluated so you can get her some occupatianl therapy. that will help a ton with her melt downs and some of the other things she may be sensitive to. There are some really good sensory books out there but I can not think of any of them right now. sorry. T.

Try Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. There are many different kinds of sensitive children, and you should listen to your child and not dismiss her concerns. Your long-term goal is to help her manage these sensitivities so she will have fewer meltdowns, not to "make" her not care about loud noises.

There are other resources for parents of high-need children on the website of Attachment Parenting International. http://www.attachmentparenting.org/

Resources for parents of gifted children can be found at the website of the Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa. It's common for these kids to have high standards and be perfectionists, so you are right to be aware of this at start developing a strategy for dealing with it.

I can see the perfectionism idea with crying when it doesn't go as she hopes... but if your daughter is terrified of loud noises and seems unable to calm herself, my first thought was also a sensory issue. I would agree with Tiffany.

You know your child best. Maybe you may want to call the Dr. and get his/her opinion? It would be great to figure it out before she enters Kindergarten in a couple years. If it would be a sensory issue, there is lots of help out there.

Good luck to you and your daughter. I hope you have this figured out soon.


Hi H.,

Not sure of any book that will help, but...check out FLYLADY.NET and Housefairy.org. They helped me beyond words!

Perfectionism runs rampant in my family and so one of my boys is seriously afflicted with it - to my chagrin. What has helped him (and me, another perfectionist) is to learn when good enough is really good enough. I tell each of my boys great job when he does a good enough job on any and everything (that really doesn't NEED to be PERFECT -- and what at their ages (6 & 8) really needs to be PERFECT???). I stress to both of my boys that as long as they tried to do the best they could, that's all I ask and expect.

So, when they mop the floor and miss the corners, edges, and a third of the space, they still did a great job of helping me. LOL!

Use a lot of positive reinforcement on what they do...not what they are trying to do and not quite getting it PERFECT.

When showing them what they do wrong, I don't use that word...I show them "a different way" to do it...not the "Right" way.

My mother drilled into me for years that a job isn't worth doing if you can't do it right...so I never really did anything for a long time...and then when I did, it would take hours! Now, after figuring this out (after 40 years!) I get a lot done, my boys get a lot done, we feel great about it, and, it's good enough. :)

Now for the tantrums, I shut the door on my youngest (he was around 3ish at the time) and ignored him until he quieted down and was able to talk in an indoor voice. After a while, the screaming sessions went from 2 hours to 30 seconds. LOL! Once he was able to talk, we could work out whatever issue he was having. Most of the time he didn't listen to the whole sentence and only heard what he couldn't do...missing the "until" or "after" conditions. So I changed how I worded things as well as told him to wait until I was finished talking before getting upset as I could see him starting up.

If you sit with them and explain that sometimes things don't always go the way you want them to, it's not the end of the world...the shut door/open window thing. Give them an example like "Remember when it was too cold for you to play outside and you wanted to really bad? Well, instead of playing outside, we got to play a couple of games of Candyland or make cookies, and you got to play outside the next day." or "Mommy wanted to get her hair done, but the person wasn't there so I couldn't, but we went to the park instead, and I got my hair done the next day." They will get it...it takes a lot of patience and putting things in their perspective.

Good luck! I went through about 2 years of being reminded daily why some species eat their young. LOL!

You have been getting some great advice and I second the last book recommendation. A couple other good books you can check out of the library include "The Out-of-Sync Child" and "The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun". They both address sensory processing issues. My DS is gifted and has struggled with sensory processing disorder (SPD) but occupational therapy(OT) and our educating ourselves about it have helped tremendously.

My son is not nearly as sensitive as your daughter, but he is definitely sensitive to some things. What has worked for us is to find what DOES work--does she do better if she can see what's causing the noise? If she is held close? If she can go someplace "safe"? Try giving her the control and simply allowing her to feel the way she does. Soon, she will be able to see that other kids don't react the way she does, and then it's time to work on very gradually allowing her to experience those things closer up. With our son, it's been very important that he feels safe and comfortable. So, we let him do that, very slowly stretching his comfort level. He is very excited about life, except for this remarkable cautious streak that hits sometimes. We've been able to just take a little more time with him, helping him to acclimate, and being forthright with his teachers, and it seems to be working. I don't know if that would work for your daughter, as her fears are different than our son's, but those are some things that have worked for us.

You may want to read The Children of Now. I don't know that it will help with coping skills but it may help with what's going on...you mentioned she was gifted.

Hi H. -
I remember going through that period with my daughter and at times I've noticed we still need to work on it. There are a lot of really good Feelings books out there - this gives your dtr some words to describe how she's feeling besides just mad/angry. I also talked through times when I was upset. I'm sure you're not hysterical or teary eyed if you get a paper cut but, if you use more descriptions to deal with your problems, she can learn from seeing you cope by using your words. SInce your dtr is quite smart - you could help her make a list of positive coping strategies. We did this and we set up a reward system. She didn't get a reward every day - but, after so many stickers - she either earned money or a special prize that I knew she'd like. I gave her up to 3 stickers a day. I made my decision of how many she earned each night and explained why. But, I let her know while she was having a meltdown that after one reminder she'd be losing sticker rewards. Sometimes, I just walked her over to the chart she made so that she could read (or see pictures) of what she thought could calm her down. Some of them were - read a book, pray, take a nap, listen to music, leave the project/area and come back later, count to 10, practice 5 deep breaths. At school, a few of these could be done but, you could also see if it would be ok for her to bring a stress ball to school to squeeze, too. This reward system and visual chart really helped her - it made her recognize that she had more appropriate choices on how to behave. Good luck!

I agree with the woman who suggested "Raising Your Spirited Child" by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. Your child sounds like a "spirited" one. The book has helped me a lot!

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