Written by Doctor G

How To Help a Child With Strong Emotions

4447232_sI have a 9 year old granddaughter. All of a sudden she will go into a crying spell such as this am. She had spent the night at my home last night as she requests on numerous occasions to do and went to sleep for 9:15 last night and slept until I woke her up for school at 7:00. She was hard to get up, said she was tired & didn’t want to go to school. After eating breakfast it was time to get ready, she proceeded to cry, lay on the floor & say she hated school, was tired & didn’t want to go. After a stressful 15 min of hard crying, her mother picked her up for school (they live right across the street). These crying spells happen about 1 to 3 times a week. I have to tell you that she is overweight. I also have to say that she wants to sleep at my house 3 to 4 times a week or as often as her mom will allow. It is just her paw paw & I here. PLEASE help us try and figure why these sudden crying spells. Thank you.

Anonymous, in Louisiana

Your granddaughter is lucky to have you and her Paw Paw! Grandparents can make such a positive difference in the lives of kids, and it’s wonderful that you live so close to each other.

To be a nine year old girl is maybe not as simple as it was a generation or two ago. It sounds like your this girl is struggling with something at school. Like most kids her age, she is probably able to forget about the problem on the weekends or in the evenings for a while, but feels panicked when she has to go back to school and face it.

Her emotions are also changing, as she is probably in the very early stages of puberty. The hormonal changes of puberty can begin as young as age eight, and tend to be earlier when girls are more overweight, as well.

All of this is to say that her crying spells are a normal reaction for a nine year old to a scary or stressful situation.

I don’t know why she’s having these crying spells, but your granddaughter does know, and you can find out.

Here are some steps you can take.

  1. Spend some time alone with her. The more relaxed she feels the more likely she is to feel safe enough to discuss this. It sounds like your home is a very safe place to her.
  2. Make an observation. “I’ve noticed that you have some pretty sad feelings sometimes.”
  3. Wait quietly. She may need a while to answer.
  4. Don’t be put off. Some kids will react to this chance by pouring out troubles. Others may withdraw or attack. She may need more evidence that you can and will listen, that you’re ready to judge. Try making another observation, or mentioning a memory about you or one of your own kids not wanting to go to school for a good reason.
  5. Offer empathy, not solutions. The first thing she needs to know is that all of her emotions are acceptable.
  6. Ask if she has any ideas of how to help the situation.  You can offer some help, but she will build more confidence if you let her take the lead in problem solving. This will help her build resilience.
  7. Praise her behavior. Despite her fear or sadness, she is still getting up from her crying and going to school. She is not using her emotions as an excuse to break the rules.

It is likely that your granddaughter is the victim of something that is crushing her self-esteem. Whether she is being teased or bullied at school or at her house (or both), or struggling academically or socially, she needs a adult to help her explain the problem. Then you and the other helpful adults in her life can help her find solutions.

Please let me know what you find out!


Readers, have you experienced a child with a sudden behavior change? What did you do? 


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1 thought on “How To Help a Child With Strong Emotions”

  1. Dr. G I think you hit the nail on the head with your response in so many respects. One thing that I would add is that she needs to be prepared to hear something from her granddaughter that would need to be reported to school or other authority. If that should happen she should have a safe plan for her granddaughter and she should be prepared to give her assurances of support and confidentiality no matter what happens.

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