So, you think your child is “iyakin.” You (as well as his yaya, preschool teacher, and even family relatives) have noticed that he throws tantrums easily at small disappointments as if they were big problems.
You've had these scenarios. He refuses to participate in class because his favorite crayon set was left at home. He becomes hysterical because a classmate gets to the purple pillow first (your child’s favorite) during naptime. She bursts into tears when her cookie breaks in half as she was trying to close the pack. She stomps his feet in anger when the teacher tells her to put away the toys because recess is over.
So should you worry? Is there anything you need to do to make your child from becoming hysterical?
First, know that it’s okay that your child gets emotional; in fact, experts say it’s typical preschool-age behavior. After all, feelings should not be kept bottled up inside (true for grown-ups, too!). “Children need to be able to cry and work through their feelings as they go through life,” says family therapist Alison Ehara-Brown in a column for BabyCenter.
Negative emotions like sadness, frustration, and anger are not necessarily bad. “Children need to learn that we all have a range of feelings,” says Stephanie Samar, PsyD, a clinical psychologist of the Child Mind Institute. “You don’t want to create a dynamic that only happy is good.”
Your child exclaiming “I’m mad!” instead of hitting a classmate is already a step in the right direction of managing his strong feelings.
If you find that your child’s reactions tend to be all-out even if the problem is small, don’t worry just yet. “Some children haven't yet developed that inner brake. When they get upset about something, all their emotions come right to the surface and they get a flash flood of tears,” says Parents advisor Michele Borba, EdD, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.
Your child may also be more sensitive compared to other kids. “Some children’s reactions are just bigger than their peers or their siblings or their cousins. Not only do they feel things more intensely and quickly, they’re often slower to return to being calm,” says clinical psychologist Lindsey Giller, PsyD, to the Child Mind Institute.
What you can do about to help your child manage his emotions
Avoid blatantly telling your child to stop crying (“Nag-iinarte ka na naman! Tumigil ka.”). It usually does the opposite of what you intend and will just cause your child to cry more, says Dr. Borba.
Instead, validate your child’s feelings, advises the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Try saying something like, “You’re upset because there are no more cookies. You can try looking in the cabinet if there’s something else you’d like.” If she does pick something else — even if she does it through tears — that’s already a victory. Point it out by saying, “I’m happy you found something. That does look yummy.”
Distraction is also a useful tool. Ask your child to count up to 10, said Linda Dunlap, PhD, professor of psychology to Parents. “At age 3 or 4, counting still takes focus and concentration, so whatever was upsetting your child may feel like old news by the time he gets to 10.”
Make sure to spend quality time together every day. It allows you to connect with your child and help her manage stress and bad feelings in a loving environment. “This five minutes of parental attention should not be contingent on good behavior. It’s a time, no matter what happened that day, to reinforce that ‘I love you no matter what,’” says Dr. Samar.
Dr. Dunlap reassures that, in time, your child will outgrow being iyakin as she learns to manage her emotions and become more resilient. “By age 6 or 7, she will probably have fewer bouts of crying, especially when she sees that other children prefer to play with her when she's not in tears,” says Dr. Dunlap.
Worry about your child’s bouts of crying when it’s persistent and constant. “Insufficient sleep or poor eating habits can be enough to make a preschooler feel irritable,” says Parents. “Checking in with your pediatrician can't hurt: Anything from an undetected chronic ear infection to a slight speech delay could make a kid quick to cry.”