Boy, does this bring back memories. I'm going to ask you a few questions, then I'm going to make a couple of observations based on my own experience. Here goes -
How old is your daughter? Is she in the clutch of young hormones? Is she an only child? Is she competing with another sibling for equal time?
I have family members who are divas. I don't mean this in a negative way. There is a type of personality that is sensitive, artistic, intelligent and emotional. Raising this child will be much different than raising a grounded, commonsense, responsible pragmatist. And in the parenting universe, there are extremes in every direction, making parenting the most demanding profession imaginable.
That said, welcome to our universe. Millie has six kids and none of them was cast in the same mold. The same is true for my two. Sometimes I refer to them as opposite ends of the same pole. Switching from calm mother to trench mother is fine art.
Let's start by saying that with Sybil you always have at least four problems to work on. The first is the obvious problem. Let's use a contrived situation, "I have nothing to wear to school today." The calm mother reviews her kid's options with her and she arrives at a reasonable combination of wardrobe options for that day.
This won't be easy since to the diva, nothing is a reasonable option. But ask her for the least disastrous choice and she might find her own solution. And remind her that she must go to school that day, and she must wear clothing.
Later that day, use this problem as a learning experience. Here is the second problem to be solved. Why does she not have anything to wear to school? Is her laundry caught up? Did someone else "borrow something" - a problem with large families with at least two teen girls in high school. Once your kid comes home from school wearing the offending clothing, talk to her about her predicament and brain storm about how to prevent this problem in the future. She may end up religiously laundering her own clothes, she may buy a lock for her closet, she may get a part-time job so that she can add to her wardrobe, but help her see the underlying problem as well as the disaster facing her that morning. And help her see herself as her own problem solver.
The third problem is also obvious, how she emotionally responds to stress. Talk to her about problem solving 101, i.e. identifying the problem, solving the problem, eliminating the situation that led to the problem. Let her know that is is hard on the entire family when she resorts to histrionics. Repeat, over and over, that hysteria never solved a problem, only calm thinking and a rational plan. Do this when she is not in a "mood" but when she's easier to work with.
The fourth problem is the one that causes me the most anguish, how do I separate myself from her histrionics?
The bad news/good news is that I'm still working on this. We all want our children to feel loved, important, close to our hearts. But we also have to be able to step away when things get out of hand. I'm still working on this myself. It has always been hard for me to 'walk away' before responding in anger. But I'm getting better.
Have you thought about professional help? A good place to start is a school counselor - they are employees of the school district and will guide you both for free. A private specialist is an expense that will have to be worked out within your family budget. A school counselor also has a background feel for the social dynamic your child deals with every day - meaning she knows how other kids dress. It''s a good place to start.
Some kids are just histrionic in adolescence, some are that way by nature and will be throughout their adult years. Having a three-way conversation with a specialist might uncover specific problems that could be handled with medication, etc. It's worth looking into if my "four step program" doesn't cover it.
Well, I hope that this gets you started. Know that you're in my thoughts. I've been there, done that, and handled it all my life. God Bless!
Being a bit of a closet drama queen myself – and raising a few of them, too – I can certainly sympathize with both sides of this equation.
The good news is, you're raising a child who is creative, intelligent and in touch with her emotions. The bad news is that someone who is creative and intelligent can make darned sure that everyone within earshot will be in touch with her emotions, too.
In situations like this it is VITAL that you keep your sense of humor. I don't necessarily that you point your finger at an emotionally spastic pre-teen, laugh and say, “look at Sybil throwing another pity party!,” but you can certainly think it. I do sometimes laugh at the more dramatic statements – there are times you just can't help it – and, if the kid's not TOO far gone, sometimes that will be enough for them to see the absurd side too. Nothing like a shared giggle to jolly them back into a more equable frame of mind.
Alas, that happens too seldom. What I have found to be the most effective is to use exactly the same method you use on two-year-old throwing a tantrum: deprive her of her audience. Give her a kiss, tell her you're sorry she's upset, and leave. This will give her a chance to pull herself together if she can and even if she can't, it will allow you to pull yourself together. We need to put a little distance between us and the drama when we feel it pulling us into the whirlpool.
Of course, we love them, so we ARE involved and we DO care. It's like putting on your own oxygen mask before you help the child, though – we can't help them if we're puking too. We're programmed to respond when our kid is upset, so we need to make things as low-key as possible.
As Mollie so wisely says, there's not usually much you can do in the way of useful conversation until later when things have calmed down a bit. There are a few things you can try if you see warning signs of an impending attack:
Diversion: If she's standing in front of her closet with that telltale look in her eye, tell her a joke or feed her a caramel or say, “look at this cute thing the baby's doing!”
Seek out HER wisdom: Speaking as a drama queen, there's nothing we enjoy more than being asked what WE think, unless perhaps it's having our egos stroked. If you say something like, “Honey, you have such a green thumb, will you please take a look at this tomato plant and see if you can tell what's wrong? I can't figure it out,” that might be enough to take her mind off her problems for a minute.
Shock tactics: This will sound mean, but sometimes when a kid has worked themselves up to the puking point about something like matching socks the only way to derail them is to muster up your Inner Drill Sergeant. This won't work for all mothers or on all children, but if you are usually calm and nurturing and suddenly belt out, “All right, Sybil, I've HAD it! We do NOT carry on like this here! Put on what you wore yesterday, wipe your face and QUIT THAT NOISE!” sometimes it will help. I think it's because they feel so OUT of control that it makes them feel safer to have someone ESTABLISH control.
Put someone else in charge. If there are certain tasks or times of day that you know will set her off, arrange for her Dad or an older sibling or an auntie or almost ANYONE else to be “in charge” during those moments. She feels “comfortable” unleashing an emotional storm all over you, but her innate good manners (and fear of embarrassment, because she knows what she acts like) may keep her from doing it to someone else. Even if this can't be a long-term solution it will help occasionally when you are reaching your own breaking point.
The other thing to remember is that it's NOT about “having nothing to wear.” That's code for “I feel ugly” or “I'm worried that we're poor” or “someone made fun of me” or “clothes are tight and itchy and make me feel weird.” That's why it's VITAL that later, when things have calmed down and there's been some water under the bridge, you set out a couple cups of tea and sit her down for a heart-to-heart talk. “Honey, you were so upset this morning that it seems like there must be something else bothering you too. Can you tell me what it is?”
This is vital precisely because you're teaching her that dramatics won't get her the attention she wants; that comes when she is calm and can discuss what's on her mind. Try not to make her feel bad about being dramatic, but encourage her to channel that vitality for the Forces of Good: try out for plays, join the choir, tutor younger children, paint. Any character trait that's this strong is probably one of her Super Powers – she just needs to learn to control it before it controls her.
Oh, and one last thing . . . watch your OWN behavior. If you “lose it” on a regular basis – you're teaching her that, too!
(And if it helps you to see an “After” photo – Mollie's Drama Boy grew into one of the kindest, gentlest, funniest men I've ever met – and my most emotional kid has learned to work off bad moods with music that would haunt your heart.)