Q: When my 6-year-old daughter gets upset, she will cry so hard she throws up. She does this at home and at school. Of course, if she does it at school, they call us to come pick her up because they think she’s ill. We have no idea how to even start to deal with this. Any suggestions? — Kalamazoo Mom
A: By the sound of it, your little one has a difficult time regulating her emotions. To rule out a medical or sensory concern, having a discussion with her doctor or an evaluation with an occupational therapist would be a good place to start. Some children have an over-sensitive gag reflex that kicks into gear, especially when losing emotional control, and occupational therapy can assist with that.
Exploring triggers for your daughter may also be helpful in order for your family to understand people, places or events that may lead to her becoming so upset. Assist your daughter in planning for some of these triggers to help decrease the magnitude of the effect these triggers have on her. Help your daughter work on emotional intelligence (identification and positive expression of emotions) to assist her in expressing herself in a more effective and positive way.
Most importantly, assist your daughter in calming her body to help decrease such an unpleasant response for her and for others around her. Teach her body relaxation techniques and deep breathing, and practice with her, to help her gain the ability to calm her body and set herself up to physically handle strong emotions.
If she continues to have a difficult time handling herself, it may be helpful to seek a mental health professional to work on emotional regulation.
Q: My 5-year-old son has been telling me lately he wants to “dress like Mommy.” I am not sure what that means or what to do about it. Any advice? — Portage Mom
A: Children often want to mimic what they see as they learn and explore the world around them. At the age of 5 it is difficult to say whether the desire to “dress like Mommy” is simply out of age-appropriate curiosity, enjoying the comfort of Mommy’s clothes, an exploration of different gender roles or just wanting to be more like the mommy he loves.
Regardless of the reason he wants to dress like Mommy, it is important to avoid responding to him in a way that could cause feelings of shame. It is age-appropriate for children his age to dress up and pretend to be and do all sorts of things. Fostering creativity and imaginative play is beneficial to his development. If your son continues to want to dress like Mommy and this causes you to feel uncomfortable, it may be beneficial for you to seek further guidance and explore and process these feelings as they arise for you.
Questions answered by Nichole Holliday, MA, LLPC, LLMFT, Private Practice at Child & Family Psychological Services Portage, and Alyssa Noonan, LLMSW, Private Practice at Child & Family Psychological Services Kalamazoo