Directing a Drama Queen


Dear Dr. Debbie,

My 7 ½-year-old has no patience. How can I direct a Drama Queen? She can be very pleasant, friendly, and creative but if she needs something – a magic marker, a snack – she screams for it like it’s an absolute emergency. It’s possible she has ADD, though we haven’t pursued testing. I thought this would get better as she got older but she’s worse than her 5-year-old brother when it comes to demanding things.

Just Ask Nicely

Dear JAN,

A strong emotion can affect the people nearby, in fact that is the purpose of emotional expression, to arouse a reaction. But try not to make things worse by expressing frustration with your child.

Social-Emotional Development

Typically, as a child gains language skills, she gets better and better at communicating feelings with words. She also relies on parents less and less as she learns how to get things for herself.

As she grows in communication skills and self-reliance, a child is becoming an attractive playmate. She learns to consider another child’s desires and to make compromises. Patience is a byproduct of wanting to have a playmate stick around. A pair of four-year-olds can play happily with each other, sharing ideas, sharing space, sharing materials, because they are meeting each other’s needs to see their ideas carried out. This is called, “cooperative play”. Inversely, someone who whines and cries about what she wants is not an attractive playmate.

Pandemic Challenges

Due to restrictions on playing with friends, these past two years have understandably prevented many children from advancing their social-emotional skills. To keep from spreading germs we have kept children apart for the most part. If your daughter has been limited to her brother as a playmate her social-emotional growth may be mirroring his developmental stages (and he may be behind as well), rather than advancing as she might otherwise have advanced by interacting with children her own age.

She may also simply be expressing general anxiety as the world continues with tentative strides forward and ongoing precautions as Covid-19 runs its course. A slight inconvenience feels like an emergency when Covid tests and quarantines still impact our daily lives. Even if the coronavirus hasn’t directly touched members of your family, a child with strong emotions may be extra attentive to your emotional state, therefore overreacting to her minor aggravations.

Reducing Stress

Are there patterns to her outbursts? If you can, try to anticipate her needs for food, markers, etc. Help her to gain control over the things that easily upset her so she is less frequently and less intensely frustrated. This will take a concerted effort to keep track of her typical annoyances, and to calmly problem solve with her to make them go away. See if you can tackle one each day. For example, help her to put markers and other essential tools where she can find and use them.

As long as her appetite is reasonable and her calorie intake is healthy, help her identify and locate snacks she can help herself to when you might be busy. Teach her how to clean up after herself while you’re at it.

Physical Causes

It might be worthwhile to check with the pediatrician about possible physical causes of a child’s irritability. Seasonal allergies can explain some emotional behavior at this time of year. Ongoing allergens, such as dust or a food sensitivity, need to be explored and ruled out as well.

Does your daughter have rapid highs and lows in blood sugar? Impatient demands would have timing patterns around her food intake. If she is urgently demanding food several times a day she may be asking for what her body needs to keep it more steadily fueled.

Fatigue is another explanation for dramatic pleas for help. Sleep can be affected by allergies, stress, noise or light, or the temperature in the room. See that your child has a good night’s sleep every night  to help her stay more calm during the day.

Attention Deficit Disorder

Impatience is one of the symptoms of ADD. A highly active brain jumps from: “It would be nice to have a snack” to “Why don’t I have it already?!?!?” in a split second. Consider consulting a specialist to determine if your child’s desire for immediate gratification is caused by this increasingly common disorder. There are tips and techniques

to develop her abilities to wait more patiently. A school guidance counselor, or private behavior specialist, can work with you and your daughter to work on this together.

The best response to an impatient child is your patience.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum  The museum is now open for timed visits for families and small groups by reservation.

Dr. Wood will be presenting a Zoom workshop for parents and professional caregivers entitled: “Temperament Differences – From Easy to Difficult” on Monday, May 9, 7-9 pm. Register online or by phone: 410-990-1993.

Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.