Children can turn into drama magnets

Children can turn into drama magnets

Question: Help! My 7-year-old was the happiest baby and toddler and then around 4 developed a “victim” personality. Sample complaints: “No one listens to me” (she has a soft voice and there are two older girls who like to talk); “Even the dog doesn’t like me” (she doesn’t show interest in him); “No one ever plays with me” (her older sisters play better together).

Everything is poor me and to be honest, it drives me crazy. I’ve talked with her, trying to be an understanding mom, until I’m blue in the face. Otherwise, she’s well-adjusted and does well in school (although she’s beginning to complain about her classmates). I want to tell her to get over it and get a grip, but how do you do that with a 7-year-old? I tell her to stand up for herself, but she obviously prefers being the wilted victim. Can you help me understand what’s going on with her and tell me how to break her of this attitude and find that happy kid she used to be?

Answer: There’s nothing to understand other than the hearts of some children are like bottomless drama-magnets. Once these kids find that self-drama attracts attention, there’s no holding them back. This is not “manipulation” in the sense of being thought-out, however. It’s more like an addiction. As such, the more you talk to your daughter about the problem, trying to help her understand the realities of life, develop better coping skills, and her own role in her “victimization,” the worse the problem is going to become. You’ve already discovered that; now it’s time for you to accept it.

Unfortunately, you are not going to be able to “break” her of her penchant for self-drama. You would do best to accept that after three formative years, it has become a fairly fixed feature of her personality. That’s not to say you can’t help her control it, however. To do that, you simply need to conduct and follow-through with what I call the “final conversation.”

Sit down when the proverbial iron is not hot and say to her, “Sweet child of mine, we are going to take this peaceful, private opportunity to talk for as long as you like about people and dogs not liking you and people not listening to you and nobody wanting to play with you. When we can’t talk anymore about it because we’ve said everything there is to say about it, we’re going to stop and we are NEVER EVER going to EVER talk about any of that stuff again. EVER.”

Get her to talk about the many ways in which she feels she is victimized and the many people (and animals) who victimize her. Listen intently and do not make her complaints seem insignificant. Ask questions. Do not try to help her put her feelings into better perspective. The “final conversation” should be a safe, accepting time for her to put all of her self-drama on the table.

Talk and talk and talk some more and then ask, “Is there anything else you need to say about it?” She will say “I guess not” to which you say “OK then, we’ve talked about it, and there’s nothing else to say about it, and so we’re never, ever going to talk about it again.” And you adjourn.

The final conversation is not to be confused with the final episode of self-drama. Keep in mind that she’s an addict. The next time she says something about her poor, pitiful existence, you should say, “Well, that’s too bad, but we talked about all of that, and we’re never going to talk about it again” and turn away from her and go about your business.

Given patient persistence and tenacity on your part, her dramatic complaints will subside. Will they ever completely disappear? I doubt it. You’ll probably be occasionally reminding her of the “final conversation” when she’s in her senior year of high school.

(Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site at www.rosemond.com.)

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