My 5 year old daughter (our oldest child, we also have a 2 year old son) is normally a very happy child, although can be very sensitive. She is getting better controlling her emotions but one trigger we have not figured out is remembrances of her when she was younger.

Specific stories about her and things she used to do, and videos of her (even from happy memories), tend to get her very upset. Even photos (except those that are hanging up around the house) can trigger a response. She will often cry and need cuddling (usually from a parent) to calm her down. Videos usually have the most extreme reaction (and the video doesn't need to be that old), but stories of what she was like and stuff she used to do can also trigger a reaction.

We first noticed this about 2-3 years ago (prior to her brother's birth). Prior to that she used to enjoy looking at pictures and watching videos of herself we took of her on our phones. When we ask her about it upsets her, she isn't really able to explain why she is upset (and often what she does tell us changes). Asking about why it upsets her when she is calm can also trigger a reaction, so trying to talk to her to get to the bottom of it is not going to help.

My wife and I are at a loss to explain it and we aren't sure how to best handle it. We try to refrain from saying/watching things that will set her off, but I don't think avoidance is always the best way to handle things. Does anyone have any thoughts or input on what might be bothering her when she gets upset?

5 Answers 5


My daughter went through this, and it took a few years until she was old enough to articulate what made her sad about the old photos and stories.

While we were all reminiscing and fawning over her cutest, most-precious photos and the priceless moments of days gone by, what she was hearing was that she was no longer so "baby cute" and how we missed having that baby around she no longer was.

Give it time. It is easily fixed.

Show her she's still your little girl

Keep taking those family photos of those precious moments, regularly and often. But Invite her to add them to the family album with you. That will help her realize she's still the star of this running saga. The photos in those newest pages will only go back a few months. That's a good thing. Don't start paging back too far. Over time she will start to realize on her own that there is a long, unbroken line between those older family photos and the girl she is today.

Then she'll start flipping back on her own.

Don't "miss the baby"; celebrate the big girl

For the next few months-to-years, make a concerted effort to only talk about those old family photos and childhood stories in the context of how far she has come. Instead of saying "OMG, how cute that you dumped those Spaghetti O's on your head!", say instead: "Goodness, remember when you didn't even know how to feed yourself?" "Wow, when you were born, you didn't even have any hair." "It's hard to believe that only 4 years ago, you couldn't even walk!"

"You are such a BIG girl!" <big relieved hug>

Of course, be careful that you're not delving too far into making fun of her as a baby… but at five years old, she should be able to start enjoying a bit of self-deprecating humor in the context of how far she's come. She may even come to enjoy hearing those silly little girl stories, and ask you to repeat them over and over. "Daddy, tell me about the time I ran out with my poopy diaper. And tell me about how I spit milk out of my nose! Again! Again!" Oy.

When you find yourself telling these stories for the 500th time, try mixing in a variation on the theme: "Not only that, but did you know that once you…?" That's just another way to break out the old stories (and eventually, the old photos) in an amusing and entertaining way where she will always be the star!


The only advice I can give is "Don't show her those photos if she doesn't like them".

I am not a parent, but even though being 21 now, I still remember that from my childhood. My grandma still likes to tell everyone the stories about me, my mom and my uncle (grandma's son, mom's brother) to everyone. Maybe not literally everyone, but sometimes it feels like they really share it too much. Of course, I can control my reaction now, when being 21, but at the childhood I couldn't, and I still don't like when photos of small me are shown to anyone.

Parents and other adults always feel like it's "cute" to do a lot of things that are actually very frustrating for children. So, why was this frustrating for me? I don't know, but I may guess.

  • When a photo or a story is discussed, I am associated with the kid on the photo or in the story. As children clearly see that it is better to be an adult rather than a child because you have more rights, being associated with a kid could mean to me that my rights are going to stay the same, for example, that I will forever need a permission to do things that I want to do.

  • Kids do a lot of stupid things. Sometimes they don't understand that those things are stupid at all, sometimes they do understand this, but don't realize how stupid they are -- and they need to try it to realize. When I had to remember stupid things I did in the past, it felt like I am going to be brought to account again. No -- like I was being brought to account. Maybe I had to remember the punishment that was issued, because I had good memory about events as a child. Of course, I didn't want to be known as one who destroys furniture for fun, especially 5 years after it happened.

  • Because my mom didn't share photos of her childhood with me a lot, neither did my grandma, she didn't show those photos to her friends either -- but she did show my. I knew that she would get mad if I started to name stupid things that she has made in her life -- why was she allowed to do this? Would you like your private life to be discussed without your will for this?

  • Sometimes I just didn't like the events that took place around the time the photo was taken, even though adults didn't know it, or they didn't care. Photos were associated with something good for adults, but not for me.

Just accept it. If you don't push it too hard, the problem will probably fade with time.


Coming back to this question 2+ years later, for my child, this seemed to have been a phase. It took a while, but she just grew out of it and now doesn't have the same adverse reaction to seeing herself in photos or videos. In fact her reaction is completely the opposite - she wants to see herself and learn about how she was during these times.

So in short, this is something she grew out of. She never really explained the problem to us and now doesn't even remember this as a problem.


Any attempt to explain her behavior is conjecture; however, there are some common themes that upset children her age. Part of your question was to determine etiology. Again, the following are guesses. Girls emotionally mature faster than boys, as well as their communication skills. She might be able to explain it herself in the next year or two.

  1. Sibling rivalry. Its possible earlier photos and videos showing her as your only child upsets her now that she has to share her mommy time.

  2. Embarrassment. Some kids are very sensitive to information being shared about them. Does she get upset when she looks at them alone, or only in the presence of others?

  3. Lamentation. Something like "I used to be able to crawl into mommy's lap" or "Daddy used to carry me to bed."

  4. Fear. I have no idea what she would be afraid of, but kids cry when they're scared.

  5. Nightmares. Certain pictures may trigger nightmares. Again I have no idea why, but this may explain why certain pictures elicit a response and not others. Admittedly this is kind of weak, but my daughter has nightmares, and it triggers behavioral changes to avoid certain stimuli and if exposed she gets upset.

As far as what to do, I see three options: status quo, avoidance, or exposure.

  1. Status quo. What you're currently doing sounds mature and responsible. As I mentioned, within the next few years, she should be able to explain her reaction, and then you can figure it out from there.

  2. Avoidance. You can refrain from family pictures and stories in her presence--at least within reason. These can be slowly re-introduced as time goes on to the level she can tolerate. At 5, I think I would choose this. Crying means pain. You don't know why she's in pain or what kind of damage it might be causing. Until she can explain it, it seems the safest thing to do.

  3. Exposure. Exposure treatmenr is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy. This works great for a fear of spiders in adults or stage feight, but it is unproven in kids this young. I don't think it's a bad choice, but see number 2. I don't think the benefits outweigh the risks since it will only be a year or two until she can tell you what's going on.

Good luck!


I sometimes explain emotions to be arranged like marbles on a thread in a bottle with one end hanging out of the bottle. At any given time you can only remove the topmost marble, one by one, until you have the whole thread, each marble is one emotion or thought, but the question you're asking your daughter "Why are you upset/crying/doing this?" is making a reference to the bottommost marble. There is no point in asking her that, she just can't know without removing everything on top.

In order to help her remove the marbles one by one you can try a powerful technique from Person-centered Psychotherapy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Person-centered_therapy) which is called mirroring ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirroring_(psychology) - the English article doesn't describe this particular meaning of the term though). In simple words the technique consists of just expressing what you see or feel, you're literally just a mirror for the other. For instance you say: "You're very upset." - daughter says. "Yes, I am." - you say: "You feel that you're upset." - daughter says: "I'm upset about this video." - you say: "It upsets you seeing yourself in that video." (in this case you don't just repeat what she said but express what you clearly feel or realize, a little interpretation is allowed if it's backed by what you can clearly and intuitively feel) - and so on.

The important parts of the strategy are 1) not to judge in any way, 2) to absolutely follow the other, whatever turn their thoughts or feelings take, do not impose any direction you might have in mind, totally take yourself and your issues and expectations out of the process, and 3) to stick with what's really happening and expressed (intellectual interpretations should be kept to a minimum). This technique removes the marbles one by one. It's highly effective in children too and also popular in a clinic contexts for that matter.

And by the way: It's also a powerful technique when exploring weird emotions in oneself.

  • I use this sort of approach with my daughter. The problem comes after the 5th minute of questions when she starts laughing at my guesses. "No, get back sad again, I'm nearly there!" - She's crying with laughter at this point.
    – theDADDY
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 11:33

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