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I've noticed that whenever things don't happen how she expects them to happen, my 7-year-old niece starts crying, runs away, or engages herself with another activity that she has more control over.

For example, if we take family photos and someone says to her to smile, and she doesn't feel like it, she'll start crying and runs away. If we play a game and she loses she says the game is stupid and takes some colored pencils and starts coloring on her own. Or if she does something and someone suggests there is a better way to do it, she drops the thing she's doing and goes watch TV.

After she calms down she will engage again with what she was doing or with people, until something happens that triggers the same behavior.

I live in another town and see my niece rarely, so I though that's it's because she doesn't feel as comfortable around me as she does around her friends and immediate family, but her mother (my sister) says that it happens with them also.

She'll outgrow it in time I think, so I'm not worried that it's an issue, but it wouldn't hurt to work on it. My sister agrees, but at the same time tries to avoid it occurring because of the crying, self isolation, etc.

I think she'll be better if she gets more exposed to situations like these so she has more opportunities to learn, but since I'm not around my niece every day, it's not my place to decide. So what can be done? Should something be done or just give it some time?

  • Hi and welcome to Parenting.SE! Are you asking what their parents should do or what you as her aunt / uncle do? – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Sep 20 at 14:42
  • @AnneDaunted: I guess both, if possible. I'd love to help of course, but given the fact I don't see her often, it will mostly be up to her parents. – Yeb Sep 20 at 14:44
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It sounds like your niece is feeling some very strong emotions but lacks the skill set to deal with them. I would definitely recommend working on this with her, but be sure to treat it with a gentle hand.

My daughter also had some of these qualities growing up, most around age 5-6. She simply didn't have the vocabulary and/or courage to express her feelings constructively. Then all of her anxiety and frustration would manifest in totally unexpected ways at totally unexpected times.

As advice, I would start by having some extremely open and heart-felt conversations about how she is feeling. Focus on the emotions and not her behaviour. Remind her that she can't always control how she feels but, with practice, she can learn to recognize when a situation is becoming overwhelming and develop strategies for dealing with it or ask for help.

Share anecdotes about your own emotions too, both good and bad. That time you punched a hole in the wall from anger. That time you were the only person in the theatre tearing up because someone said something that just happened to strike a nerve in your soul. Talking calmly, openly, and constructively about things like that can help demonstrate that it's normal to have strong feelings and that talking about them can be scary in the moment but can also be incredibly uplifting afterward. Just remember to frame your anecdotes in a positive light and avoid glamourizing negative behaviour. (e.g. punching that hole in the wall created an awkward situation, cost a bunch of money, and didn't make me feel better. I could have approached it better and this is what I learned about myself...)

Above all, be sure to approach this with all of the love and empathy you can muster. Try to see the world from her eyes and keep reminding yourself that she likely just lacks experience. Learning these lessons from role models that she cares about, in a safe environment, will be way more effective than having to learn them the hard way from anywhere else.

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