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'My Gifted Preschooler Is Frustrating Me'

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Reader Gifted Kids Suck writes in:

Do you have tips on disciplining a gifted preschooler? (not just gifted because I love her, the school asked me to have her tested). The problem is the combination of traits: very stubborn, very sensitive, and given the opportunity, manipulative. She doesn't really understand why manipulating and lying are wrong yet. Our current strategy is to hold her accountable for behavior at the level she understands, but use preK punishment (lectures, or time out plus lecture; time out for toys) as the consequence. The sensitive-stubborn combo means that when she's punished enough to get her attention (time out, or toy put into time out), she becomes genuinely hysterical and says her feelings are hurt. Overall she's not doing anything outrageous, but does misbehave a fair amount which necessitates some kind of response. Thoughts?

Dear GKS,

I have a similar child! And I was a similar child! So, first of all, she will become a psychologist. Next, here are my thoughts. I would just stop with the time outs. It seems from your wording that you know that this is not working anyway. I would do natural consequences only, like you'd do with an older child. What do I mean?

Child won't brush her teeth. Child gets to go to school with bad breath. Child starts brushing her teeth after either someone mentions something, or (more likely at this age and for your child) she worries all day about whether her teeth will get cavities.

Child won't get dressed. Child goes to the store in pajamas. People keep asking if child is sick or something. Child gets embarrassed and doesn't do it again. (Alternate consequence: Child loves it. You save a hell of a lot of money on clothes.)

Child is rude to you. You don't want to talk anymore for a while. You go do your own thing rather than continuing to engage (not silent treatment, but however you would act if your feelings were hurt, which I bet they are. Child is bored and lonely. Child says she is sorry and acts less rude in the future. Or, if not, at least you got to read a magazine.

Also, if your preschooler is Highly Sensitive, you can read up on that here. Often, they don't respond well to time outs, and respond very well to increases in "special time" spent with a parent. If she is sensitive to being mistreated (as she thinks she is when you're being "unfair"), she will also be very sensitive and responsive to positive interactions. By age four, you can find a whole bunch of genuinely fun-for-you things to do with kids. For example, shows, movies, museums, bookstores, lunches out, and so forth. The happier she is with you and the relationship, the better she will act. I hope.

Till then, I remain The Highly Sensitive Blogapist Who Wishes You Good Luck and Godspeed.

This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.