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Buying Emotional Stability

Maddie has always been a worrier, and when
she gets stuck on something it’s almost impossible to get her
out of it before she’s good and ready. About two weeks ago,
Maddie had a scary dream in which I left her and didn’t come
back, ignoring her begging to “Come back, Mama!” as I
drove away on my motorcycle (!). Ever since then, Maddie’s
been stuck to me like glue. She cries when I leave at night –
big sobbing tears, running-in-the-rain-after-me (literally) tears,
the kind that break your heart tears. When I visit her class in
school to help out, I have to pry her off me when I leave.

This has moved into other areas of her life, to the point that
Maddie is now spectacularly unable to handle emotional
disappointments. Can’t go to a friend’s house after
school? Meltdown. Can’t choose which video to watch with
Cora? Meltdown. Lose a book for bedtime? Meltdown of epic

Saturday, I’d had enough.

“Maddie,” I said, “Have
you noticed that you have at least one meltdown a day these
days?” I went on to point out all the times she’d had a
recent emotional malfunction – didn’t get to have
lemonade at a friend’s house; didn’t get to walk next
to the friend she wanted to walk beside; found out her pink shirt
was in the wash; and so on. Maddie looked back and agreed
it’d been particularly bad recently.

“It’s just that I get so frustrated and I don’t
know what to do with my feelings and I can’t figure out how
to cope!” she said honestly. I often send her on breaks in
such situations, but she sometimes works herself into an even
greater frenzy and we’ve had a lot of lost time recently.

So we talked about ways to cope, and how to deal with emotions
building up inside her. Maddie promised to work on it but sounded
dubious, so I decided to sweeten the pot.

Our household currency is jewels – faceted glass stones of
the kind you’d find in a craft store for flower arranging or
something like that. I keep a jar in the kitchen, and both girls
have their own jars for saving up. Unlike privileges, once you earn
a jewel it can’t be taken away from you, and if you really
want something you can do extra chores to earn jewels to
“buy” it. Jewels are also awarded randomly for
outstanding behavior. It’s basically money in a form they can

Maddie is currently yearning for a Zhu-Zhu pet, and while
I’ve told her to put it on her Christmas list, she’s
saving up her jewels to “buy” one – and I put a
hefty price of 20 jewels on it. It’s been slow going. So I
told Maddie on Saturday that for the next few days, I’d give
her two jewels (!) every day she goes the entire day without a

Coincidentally, Maddie spent Sunday and Monday meltdown-free.

Maddie’s come close a few times, and I see her face tense up
and her hands clench. But she walks away, or sits down and breathes
heavily, or something, until she’s under control. I know
it’s still hard for her to see me walk away at school or
going off to teach, but she’s figuring this out – how
to live with the dream still bothering her, how to cope when a
friend doesn’t want to do things her way, how to simply get
along in the world.

So hopefully we’ll have our more even-tempered Maddie back in
our house very soon.

That, and a Zhu-Zhu pet, apparently.


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