NORMAN — Q: Our 4-year-old daughter has a huge problem with being laughed at. She loves to be goofy and do funny things, but as soon as someone — including one of us — laughs at her, she becomes upset.
She will say, “Don’t laugh” or “I don’t want you to laugh at me.” We explain that we aren’t laughing at her but at the funny things she does. We’ve also told her that we laugh because we are happy and having a good time with her.
Is there a different way to explain this to her so she will understand that we aren’t trying to be mean or tease her in any way?
A: Maybe. First, however, some background: A child’s social personality is forming at this age. As such, it’s not unusual for a 3- or 4-year-old to be somewhat “conflicted” when it comes to personality traits like introversion versus extroversion.
Some 4-year-olds, for example, are very self-conscious and, therefore, easily embarrassed when people pay attention to things they’re doing. Others are hams and love to perform and make people laugh. It sounds to me like your daughter is caught betwixt and between these two opposing traits, as if she can’t make up her mind whether she wants to be a comedian or not.
If you only continue to muddle through these upsets as you’re doing — and you’re actually doing fine — this little bump in the road will smooth itself out within a year or two. There may be, however, some things you can do to hurry the process along.
Obviously, trying to explain your laughter after she’s become upset is not working. I recommend that you be more proactive. I call this approach “Striking While the Iron is Cold” — deal with the problem or issue when it’s not taking place and hasn’t for a while.