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When the Drama Queen is Your Own Daughter

As a parent of a daughter, you may feel like you are center stage in a very long, intermission-free Shakespearean play, where life-and-death scenarios leave you both drained — and on high alert.

One expert said a drama queen is usually a kid who uses her emotions to manipulate.

The following is a fictional example of what you may be experiencing:

Daughter: “OMG, Mom, look at what Taylor just texted me! She did not text that. I can’t believe she texted that. OMG, wait until Brittany sees this. Mom, I need you to wash my soccer jersey now! Jeez! I am flipping out now — I almost can’t breathe. OMG, my life is sooo crazy, right, Mom? I’m hungry.”

All of that is not easy to absorb — let alone respond to.

“I can honestly say that sometimes I really, really don’t like my own daughter,” one frazzled Boston-area mom of a 14-year-old girl told LifeZette. “Everything is an issue — from what she wears to the way her butter is pooling ‘annoyingly’ on her toast. I love her — but come on, she’s exhausting!”

Moms and dads across the country commiserate in coffee shops, at water coolers, and at kids’ sporting events over their daughters’ emotional gymnastics. What is a drama queen, really — and how can you channel that energy into something far more productive?

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“Parents can be the most laid-back people, and still have a child they might call a drama queen,” Dr. Shoshana Bennett, a clinical psychologist in Orange County, California, said. “It’s not about how a girl is being raised. A lot of this is about the innate personality of the child.”

While girls make up the lion’s share of overly dramatic children, their emotions can be hormonally driven, said Bennett. “Boys can have lots of drama, too, but they just express it in a different way,” she said. “They might be the loud, boisterous boys who often act out inappropriately. They’re the counterpart to the ‘drama queens.’ It’s a mistake to place this just on girls — we don’t hear ‘drama kings’ ever. A boy’s drama just looks different.”

A drama queen is usually a kid who uses her emotions to manipulate — and her emotional reactions are disproportionate in intensity to the situation, according to parenting expert and psychotherapist Alyson Schafer of Ontario, Canada.

Kids use misbehavior to achieve one of four goals, according to Schafer: attention, power, revenge, or avoidance. “Usually, when you dig down, there’s something else going on,” she told Today’s Parent. “It’s usually feeling victimized, feeling treated unfairly, treated improperly.”

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Drama isn’t the sole province of teenagers. One mom on todaysparent.com wrote about her six-year-old daughter: “She is smart as a whip. I just want her to channel her feelings and emotional outbursts so that I’m not getting called by her new teacher every other day because she didn’t get the pencil she wanted and resorted to over-the-top theatrics.”

Dramatic outbursts can be learned from emotional, sulky or perfectionist parents, noted Schafer. By making statements such as, “You’re making me angry,” or “I’m very disappointed in you,” a parent is setting a bad example through the use of emotion, she pointed out — the very thing they’re trying to de-escalate.

“The silent treatment is another form of emotional manipulation some parents use,” she said.

“Parents shouldn’t reinforce drama,” noted Bennett. “Parents of very young children inadvertently pay off a tantrum, such as when a two-year old throws herself on the floor when she’s denied a cookie. Instead of just stepping over the child’s twisting little body and continuing on, Mom or Dad will appease them, and calm them down with that cookie. In the same way, paying too much attention and investing too much in a daughter’s drama reinforces her behavior.”

In this age of helicopter parenting, moms may unwittingly add to their daughters’ dramatics by being over-involved.

“Some moms get over-involved and live through their daughters,” one expert said.

One mother turned to parenting expert Lenore Skenazy’s website Freerangekids.com to post about the parenting style of days gone by — when moms had their own lives, and weren’t so invested in their daughters’ goings-on.

“When I was a girl and having these same friendship issues, our moms basically let us deal with things ourselves,” the mom wrote. “They would provide a listening ear, a hug and some words of wisdom, and sometimes even join in with some private name calling (‘Wow, she was mean,’ or one of my favorites, ‘They are just a bunch of Nellie Olsens’). But they never got involved beyond consoling their own daughter, and most of the time us girls would be back playing together before the day was up, hurt feelings forgotten.”

A mother’s over-involvement may be telling her something crucial about social deficiencies in her own life.

“I remember growing up, I had a friend whose mom was always waiting in the kitchen for her to come home so she could hear about every detail of her day,” one 45-year-old mom in New Mexico told LifeZette. “I always felt bad for them both — the mom there hanging on her every word, and the daughter not able to just come home and unwind after a long school day.”

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Bennett is familiar with this dynamic. “Some moms get over-involved, and live through their daughters,” she said. “Sometimes it’s more the mom that brings the drama to any given situation the daughter is going through. They model this intensity to their girls — and that’s not good. Mothers sometimes have a problem remembering whose life it is, and will be much too involved, and even think that the daughter’s friends are her friends. The moms need a full life for themselves — which is their issue to resolve — not their daughters’ issue.”