Q: Reader Kelsey Evans writes, My almost two year old daughter says “Ow” for everything, even when she’s not hurt. It’s all the time, when she’s frustrated or angry especially, no one has to be touching her and she still says “Ow.”
A: What you can do:
While this is probably a little annoying, it’s also totally normal. It sounds like she’s trying to express emotion and doesn’t yet have the vocabulary, so she’s reaching for the word that usually grabs your attention.
My advice would be to work with her on recognizing and naming emotions. If she says “ow” but you recognize she’s angry, kneel down to her level and say, “You’re angry. Say ‘Angry, Mama!’” Even if she can’t actually repeat what you’ve asked her to repeat, she may try. While it’s good to work with her when she’s saying “ow,” it’s best to practice recognizing emotions when she’s content.
This can be done with books or pictures but with my kids, it was always more effective when they were observing the behavior first hand. If you’re out shopping and she notices another kid throwing a tantrum, say to her “Oh, she must be very angry.” Or if she notices a baby crying say, “Baby’s crying. Baby’s sad.”
I think it’s also important to teach her the words for joyful emotions. When you’re tickling her you can say, “You’re laughing! Are you feeling happy?” If she shows anticipation or enthusiasm for a treat say, “You look excited!” It may feel a little silly to be repeating to her what is obvious to most, but it will help her to attach a word to a feeling, which may isolate her “ows” to actual injuries.
What you can read:
The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson: Daniel J. Siegel is a neuropsychiatrist who, along with others, has put together a detailed glimpse into the developing mind of a child along with strategies to deal with day to day struggles.
Raising an emotionally intelligent child by John Gottman: This is a user-friendly guide for parents to teach their children to understand and regulate their emotions.
The whole brain child and Raising an emotionally intelligent child are great reads. Teacher supply stores will have emotional intelligence dolls but they can be pricey and I think you’ll find success just talking with your daughter. Also, Anna Dewdney’s Llama Llama books are absolutely adorable and many have subtle lessons about emotions. Give these a try and be sure to let us know how she’s doing. Good luck!