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Q&A:
Is it normal for a preschooler to get so upset that she throws up?

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Question


My 4 1/2-year-old daughter has been having this problem for about year and half now: She cries over something and after a while she throws up. Last night we went to a carnival, where she played a game and lost. The prize was a live goldfish. We explained to her that she lost and couldn't have a fish. After a little hesitation she calmed down. But when she got home she repeated the whole story again and started crying over why she didn't get a fish. Then she threw up all her dinner. Is this psychological or physical? Please tell me what I should do.

Answer


I can see how upsetting this would be to everyone in your family, but I doubt that there's anything physical going on here. Children this age who cry because they're upset can work themselves into a real tizzy. In your daughter's case, the end result is vomiting.

The underlying issue here is not the vomiting, but helping her learn to calm herself down more easily. Some of this will come with maturation. But there are a few things you can do to help avoid the problem — and the mess — in the future:

  • Intervene earlier. Look for signs that she's "revving up" and about to lose control. If you help her calm down more quickly, you should be able to avoid the vomiting.
  • Keep your own emotions in check. Remember that emotional distress is contagious. If you lose control when she starts crying, that will only make matters worse.
  • Be patient. Realize that no matter what you do, this will probably happen a few more times. Keep telling yourself that she'll grow out of it. She will.
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