Help! How Do I Toughen Up My Sensitive Son?


Dear Mouthy Housewives,

I have 2 boys -- a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old. My 3-year-old was born sensitive, extremely sensitive. He spends 60% of his day crying and whining. It grates on my and my husband’s nerves. Even my 6-year-old is like, "get over it."

We have tried ignoring, punishing, being gentle, and now we are so used to saying “go cry in your room” that it's become second nature. I have another on the way and 8 months to toughen up #2. HOW???


Tired of Whining


Tantrums, 302; 04.13.08

Dear Tired Mom,

Congratulations on your pregnancy and on your optimistic belief that you can change your child’s personality!

Let me cut to the chase: The personality change's not happening.

If your three-year-old is sensitive, a new baby in the house isn’t going to desensitize him. And if I knew how to make kids stop being whiny, I’d be bottling that snake oil.

Talk to your pediatrician about your son’s behavior to rule out any medical reasons for his sensitivity.

But also consider other factors.

For example, how verbal is he? I remember that for one of my kids the 3-year-old stage was a very frustrating age because her verbal skills hadn’t yet developed enough to voice all the frustration and injustice that she was perceiving (don’t worry, they’re now firmly in place) and whining was the fallback device.

Are you paying attention to your own reaction to him? Most of us have an instant response to whining that is stronger than the one we have to a more normal speaking voice. Remember that even a negative reaction is often seen as a win because it’s a reaction. (I’d also encourage your six-year-old to model positive behavior, rather than tell his brother to “get over it.")

Let your son know that it’s easier for you to understand him when he uses his words to tell you what is happening. And when he does use his words, make sure you are listening to him and giving him the attention that he needs.

But most of all, accept his personality and go easy on yourself. Your family is growing and you will have enough on your plate without placing unreasonable expectations on your son that he will not be able to live up to and that will frustrate you both.

And who knows, one day you may appreciate the very qualities in your son that you find so challenging now.

Good luck,
Marinka, TMH


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