Dear Dr. Bill,
We have a very emotional 8-year-old boy. He often cries about little things and gets upset at my husband and me constantly. He has a 2-year-old sister, and I wonder if their age gap has caused some kind of strain for him. What do you suggest?
Every child is wired differently from the start—each with his own unique personality and disposition. Some are more laid-back, some are more high-strung.
As parents, one of our jobs is to help our kids capitalize on their strengths and overcome their weaknesses.
Without directly observing your family, I can only speculate about what’s going on, but could it be that you and your husband are unintentionally reinforcing your son when he cries and throws tantrums?
Many parents believe the most loving thing to do is give in to their child’s demands and emotional outbursts—they want their child to like them and they don’t want to do anything to cause them to be unhappy.
Unfortunately this sets up a negative pattern that will cause a child to struggle in his relationships with classmates and teachers—and later with dating partners and employers.
It sounds like things have gotten worse since your daughter was born. My guess is that your son has been used to getting his way and being the center of attention for years, and he doesn’t like sharing mom and dad with this little “intruder.”
If this description rings true, you and your husband will need to start setting firm limits with your son and implementing consequences for negative behavior. You’ll also need to teach him more appropriate ways of responding when he is upset, frustrated or angry.