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Reality Check: My Son's a Crybaby

Q  My 4-year-old cries if things don't go his way or if he falls. I think he's too old to do this, but my sister says I'm being too hard on him. What do you think?

A I understand your frustration  -- mopping up gratuitous tears several times a day can suck the empathy right out of a parent. But I wonder whether you'd be this tough on a girl. My guess is that your daughter would get a "There, there, it's going to be all right" and a warm hug to make her feel better.

Instead of thinking of your son as a crybaby, you might chalk his tears up to sensitivity. We moms are always saying we want to raise boys who are more in touch with their feelings and those of others. But even in our enlightened times, some of us continue to tell our girls it's okay to cry yet demand that our boys push down their emotions and be, well, men.

You can do your part to change that double standard by understanding what typical little kids do, regardless of gender: One minute, they're swaggering about with bravado, the next they're runny-nosed messes clinging to their mommies' legs. Giving up babyhood isn't easy. Even more, your son may be sensitive because that's his innate temperament. Either way, this is who he is right now, and it might be better for both of you if you can respect that.

This doesn't mean you should indulge his histrionics. Just hand him a tissue and a little compassion and let him be. And, as my 11-year-old has muttered behind my back, it would help if you could take a chill pill. If you react to your son's scenes dramatically, whether it's with too little sympathy or too much, he'll up the drama too. You know how staring at yourself crying in a mirror only makes you cry more? Well, you're his mirror, so stay calm.