Dear Therapist:

My son is a very sensitive boy and every time I tell him “no” or reprimand him for something, as I would to any of my other children, he always looks deeply hurt. Should I treat him differently than, or the same as, my other children? I feel that in life he will have to deal with “no”s and not everything will go his way and people will tell him off. Am I correct in my judgment?



Your question is multi-faceted. Your point about your son needing to learn to deal with adversity and with unwanted responses is well-taken. Obviously, you don’t want your son to learn that everything in life is easy, and that he always gets what he wants. Nor do you want him to learn to manipulate others by responding in a negative manner.

You ask whether you should treat your son differently than, or the same as, your other children. I know that this question refers specifically to the matter at hand. However, from a general standpoint, to some extent we should treat each child differently than the others. Unfortunately, children don’t come with instruction booklets. This is because each child has different issues, needs, triggers, insecurities, and other underlying factors that can affect their ability to respond appropriately to various forms of parenting and discipline.

Obviously, we treat our children differently depending on their ages. A young child might be told to do something without explanation, while an older child may deserve an age-appropriate explanation. However, some young children can appreciate an understanding of rules, while some older children can become argumentative when explanations are given. Many parents tend to speak more softly to younger children and more firmly to older ones. Sometimes, however, a younger child may need a stricter style, while an older child may respond much better to a gentler approach.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that your fundamental ideals, concepts, and parenting style need to be altered based on each child’s needs. What it does mean is that each child may respond differently to the same strategy. Even if, on the surface, the result appears to be the same, this may occur only in the short-term. Long-term results might be very different from what you were hoping to achieve.

Aside from the behavioral goals, it’s important to take into account the lasting emotional effects that your actions can cause. Though you may elicit the response that you want, your son may harbor resentment or feel badly about himself. Feelings like these can lead to significant problems later in life.

As parents, it can be difficult for us to see past the current issue in the present day. We want our children to behave appropriately and to do the right things. When we step back, however, we recognize that our job and goal is to raise our kids to be happy, productive, well-adjusted members of society. When we achieve the immediate goal at the expense of the ultimate goal, we have failed our kids. When we bear in mind both our short- and long-term objectives, we are more likely to choose the proper path.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY   |   Far Rockaway, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 718-258-5317


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