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My Son Is Called a Wimp!

My Son Is Called a Wimp!

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Dear Rachel,

Our 10-year-old son is a very sensitive boy. My husband is not an overly sensitive person. He has very little patience for our son’s gentle nature; in fact, he calls him a wimp. Yes, he gets upset quickly! It can seem that if someone talks to him the wrong way, or looks at him the wrong way, he gets upset. This means a range of different things: he could start to cry, leave the game that he’s playing, give his friends the silent treatment, or even all of the above at the same time.

His father finds it frustrating and annoying. He feels that as a guy he’s got to be strong, that it’s a tough world out there, and he needs to be ready for it. In my husband’s family, the men have always been strong, and that’s what he expects from him too. I like my son's sensitive nature, though at times it can be a little much. We have tried either ignoring it or punishing him, but neither works. What can I do to get him to shape up?

My Husband Thinks It’s Boot Camp

Dear My Husband Thinks It’s Boot Camp,

It must be hard for you to see so much acrimony between your husband and sonAs a mother, it must be hard for you to see so much acrimony between your husband and son. Your husband feels frustrated (and, perhaps, disappointed) that his son is so different than him. He has very strong expectations for him, and, because of your son’s nature, he is getting disappointed again and again. While his feelings are justified based on his upbringing, we need to see what we can do to help your husband and son have a better relationship.

One of the most essential things that you can do for your husband is to help him reframe the way her sees his son. You said that your husband calls him a wimp. At a calm moment, help your husband think of some other ways to describe him. Sensitive, thoughtful, sweet, caring, insightful and perceptive are all different and more positive ways to describe the same thing. Remind your husband that everyone has strengths; try and open his mind to his son’s alternative strengths that he has not yet been able to recognize. Your son is different than your husband, and difference is not bad. Rather, your husband should bear in mind that people who share the same genetic material may not always share every single other attribute.

However, your description of how your son responds to rude or mean behavior seems to be strong and, perhaps, a little immature for someone his age. On many levels you are correct: it is a tough world out there, and, especially for a boy, he needs to be a little bit tougher. The question is: how do you go about helping him?

When your son first gets upset, feelings need to be acknowledged; let him know that he has a right to feel bad. When someone’s feelings are automatically dismissed, the person usually shuts down, and they become unable to hear anything else. Acknowledge that the kids with whom he was interacting displayed behavior that left a little (or a lot!) to be desired. Make sure that you are sincere when you tell him this. If he feels that he has your understanding, then he becomes instantly more responsive to you.

When your son first gets upset, feelings need to be acknowledgedRemind your husband that there is a concept in Judaism of “educating a child according to his way.” You both need to look at your son, and try and communicate with him in a way that he can hear you. Since he is a more sensitive child, he obviously needs kinder and calmer words from you. There are ways to give over the same message without raising your voice or being critical.

Here is where you need to be encouraging and honest. He’s 10; that’s a big boy. He needs to know that there are now more expectations placed on him. He is growing up, and it’s his job to have more control over his emotions. You are not telling him not to have these feelings; rather, he needs to control them. Help give him alternatives as to how he can respond to upsetting situations. Try role-playing with him, with you being the other kids, and he being himself. By letting him practice in the safety of a training session with you, he will gain the confidence he needs when the situation becomes real.

Instead of punishing or ignoring the behavior you don’t like, reward him for being strong. Think about what will speak to him as an incentive. Money? Toys? Video games? Create a point-and-reward system toward which he can work. You don’t even need to witness him doing it. Rely on his word for things that happen in school that he tells you about at the end of the day.

By reminding him that it’s okay to have these feelings, while giving him the tools to be stronger, you will ultimately help your son have the best of both worlds.

“Dear Rachel” is a biweekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Beryl Tritel.

Beryl Tritel, MSW, is a therapist with offices in Jerusalem and Ramat Bet Shemesh. She has been living in Israel for over 10 years with her husband and their 5 kids. She also offers Skype sessions. She can be reached at BerylTritel.com.
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Jason April 6, 2017

Any child, boy or girl, who cries and leaves the game because they are "sensitive" is going to have a very hard time as an adult. Crying at the drop of a hat is a sign of a very weak minded person. This should be addressed immediately. Reply

Anonymous Boston January 8, 2017

I Agree With The Father Yeah, it is a tough world out there. My own son is the same way, and it's maddening. He cries if you look at him funny, he cries if he gets a scratch, he cries if his stuffed animals fall off of his bed... and he's also 10. Women seem to forget that kids can be absurdly cruel; the last thing you should do is hand them more ammo. There's nothing wrong with being "sensitive", but there is a difference between "sensitive" and "sissy". Women who encourage this type of behavior in boys should have to stand in the shadows and watch what their "special, sensitive" boys have to go through in school amongst the real boys, especially in middle and high school. You'd probably change your tunes real quick. It's really easy to encourage crying whenever the wind blows in the wrong direction, when you aren't the one getting beat up and made fun of for it. As a guy, I'm telling you, the father is right. If this kid (and mine) don't develop some testosterone soon, they're gonna have it rough in school. Reply

Anonymous London, Ont/Can via chabadwestern.org December 14, 2014

My son is called a Wimp Personally I don't see anything wrong with your son, time will change things with him. He will grow out of his timidity
The problem I see is with the husband. Sometimes Husbands resent the relationship between the mother and the child. He probably wants to have a better and closer relationship with the boy and doesn't know how to achieve it. So he thinks that his son is the problem (If he only was more of a mans boy and not a women's boy so he calls him a wimp. He can't relate to the boy because of the competition for the mothers affection. Showing more affection for the father will take his attention away from the boy and cause him to Love his son more.( I know this seems wrong) but I know what I'm talking about as I experienced the same thing between my husband and son also, and it never happened when they were alone. Only when I was there. Point to Ponder. Reply

Anonymous Rincon April 6, 2014

It could be something else.... I know a child that sounds similar to your child, and I found out that he is mildly autistic. One of the symptoms of a child with autism will be their extreme sensitivity to others comments about them, and they usually are very immature in the way that they handle disappointment. Reply

Anonymous California January 8, 2014

My dad was the same way with me and at the time i was mad at him but now I realize that he just wanted to toughen me up for the real world and it helped a lot. There were times where I hated him and cried but now I am a stronger man and we still have a good relationship. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI October 13, 2013

Bullying Husband Your Husband Thinks It's A Boot Camp, your husband needs shaping up, NOT your son! What your husband is doing is bullying, and it's a form of abuse!

It's NOT your son's fault that he was born with a sensitive personality - maybe he turned out to favor YOUR side of the family, and your husband and his family simply can't deal with "weak" people.

It's a serious mistake to ignore and/or punish children for being who and what they are, and in this case, your family needs counseling. If your husband refuses to go, divorce him, because the verbal abuse will only get worse and even lead to PHYSICAL violence! Reply

Anonymous New jersey August 30, 2012

Wimps become loving adults My little brother was also a sensitive boy- thank gd he never toughened up because he grew into a kind and sensitive man and husband who has a natural instinct for children. He is a mensch and does just fine in the real world. Reply

Renee Chicago, IL via skokiechabad.org February 24, 2012

Never Label a Human Being Please follow what you can see sensible people do regarding their children. Refrain from labeling which also includes overly noticing and commenting in a positive manner such as: "She has such lovely slim legs." or "He is so smart even without studying." Now that person is defined by your compliment which can be as limiting as harsh words, believe it or not. Label yourself and keep unnecessary external comments to a minimum by highlighting behavior without labels in an open-ended manner: "Thank you for helping your sister, she really needed your special touch." Reply

Adam Jessel Jerusalem, Israel February 8, 2012

As a psychotherapist, and also a father, I found your response to be sensible and comprehensive. I would add one important detail, however. I work a lot with men and teens who are struggling with attraction/orientation issues. Many of them have found that these problems had their origins in a poor connection with their fathers, especially where they were boys who were especially sensitive and creative and their fathers weren't able to relate or appreciate that.
The father has to find ways to connect with his son, and make him feel he's good and very much loved. Be very careful not to shame him. Otherwise, the boy can grow up feeling and believing that he's somehow inadequate or incompetent as a male.
Feel free to write to me if you need more information. Shlomo Zalman Jessel ... szjessel at gee mail .
Wishing you success in your parenting. Reply

Vicki Cain Quinlan, TX/USA January 31, 2012

Son is called a wimp Your husband needs therapy. G-d makes all of us with our own special personality. G-d even gives us our own special fingerprints.
If your husband does not repent for this verbal abuse he will answer one day to the only G-d that lives. He needs to apologize to his wife and son. Children are gifts from G-d. There are many people who want children but can't have them. Shame on you husband. Will your son love you and take care of you in your old age?
My nephews' Dad treated him terrible until last week. His child had an MRI on his brain because of bad headaches. They found a mass on the right side of his brain. They immediately took him to Children's Hospital and took the mass out. The biopsey is a very fast moving very rare lymphoma. He starts chemotherapy tomorrow and they will do a test on his bone marrow.
Yesterday I saw the dad hug his baby boy and weep over him. I am sure the dad is remembering everything he called his son. His son is 15. Our hearts are heavy. Reply

Benzion Reno, Nevada January 9, 2012

wimp I know this sounds off-beat. I used to react the same way. I did not loose my sensive side. I found out my brain was inflamed. My brain was inflamed from a wheat allergy and other causves. I would eliminate. all wheat for one week and look into systemic candidiasis. Reply

Lee Belfast, UK via chabad.org.uk January 7, 2012

Fromasontoafather Growing up my father did the same thing to me. I couldnt help not being as strong emotionally as him and his insults bred contempt in my heart for him. He was disappointed in me as a son and I was disappointed in him as a father. Today we do not speak. For every name your husband calls your son he takes one bolt out of the bridge G-d put between him and his son. Eventually that bridge will collapse and be irrepairable. If your husband reads this then I would tell him: Your son could grow up to be the next Beethoven, the next Van Gough, the next Rabbi, the next Noble laurate. Accept his sensitivity as a gift from G-d which will enable him to show love to people. Because right now your brute strength is preventing you from showing the full capacity of love to your son. Be a proper man and give your son a hug, apologise for everything and make a promise to never abuse his trust again. Reply

Anonymous Harisonburg, Va January 6, 2012

Males are not always able to read others emotions very well, if you think there Are times when your son is overreacting to a situation try teaching him how to read body language, or facial expressions. Reply

Michael Brooklyn January 5, 2012

1) Naomi Aron writes books about the Highly Sensitive Person which are sold on Amazon. Though I haven't actually read them.

2) It is not unheard of any more for children to see therapists. Your health plan might even cover it. The reason that I mention this that perhaps your child reacts as he does because he perceives social interactions differently than most other people.

There is just a chance that forcing your son to override his emotions, might cause him to disown his emotions and empathy entirely.

3) Perhaps try your own brand of therapy by teaching him answers to the big WHY. Explaining how things work in the world, and his place in it. Histories. What the marketplace of human interaction is all about. Perhaps concentrating on developing his ability to express himself verbally? He might not naturally be able to state his displeasure at circumstances.

4) Expose him early to that which he might be able to make a career of in a gentler setting. The sciences perhaps? Reply

Jean Las Vegas, Nevada January 5, 2012

Son is called a wimp Even if he is a father, no matter how frustrating it is, it is NOT ok to call his son a wimp. He needs to give his son the fatherly-love that sensitive kids need. The advise given is great to follow. The child also be in a positive environment and with positive people to change his outlook on life. Until then, the child needs to hold on to his rock. Reply

Anonymous Winnipeg January 4, 2012

a way to help An interesting way to help, is listed on the webite bullies2buddies.com. It teaches tools to the child and gives tips to the parent about how to better prepare your child for the real world, but in a positive approach.
Good luck! Reply

Avital Orlando January 4, 2012

Putting a child down in this situation will not make him stronger - it will only reinforce his own notion that he isn't as strong as his father wants him to be, and that he isn't good enough. I really hope his father doesn't call him a wimp to his face. If he wants his son to be more "manly" he needs to treat him that way, not beat him down emotionally. The father probably feels like he can't relate to his son, and I get it. But that's HIS job to reach out and understand his son... he can't wait for his son to change just to please him. Reply

Jonella Pond Eddy, NY January 1, 2012

Son is called a Wimp - This is a TERRIBLE situation for that poor child!! Boys need POSITIVE INPUT AND BONDING from their fathers. This father is turning the boy away and making him feel inferior! It's VERY HURTFUL & DAMAGING!!!
I think your advice is excellent as far as it goes but seems to me the husband MUST find a way to be more positive towards this boy. Your suggestions were excellent - The kid is NOT going to get LESS SENSITIVE - he's only going to get MORE INJURED AND DAMAGED!! You are right to suggest all the positive steps - everything you said is right on but I suspect that this kid is going to have a rough road ahead. The father MUST stop being negative and INSULTING towards his son and MUST LEARN to LOVE THE SON FOR WHO HE IS!! That's called being a GROWN UP - A MENSCH! Reply