My son (3yrs 9 months) is bright and generally happy, but sensitive and sometimes acutely anxious. The sensitivity worries me a little for the future. If something in a social context doesn't go his way (example: he momentarily misses his turn at something because another kid has less regard for turn-taking protocol than he does) he'll immediately cry, withdraw from the situation, and be averse to trying again. I'd like to help him be "tougher" and more robust to rejection, failure and confrontation. Otherwise I fear he's at risk of having a really miserable time with bullies when he goes to school: his reactions (immediate, loud, visceral, genuine) strike me as being exactly of the kind that bullies seek to elicit and enjoy playing with.

I have little idea how to do this. Aside from in-the-moment reassurances that it's not so bad, and maybe if you try again it'll work, or maybe this or maybe that, my only systematic attempts in this direction have centered on role-play. A year ago, he was a gentle giant among his peers: though larger and stronger than most he would let smaller more-aggressive children push him (surprise/shock, fall over, cry). With moderate success I started practicing a rudimentary martial-arts drill with him, in the form of the "pushing game": I go to push him backwards onto a mattress but he can decide, each time, whether he wants to stop that happening by blocking my hands and deflecting them to the side. He enjoyed it, got quite good at it, but I've no idea whether he's been able to apply it in practice. In any case, it doesn't generalize to help with that immediate visceral reaction he has to any social negative.

Where to go from here? From what I can observe, taking a tough-guy approach to toughening up one's kids all too often seems counter-productive, in the sense of just entrenching sensitivity and neuroses, so I'm wary of that.

  • Have these behaviours been observed while neither parent was present? – Ian MacDonald Sep 25 '18 at 18:26
  • @IanMacDonald Interesting question (enough to make me want to dig into the reasoning behind it). For now, erm, pass. Reports of interactions from daycare generally paint a picture that's not incompatible with the one I have painted. Reports of Isolated incidents I can think of tend to confirm it (e.g. he told me that a friend had called him a baby for crying when some minor dispute occurred between them). But perhaps that's just that such anecdotes only stand out in my memory when they happen to confirm my impression/fears. I'll ask daycare, when the next opportunity arises. Why? – jez Sep 25 '18 at 19:45
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    Sometimes people tailor their performance to their audience. It might be that you're seeing it because he subconsciously tends that way when you're around. – Ian MacDonald Sep 25 '18 at 21:03
  • Is your child generally resilient to frustrations and disappointments, and specifically sensitive to social situations, or is he of a generally more sensitive or reactive nature even when playing alone? – Meg Dec 5 '18 at 21:46
  • @Meg I’d say he has a lot of patience for a child his age, which translates into having a pretty high threshold for such things. When his threshold is exceeded, though, I’d say he doesn’t deal with it well, and when that happens the incident will cast a long shadow. – jez Dec 7 '18 at 0:45

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