July 02, 2015

Q: My 11 yr. old grandson is a very sensitive kid who is very hard on himself. Also, he cries easily, especially when he plays Little League. He is a pitcher and want to be perfect all the time. I've talked to him privately about this. How can I help him with this problem. He doesn't seem to lack self esteem, but I just want to help him with this.

A: It is always difficult as a parent or grandparent to watch a kid his age struggle with disappointment and imperfection.  Having said that, as long as he is able to recover and move on afterward, it is probably not anything to be concerned about in the long term.  Of course, one way that it can become a problem in the long term is if anyone, including mom, shames him or puts him down (this includes yelling at him) as a result of this behavior.  It can be exasperating as a parent to see this kind of reaction repeatedly, but ultimately, the best thing to do is validate his feelings and make sure he has both the skills to cope and a place to soothe himself.  Validation looks something like this: "Honey, it really makes sense to me that you feel like crying when you're disappointed."  No one has to tell him that he shouldn't feel what he's feeling or to knock it off.  Instead, you can teach him that everyone feels these feelings at times, and for some people they are overwhelming.  If he works on taking slow, deep breaths and offering himself some encouragement (as simple as, "everything is going to be ok") it can go a long way towards helping him calm himself down and accept his disappointments.  Finally, if the behavior is inappropriate or excessive, tell him that he can feel and react however he needs to, but that he needs to find somewhere private to sit a calm down until he is ready to come back to the group.  Ultimately it is important to strike a balance between validating his feelings, allowing him to learn to soothe himself and still make sure that he is not repeatedly allowed to make a scene at inappropriate times.

Answered by Jeff Palitz, MFT


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