Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash
Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Sensitive Daughters


I’m a stay-at-home mom with two daughters, ages 6 and 5, and they’re driving me crazy with their whining and crying. I want to be an attentive mother, but it seems like what I do is never enough. They whine and cry when things don’t go their way, and they cry when the other one cries.  I’m kind of sensitive myself, so I’m sure they were born with some of this, but it’s getting ridiculous.  I really try to be consistent, but maybe I’m not doing it right. Please help!


It doesn’t matter who you are or how many degrees you have, the reality is that when you have young children it can be hard to be both compassionate and consistent.  It’s hard to know whether the crying and refusing to go to bed at night is about an earache or just plain stubbornness.  If it’s about a full diaper that’s an easy call but it’s not always that easy.

They may be especially sensitive but that’s probably not the main cause of the problem.  It sounds like they are being rather normal five and six-year-olds who know they can get away with their behavior without any significant and/or consistent consequence.  One rule of parenting is that behavior that gets reinforced or rewarded gets repeated.  We reinforce or reward behavior when we give into it by placating or pacifying.  Every time you let their whining and crying determine your response you are actually letting them parent you and rewarding the very behavior you would like to eliminate.

Sometimes the problem is complicated by a parents desire to please and their unwillingness to say no—and mean it.  It’s important to determine what is appropriate and what is inappropriate and set clear boundaries that you clearly communicate to your daughters.  Along with those boundaries you need to establish clear consequences for problem behavior and then be consistent in the application of those consequences.

Are there times when their behavior is better than others?  What is different about those times?  Do they happen certain days of the week or certain times of the day?  Are they related to any special activities?  Are they related to what they eat?  Are they related to what or how much TV they watch?  Sometimes young children can become overstimulated by their environment and this can play a role.

Excessive whining and crying can become a crazy-maker especially if you spend almost all of your time every day with the kids.  Do you involve yourself and the girls in activities outside the home?  Do you have opportunities to recharge your batteries as a mom?  Many churches have what’s called a Mothers Day Out where they will take kids for a half-day so that mom’s can do “adult” things with friends.

We’ve spoken with thousands of moms who have found groups like MOPS to be an wonderful resource for encouragement, ideas and a way to maintain sanity.  Talking to other moms with kids the same age as yours helps you know what’s normal and what isn’t.  It can also be a gold mine of information as to what has worked and what hasn’t.  When I (Carrie) was a stay-at-home mom with two sons only 19 months apart I found my MOPS group to be a lifeline.  Conversations with other moms gave me some great ideas for being more effective with our boys.

It’s also important to reward or reinforce the times when they are doing well.  If you spend more time reinforcing the healthy behavior you will over time weaken and perhaps even extinguish the unhealthy behavior.  Behavior that is reinforced gets repeated.  As you find ways to reinforce the healthy “grown up” behavior you may be surprised at the changes you see.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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