Parenting 101: FAQs: Cry-Baby

Parenting 101: FAQs: Cry-Baby
Dr. Phil answers some of the frequently asked questions about raising a child.
Heather and Chris's 2 1/2-year-old son, Zachary, is very sensitive. "Everything sets him off into the world of tears," says Heather. "If you try to put a coat on Zachary, he would cry. If a toy was not acting the way he thought it should, he would cry. It seems like he is crying all the time." Heather explains that they try to show Zachary a lot of extra love. "We just want him to know that he's a valuable person," she says. She's concerned that the crying will get him picked on when he goes to school, and it makes her feel like she's a horrible mother. "He doesn't feel secure in his environment. He doesn't feel secure with me," she says.

Chris, who was also a sensitive child, says it turns their house into a zoo because as soon as one child starts crying, the other one cries. "I try to comfort Zachary," says Chris. "Sometimes it helps."

Heather wants to know what she can do to help her son with his sensitivity problem.

"Would you like to know why he's crying?" asks Dr. Phil. "Because it works with 100 percent efficiency." Dr. Phil points out that when Zachary cries, Heather will pick him up and hold him and reassure him and apologize. "He does it because he's like a chain around your neck and he can yank you over here. That is a powerful form of communication for him."

He explains that Zachary won't move on to the next level of communication because she has yet to require him to do so.

"You guys admit that this is situation specific. He does this at home, but not at school. What does that tell you?" he asks.

Heather pauses before answering: "That I'm rewarding him for his behavior when he cries."

"You feel guilty and he knows it and he's pushing your buttons right and left," says Dr. Phil.

Heather feels he's doing it because she's not creating a safe enough environment for him to express himself in another manner.

"Well, let's consider that for a minute," says Dr. Phil. He pauses for about two seconds. "No. You shaped him into crying with rewards that are very powerful. Just make them contingent upon good behavior and you'll shape that with as much efficiency as you did the crying," he says, adding that she is not a bad mother.