No, I won't tell my sensitive child to 'toughen up'

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

My seven-year-old is a sensitive soul, and I have to admit sometimes it drives me a little bit nuts. She's physically robust and can skin her knees without a whimper, but if her feelings are so much as bumped or bruised, you can be sure you'll get the full waterworks. 

One night last week, she burst into tears during a casual family dinner, as we sat around the kitchen bench. The trouble was, she was crying so hard, she couldn't tell anyone what was wrong. 

After 20 minutes of non-stop sobbing, and after I took her into a quiet room so we could chat on our own away from the rest of the family, I eventually coaxed the truth out of her. It turned out she didn't like the pumpkin soup my partner had made for dinner, but felt bad because she had told him she liked it when he made it two weeks before. 

So many tears over a bowl of soup.

An overreaction? Almost certainly. I told her she didn't have to eat the soup, and that I'd make her some toast – and all was right with the world again.

This kind of thing happens semi-regularly at our place. Sometimes I'm tempted to tell my daughter to toughen up, to pull herself together, or some variation on that theme – but I never will.

As much as I'd like her to get some perspective and realise what she's upset about is invariably a very small deal, I know that asking her to not be upset is like asking the sun not to shine.

I mean, how do we turn off feelings? If someone told me not to be upset, would that make any difference, aside from adding irritation at that person for being insensitive to my negative emotions?

The last thing I want to do is to teach my daughter that her feelings aren't okay, or that she should hide her true feelings to make herself more palatable to those around her. I don't want her to grow a hard exoskeleton to hide her true self behind, or to pretend she's one thing when she's really another. 


Seven is so young to learn that you're not acceptable the way you are, and you need to change yourself. I mean, nobody should learn that at any age, but seven is definitely too young.

If my daughter is devastated that she doesn't like a bowl of soup, then I guess I'm happy she trusts me enough to communicate that to me. And I can endure a few tears.

Because when something truly awful or upsetting happens to her – as it most definitely will because life is full of ups and downs – I want her to feel comfortable, knowing she can share her feelings with me, and anyone else she trusts. 

I want my daughter to know that her feelings are normal and natural, and that she can tell me anything. And it's not a bad thing to cry.