How to Get Through to Kids Who Cry ALL the Time
Many parents struggle with having a child who is emotionally fragile and always in tears. It can be an extremely draining way to live for both parent and child. However, there are ways you can work together to overcome it.
So how do you deal with a child who cries all the time?
First, we need to understand the reasons behind their behavior. Generally speaking, children who cry a lot have not learned how to cope with their emotions in more appropriate ways. They may feel stronger emotions than their peers or be more susceptible to getting overwhelmed.
Crying can be a sign of frustration, sadness, anger, confusion, or plain exhaustion, and it’s up to you to help them with the underlying cause.
In this article, we’re not talking about kids who throw tantrums to get their way, but we do cover how to deal with tantrums in our other article (Click here to go to it).
There are many reasons why a child may cry, and especially for little ones, this can be a perfectly healthy way to process emotions. It’s when it becomes constant and out of control that issues arise.
Why Do Children Cry ALL the Time?
We all feel emotions, whether pleasant or painful. Sometimes those emotions are confusing, off-putting, or quite intense. As adults, we can handle those things because of life experience, but also because our brains have developed to a more advanced level — specifically, our cerebral cortexes.
Children have intense emotions as well but aren’t born with the ability to process them. When a baby is scared or upset, it cries and is comforted by its caretaker. As your child grows older, their horizons will expand, and so will the emotions they’ll have to deal with. They will need to learn how to process these feelings on their own.
They may be afraid of being left out or unwanted. They may be upset about changes in their routine or feel hurt by a playmate. All of these things are very real and important to a child. We can’t take these upsetting emotions away from our children, but there are ways we can help them cope with and learn from them.
What Crying Means
For the most part, all babies cry to communicate. They can’t speak yet, or even gesture to get their meaning across. Crying is their only way to let their caretakers know they’re in distress. Their small world revolves around their parents or guardian, and they don’t need to regulate their feelings as long as someone is there to make things better.
Toddlers are similar yet different. They use body language and are starting to use words, but it’s still natural for them to cry when they want or need something.
Their range of emotions expands. This can be a lot to handle, especially as they begin to process their own feelings and form their own opinions. They may cry now because they’re sad about a movie, angry at being told no, or overtired and in need of a nap.
By now, they’ve also learned who does and doesn’t respond to their crying and may start using this to their advantage.
Older children have a more extensive array of emotions, which become more complex as they grow. They can use language to express themselves, but it’s still reasonable for them to cry if they are hurt, scared, or emotional.
It’s at this point that they may get overwhelmed by their feelings and struggle to regulate them. As they branch further out into the world, it’s up to us to be a good example and teach them how to experience emotion without losing control.
Crying is a normal human reaction. It happens to everyone from time to time, and there’s nothing innately wrong or shameful about it. It can help to heal our inner hurts or lift stress from our shoulders. When the crying is in excess, however, a solution is needed.
How to Get Through to Kids Who Cry ALL the Time
An excellent place to start is to make sure your child feels safe, sharing their emotions with you. If they can trust you to hear and accept their feelings about a given situation, without judging or scolding them for it, it will be easier for them to learn how to handle their reactions.
Remember that it isn’t the way they feel that you’re trying to change, but rather how they express and process those feelings. Be empathetic, even when you think they’re overreacting.
There’s nothing wrong with having emotions, even powerful ones. Parenting styles that punish children into “bottling up” their feelings may stop the child’s crying in the short term, but they also prevent them from learning emotional maturity. More often than not, those “bottled” emotions simply fester and explode into frustration and anger later on.
Other well-meaning parents may rush to smooth over negative emotions before the child even has a chance to experience them. Again, this can ease crying and acting out, but also teaches kids that feelings are something to avoid and can leave them unable to face them as they grow into adults.
However, like so many things in our lives, our emotions should not be allowed to control us. In an ideal parent/child relationship, feelings should be accepted and explored, but this doesn’t mean they should be allowed to run wild.
Your end goal should be to raise an individual with emotional intelligence: someone who can express and understand their feelings, but who can also control them in a mature and socially acceptable way.
Give Your Child the Space to Express Themselves
This one may seem counterintuitive, but the truth is sometimes a kid just needs to cry. Even for adults, tears are a useful release valve for pent-up frustration, disappointment, sadness, and more.
Emotional tears contain a variety of hormones and proteins designed to relieve stress and boost mood. On the other hand, having a crying fit in the middle of the grocery store doesn’t help anyone. The trick is to learn when and where to do it.
Designate one or more quiet, solitary places where your child can be free to cry when they’ve had a bad day. If they have their own bedroom this is an obvious choice, but you could also let them use your room, a guest room, or even a lighted pantry or closet.
If space is sometimes used by others, you could make a “Private Time” sign for them to put up for short periods. If your children are old enough to be alone for a few minutes, you might make a similar spot for yourself.
Explain that everyone needs a minute alone now and then, to sort out their feelings and thoughts. Your example will help normalize what they feel and teach them to vent their emotions before they get out of control.
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Comfort Your Child
This may seem like an obvious statement, but comforting your child is the best way to lower their anxiety levels. When a baby is crying, and you work to soothe them, their brain responds by forming positive pathways in the limbic area, which is involved in handling emotion. You aren’t just nurturing them at the moment. You’re also building lasting emotional security into their growing brain.
It can be hard to let go of our stress, anxiety, and embarrassment when our children just won’t stop crying, but that’s often what we have to do. It may be true that they’re overreacting, or that passersby are glaring at you both, but your child doesn’t see the world as an adult. All they know is that their current feelings are enormous and overwhelming. Don’t ignore or yell at them.
Instead, pull them aside and hug them. Let them hide their face in your shoulder if they want. If they’re small, pick them up and rock them against your body. Shush them gently and tell them it’ll be okay. (As a bonus, many bystanders will cut you slack when they see you working to remedy the situation.)
Later, when the child is calmer, ask what upset them and why. This is the time to address what caused the outburst when they’re able to really listen and respond.
For some children, especially older ones who spend more time away from home, you can also teach them to comfort themselves with positive self-talk. This is a method of reminding themselves that things will turn out all right and not letting negativity overtake their thoughts. Which gets us to the next point…
Cultivate Your Child’s Natural Positivity
Many children catastrophize. When they’re young, everything seems too enormous to bear. Little embarrassments are soul-crushing, a case of nerves becomes a death sentence. If your child is one who always jumps to negative conclusions, try helping them see the rest of the picture.
You can start by reframing the situation or thought. When your child says something negative, ask them why they feel that way. If they’re distraught, you may need to offer comfort first or let them cry it out until they’re more reasonable.
Then help them to take a figurative step back and look at the reality of the situation. What are the facts, and what parts are their assumptions? Is there another side to the issue, or a different conclusion from the one they found?
Changing the way that we think isn’t easy and will take time and practice, but continue to be patient and offer a more positive point of view. If your child can learn to look at both sides of the coin, they will be more grounded in reality and less ruled by their changing emotions.
If you’ve tried this and your child is still struggling with chronic negativity, you may want to find a cognitive-behavioral therapist who is trained to work with kids. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, goes deeper into the concept of challenging our harmful thought patterns and not letting our feelings control us.
Validate Your Child’s Feelings
Another critical aspect of a child’s emotional wellness is having their feelings validated by the adults around them. In other words, let them feel what they’re feeling. Help them understand their emotions, but don’t judge whether they’re the “correct” ones for a given situation.
You may be devastated by the death of a family member, but your child, with their underdeveloped concept of death, may just be curious. That’s okay. Instruct them on how to behave and why everyone else is sad, but don’t scold them for feeling differently.
Alternatively, your child may have strong emotions about things that seem unimportant to you. Don’t ask them to stop feeling that way. Instead, sit down together and let them explain how they think and why.
Does it matter that everyone else in the class has the newest fad item, and your child doesn’t? It matters to them. This doesn’t mean that you buy the item, but you should accept that their feelings about it are real.
Do your best to sympathize with their emotions, even when you disagree with their reasoning. A little validation goes a long way and will encourage them to open up to you more in the future.
Use Humor as a Remedy
Laughter is a great way to combat pent-up emotions and can provide an alternative to the release of crying. While not appropriate to every situation, it can also be useful to improve a child’s low mood or bring them out of a sulk.
Bringing humor into your child’s day can also help you bond with them. Humans are social creatures and we get more fun out of laughing together than alone. Share a funny video or recount something silly you saw on the way to work.
Ask if anything strange happened to them recently. By letting them open up to you in times of happiness, and opening up in return, you’ll encourage your child to experience and learn about all kinds of feelings, not just the difficult ones.
One note: be wary of using humor when your child is actively crying or upset. Some children respond well to a good joke and will smile through their tears. Others will not. Nobody enjoys feeling like they’re being laughed at or not taken seriously.
Understanding “Fight, Flight, or Freeze”
Sometimes it can be hard to spot when your child is falling apart inside. You’ve probably heard the term “fight or flight” before, in reference to the human brain’s most primitive fear responses, but many people forget that there’s a third option: freeze.
The freeze response is just what it sounds like. Like the proverbial deer, scarred and blinded by sudden lights, some people in a moment of panic will just freeze up. Their brain is overloaded and can’t decide what to do. Whatever strong emotion they’re experiencing, usually fear, takes control of their body.
This is called amygdala hijack, a term invented by psychologist Daniel Goleman. The amygdala is a part of the brain which handles emotions. When the amygdala gets “hijacked” by sudden active input, it prevents higher reasoning and causes a lot of stress. We have another post that goes far more in-depth about this subject, so if you want to know more, click here.
So why is this important? Some children, especially those prone to anxiety, will become overloaded like this and freeze when highly emotional or overstimulated. They may be loudly wailing, but they’ll just stand there and stare at you and cry, no matter what you do.
The absolute worst way to handle this is to lose your temper and yell. It will only worsen their fear response and prolong the issue. The best way to is to get them out of the situation for the time being, and into a quieter, less busy spot. Respond to them with comfort. Hold them if they’ll let you. Only after they’ve had time to relax can you return to the matter at hand.
The good news is that all the suggestions in this article are geared toward emotional intelligence, which is the best way for your child to overcome the hijack, and will help their brain to make better judgments when faced with difficult future circumstances.
A Note on Temper Tantrums
Let’s face it: there will be times when your kid is just behaving badly. It can be humiliating and infuriating when you can’t get them under control, especially if you’re in public.
The thing is, when most people see a child having a tantrum, they assume they’re acting up to get their way. We’ve all seen those kids. You may even have one (poor you). They’ll throw themselves down in the middle of a grocery aisle to kick and scream until their parent gives in.
It’s important to remember that not every child who throws tantrums does so to get something out of it. There are also children whose emotions are too big for their bodies, who just can’t seem to keep a lid on them. Some kids start having tantrums simply because they haven’t been taught not to. Maybe it was never an issue before.
Some kids will grow into emotional maturity on their own, but most will need to be taught, whether by words or by example. Guiding your children through an emotional cooldown is a great start, followed by working through the suggestions above.
Again, this doesn’t mean there’s no place for big emotions as your child grows older. It does mean they should learn how to control their temper, be considerate of others, and vent their sadness without constant crying.
Your child’s mastery over their own emotions will have lasting positive effects on their life, and quite possibly on your own.
At Never the Right Word, our aim is to give you practical examples of how to handle life’s difficult conversations. If you have an awkward situation that you’d like example templates for, request a topic here.
Lastly, if you found this content helpful or want to share your own examples, let us know in the comments. We’d also be delighted if you shared this article and joined us on social media too!
Never the Right Word
Hi there! I’m Amy, and I’m the person behind Never the Right Word. I’m a designer-by-day who’s fascinated by human psychology; you’ll find me learning about what makes others tick through all types of media and good old-fashioned conversation.
In 2019 Never the Right Word was born to fill the gap of ‘how-to’ websites with copy and paste examples showing you EXACTLY what you need to say to steer difficult conversations into positive outcomes.
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