The answer to this question about crying is quite relative to the age or to the child’s personality, as noted by Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore. Naturally, babies and very young toddlers still cry in order to verbalize that something is wrong. Later, as children get older, and they learn more words, they can clearly express their needs and wants, and crying spells are less frequent.
To begin to understand how to handle your toddler’s crying spells, you might look at some possible factors that bring about the tears.
Too much sensory stimuli can be quite overwhelming because young children are still learning how to process and react to their environment. Too many sights, loud sounds, or anything else that creates sensory overload can cause children to feel frightened and unsure of how to act. So they start to cry.
In the situation of being exposed to overwhelming stimuli, you might try giving your child a short break from the activity or situation. The key to calming your child is to explain to him or her that this is not a timeout but rather a short break to take a deep breath and to slow down. Once your child is back to a more serene state, he or she will be ready to jump back into the activity.
Naturally, crying is a sign of distress. For example, when a child is in pain or is afraid, he or she might begin to cry. This is a natural response that requires immediate attention, and at some point in your parenting years, you’ll recognize the difference between the cry of distress versus the cry of disappointment or exhaustion.
Some parents already have a checklist in mind of possible, visible causes. They look for the Four Bs — if the kids are bleeding, barfing, broken, or burned. If not, they’ll be OK. Right?
Yes … and no. Even if the “boo-boo” is not visible, you’ll need to validate their feelings and encourage them to talk to you about their physical or emotional pain or fear that they just experienced. This is a big step on the road to resilience.
Along the lines of anticipating something fearful, children also cry when they know they’re going to be punished or when they are caught in the act of doing something wrong. The feeling of guilt might prompt this kind of response, or if they’re looking at the possibility of losing a privilege, like a playdate with a friend, then they might cry out of disappointment.
Another reason behind the crying is to defuse your anger. Some children will try to distract parents from chastising them by shedding tears immediately upon getting caught. They do this in hopes of eliciting sympathy rather than irritation. In some cases, children cry as a means of avoiding punishment altogether.
By all means, you should stick to the rules and consequences. At the same time, remaining calm and explaining the action/consequence relationship in a firm but even tone might end the tears more effectively than raising your voice.
Another possible reason is that they’re merely tired. Sometimes, little ones can’t verbalize when they’ve had enough, and they’re just plain exhausted. So often, they respond by shedding tears and act like they’re fighting off the need for sleep.
Kids get tired rather quickly after a long day. When you establish a consistent nap or bedtime routine that allows them to wind down for a few minutes before resting, they’ll be less likely to start the waterworks.
Taking out a favorite blanket and reading a story or incorporating a very quiet and comforting activity will give your child the signal that it’s almost time to drift off to dreamland.
Nonetheless, what if there appears to be nothing wrong? It’s possible that they simply want a little bit of attention. At times, younger children are still figuring out how to ask for a moment of your time. Instead of communicating what they need, they’ll simply start crying.
Validating their need for attention makes a world of difference. By giving your little one some daily, one-on-one time, you’re giving him or her more of a sense of security.
That’s not to say that you should always reinforce crying as a way to get attention, but being proactive and allotting some individual play or talk time will prevent any form of acting out.
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