Good news: Kids crying aren’t just part of a ploy to squeeze in five more minutes of playtime before bed or to get away with not washing their hands after touching everything at the park. In fact, research shows that tears do indeed help them cope with big feelings they have no idea how to deal with adequately. Let’s study some common reasons why kids cry.
Unsurprisingly, their emotional intelligence isn’t fully developed yet
Toddlers are notorious for having larger-than-life reactions to seemingly minute inconveniences. But the truth? Everything they’re feeling is valid, and to them it could feel like the end of the world. Think about it: They’re experiencing everything for the first time, so they’ll likely throw what we call tantrums or meltdowns when they don’t know how to react.
Little ones haven’t yet mastered the art of processing emotions. Frankly, we’re not sure if we ever get it down as adults, either. But back to our main point. In time, toddlers will learn how to cope with their feelings and react more appropriately than just bursting into tears.
They don’t have enough words to express their feelings
Moreover, most toddlers don’t have the actual words to express how they feel. When we demand toddlers to use their words instead of sobbing, we may be asking for too much. Instead, acknowledge what they may be feeling out loud and why to help them develop a vocabulary of emotions.
For instance, you might say, “I see you’re crying because you’re sad that we have to leave the park now. I understand, but we have to leave because it’s getting dark and we need to get home for dinner,” instead of rushing your toddler out as soon as the tears fall. We’ve been there: The parents watching your toddler cry and flail around as you try to scoop them up under the armpits so you can leave ASAP. However, teaching our little ones useful emotional vocabulary will only help them cry less in the future.
Frustration and stress alone are difficult to express as adults, let alone as a toddler. Bottom line: Be patient, empathetic, and sensitive toward your little one. As long as they feel safe expressing their full range of emotions around you, they’ll learn to cope eventually.
Teething is an especially painful process for back molars and canines, which sprout during the toddler years. Children might also experience uncomfortable symptoms like a low-grade fever, drooling, and a reduced appetite. All these side effects can make anyone irritable, so forgive your toddler if they cry a little more than usual for the next few days.
Offer soothing remedies like cold towels to chew on, teething rings to reduce gum pain, and plenty of toys to distract from discomfort. In most cases, they’ll also be extra sensitive and will probably cry when you leave their side even for a little bit. Be prepared for a few bumpy days!
They’re tired or overtired
Tantrums and meltdowns often result from tired or overtired toddlers. If they skip naptime or wake up earlier than usual, their whole mood can get thrown into disarray. The trick is to stick with a regular sleep and nap routine as much as possible, even when you’re traveling or going out for the day.
Look out for signs of overtiredness like rubbing their eyes or ears, getting snappy, abrupt crying, and calling for attention. When kids are overtired, you want to reduce stimulation around them to slowly wind them down without further aggravating any prickly mood they might have brewing.
If you’re home, turn off any electronics or loud gadgets, slowly put away their toys, put on any sleep-sound machines, and darken the room if possible. If you’re out, keep them in their stroller or car seat and pull down the sun cover. Odds are that your little one wants to sleep but doesn’t know how to ask for it or how to settle down on their own. Talk calmly and gently even if they start crying all over again.
They feel overwhelmed
Similarly, toddlers can easily feel overwhelmed whether they’re playing at home or somewhere new. Tiredness and hunger can further amplify overstimulation, so keep a careful watch on your little one if they’re playing at a new friend’s house or around lots of unfamiliar faces. Stay by their side to keep them more relaxed. Knowing you’re there in case they need you can be the reassurance they need to calm down.
Plenty of other things can trigger your little one, like frustration over a new toy, your tone of voice, new household changes, and new life experiences. Help them stay attuned to their feelings by anticipating situations where they might feel overwhelmed and preparing your reaction in case they do cry.
Why do kids cry is probably the No. 1 question on parents’ minds from the infant months up until pre-K. More often than not, your toddler is just doing their best to deal with emotions the only way they know how. Tears actually reduce stress and help toddlers manage these emotions over time. In a nutshell, when your toddler cries, give them a hug because first and foremost, they need comfort.
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