Every kid (and person, for that matter) on the planet cries at one time or another. However, there are definitely some people who seem to cry more than others. If you're a parent whose child seems to get very emotional every time they experience something new, unusual, or even mildly disappointing, it can leave you with a lot of questions about how to understand and change the behavior. If you're hoping to navigate through how to deal with a child that cries over everything, there are some strategies and coping mechanisms that may increase your child's resilience.
Understanding Why Your Child Cries So Much
Ever find yourself asking why your child seems to cry so much? You're not alone. One of the main reasons why kids become so affected by their emotions is because they have poorer emotional regulation. To get into the biology of it, parts of their brain, such as the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus, all of which play a hand in regulating one's emotions, are not fully developed. This means that the sadness they feel when they lose their favorite toy or have to eat broccoli for dinner is extremely potent for them. Over time, as their brain develops further, they will be able to better control and understand their emotions.
Reasons Why Your Child May Be Crying
There are a lot of reasons why your kiddo might be crying, and it's important to consider what factors might have contributed to their emotions. Did they get enough sleep last night? When was the last time they ate? Have there been any important changes in their life lately? All of these factors and more play a role in your child's environment and could be contributing factors to why they are crying. If your child is crying, some things you may want to ask are:
- Could they be tired?
- Could they be hungry?
- Could they be angry?
- Could they be stressed?
- Could they be trying to tell me something I'm not understanding?
How to Respond When Your Child Cries Constantly
It can be difficult for parents to see their child upset, and may feel even more challenging when the crying behavior continues for a long period of time and becomes constant. It's normal for parents to begin to worry about how to manage the behavior, especially if it continues to escalate. There are ways for parents to get involved and help children better understand and manage their emotions.
Acknowledge Their Emotions
Regardless of why your child is crying, it can be helpful to acknowledge the fact that they are. This is one way of showing your child support and empathy when they are overwhelmed by their emotions. After your child is comforted, they may feel as though they can now tell you what they are upset about. Some ways to do this are:
- Telling them you are sorry they are crying
- Giving them a hug
- Not ignoring them when they are upset
Build Up Their Emotional Vocabulary
Helping your child use their words to explain their emotions is a great alternative to encourage instead of crying. However, even if your child has the highest emotional IQ on the planet, there are still going to be times when they cry. After all, sadness is a normal human emotion. Your child may not yet have the language to tell you how they feel, but you can help them by teaching them phrases to better communicate. Some phrases you can teach them are:
- Labeling the emotion - I'm feeling _______ (sad, scared, upset) because ________ (I fell, I dropped my snack, etc.).
- Expressing needs - I need ________ (a hug, a nap, a break).
- Moving forward - I'd feel better if _________ (I did the chore later, I had a snack first, etc.).
Encourage Them to Share Their Feelings
Have you ever felt sad and hoped that someone would ask you what was wrong? So do kiddos. Encouraging your child to share their feelings and what they want/need at the moment is the best way of helping both yourself and your child better understand what is happening. It may be difficult for them to talk at first, while they're crying, so allow them time. As they steady, continue to ask questions and see where the crying behavior and their feeling came from. Questions you can ask are:
- What are you feeling right now, sad, angry, scared, etc? I can't know unless you tell me.
- What caused you to feel that way? What happened right before you started crying?
- What do you need right now? How can I help you?
Build Communication Skills
As a parent, you know that children can start to cry for a variety of reasons, many of which can be difficult for parents (or even kids) to fully understand. Encouraging your child to express their emotions allows both parties to gain a better understanding. But wait. What if a child isn't able to do that? Practicing communication skills will help give your child better ways of conveying their emotions, explaining situations, and engaging in other behaviors, such as conversation, before they start to cry. Some important communication skills for them to develop are:
- Learning how to navigate conflict - Practicing empathy when they hurt, saying they're sorry, asking for an apology
- Practicing problem-solving skills - Taking turns, compromising, practicing teamwork
- Expressing their emotions- Using their emotion vocabulary, saying how their body feels, asking for what they need
Practice Calming Breaths
When you notice that your child is upset, it's natural to want to help calm them down. Deep breathing can trigger relaxation responses in the body, slow their heart rate, and allow them some time to collect their emotions. Deep breathing can be used as a preventative strategy that your child can use when they feel they are getting upset, as well as something they can practice afterward to help calm them down. If you've ever tried to take calming breaths when you're upset, you know that this isn't always easy, so don't be discouraged if it doesn't work the first couple of tries.
- Practice deep breathing with your child
- Encourage them to take deep breaths whenever they start to become upset
- Ask them to take calming breaths before talking to them about their emotions, or practice calming breathing together
- Remind them of the strategy whenever you see them starting to get upset
Promote Emotional Regulation
Emotional regulation is an important part of children developing healthy and competent functioning throughout childhood and beyond. Although you cannot make your child's brain develop certain regions more quickly, there are two aspects of emotional regulation that can be beneficial in helping parents understand how to deal with a child that cries over everything.
Manage Internal Emotions
Internal emotion regulation stems from inside the child and happens automatically. It affects how a child (or any person for that matter) experiences the intensity of emotions. It's their thoughts and physical sensations in the body. Some ways to help a child increase their internal emotional regulation are:
- Talking to your child about understanding their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors
- Discovering what certain emotions feel like for your child in their mind/body
- Explaining what it means to be resilient and how it's important
Shape External Emotions
Unlike with internal emotion regulation, external emotion regulation takes effort to use. These are methods that kiddos (and anyone) can use to help better understand their emotions and keep them under control. It's how they respond and react when they have an emotion. Some ways to increase external emotion regulation in your child are:
Reappraisal - This involves changing the way a kiddo views or thinks about an event. Noting a different point of view, and shaping the event into a learning opportunity, can reduce the negativity surrounding the situation.
Distraction - Distraction is one way of helping take someone's mind off of their intense emotions, and allow their thoughts to shift to something else (preferably that is happier).
Take a step back - Encouraging kids to step away from a situation that makes them upset is another good way of helping them regulate their emotions. It can be difficult for someone to heal or regain control when they are still in a negative situation. If another kid is not playing nice with your child on the playground, encourage them to go find others that will make better companions, in order to give their emotions a break.
Asking for help - If your child is constantly upset, especially if the reason why is that they can't do/reach something on their own, then it can be a good strategy to encourage them to ask for help. You can do this by reminding your child that they can ask for help from an adult before they become upset, reinforcing this idea when crying arises, and rewarding kids when they successfully ask for help.
Help Them Find a Solution
Most of the time, there are simple and logical solutions to why kids are crying. This provides a great opportunity for parents to help lead their child to find solutions on their own while being there to support them. Parents can model this problem-solving behavior for their children and talk them through it. For example, if your child is upset because they are out of cookies when they were expecting a reward, note that there are other yummy snacks for them to enjoy instead. After a while, your child may be able to follow the steps on their own or will be more flexible in finding a solution. Questions to ask are:
- You're upset because ________. (you're out of cookies, can't watch TV, someone can't hang out, etc).
- Do you think there's anything/anyone that can be helpful right now since you can't have that specific thing?
- What are some other things/activities/people/etc. that you also like? Let's try one of those.
Children are sponges, soaking up new information daily, and they can easily pick up on patterns. For instance, if your child starts crying because you turned off the TV, and then you allow them to watch one more show, they may start to engage in the behavior more often to get what they want. For this reason, it's important to not give them the preferred item while they're crying. Wait for them to calm down, and ask them to do a small task, such as putting their toys away, before giving them access again. This will help establish that crying does not mean that they get what they want. Some ways to notice this pattern are:
- Noting whether your child is crying with or without tears
- Monitoring whether your child is continuously looking to you when they are upset in order to get a response, especially if you previously gave them something when they were crying
- Seeing if your child becomes angry or moves on quickly after it is clear that they can't have access to the preferred item
A Reminder for Parents
It's important for parents to remember that just because their child seems to cry often that it doesn't mean that they are a bad parent or haven't tried hard enough to change the behavior. Learning to manage the emotions of an entirely different person is a taxing job that is draining in more ways than one. There is no such thing as a perfect parent and no correct way of navigating your child's emotions. Simply trying your best and taking your own approach with your family is enough.
Ways for Parents to Cope
Having a child that is constantly crying whenever they run into conflict can be mentally, emotionally, and physically draining for parents. You may want to tend to your child's needs, but it's equally important for you to tend to your own. Parents aren't able to fill up their child's cup if their own cup is empty, which means that they also need time to experience and express their feelings and to rest and recharge. Some coping strategies may be:
Practice self-care: This can be anything from making sure you eat enough food in a day, to taking a relaxing bath, to setting boundaries with your family to have a little 'you time' during the week where you can relax, sleep, or do whatever you need.
Join a parenting support group: There are many in-person and virtual support groups for parents meant to offer others a safe and communal space for people to come together, share their stories and struggles, and find comfort. If you are looking for a sense of community, then a support group may be a good option for you.
Turn to loved ones: People say it takes a village to raise a child for a reason. Turning to loved ones for a sense of comfort during difficult times can help validate your emotions and struggles. By talking to friends and family, you may even learn new strategies from them that you can try to implement in your own home. Talking to your loved ones may also give you an opportunity to share with them whatever resolutions you are trying with your child at the moment, and encourage them to utilize these strategies whenever they are over at your house or interacting with your child.
Seek professional help: Navigating difficulties in the family environment is extremely hard work that can take a lot out of you. Seeking the help of a mental health professional is a good way of ensuring that you have someone who will listen to and understand your needs at the moment, and this will encourage you to take time for yourself when you attend virtual or in-person sessions.
How to Deal With a Child That Cries Over Everything
Understanding, navigating, and coping with a child that cries constantly is not easy to endure. It can leave parents feeling burnt out and frustrated from trying to resolve so many conflicts that happen in the span of a single day. Working on communication skills with your child and promoting emotional regulation may be ways of teaching your child how to better cope with and express their emotions.