Toddlers cry because they’re hungry, tired, uncomfortable or need affection – just like babies.
But toddlers are also starting to develop more control over their crying. For example, a toddler might learn that if he cries when he’s put down, his mum or dad will pick him up again. This might lead to louder and longer crying next time he’s put down!
How to manage your toddler’s crying
Start by making sure your child isn’t sick or hurt. If you’re not sure, make an appointment with your GP or call your child and family health nurse.
If your child is physically OK, the following tips might help:
- Try to work out why your child is crying. If she’s tired, some quiet time or a rest might help. If your child is angry, put her somewhere safe to calm down. If she’s frustrated, try to work out a solution together.
- Try taking your child outside for a walk, giving him a bubble bath, or even putting on some kids’ music and dancing around. A change of scenery can help a cranky toddler.
- Avoid giving in to a crying child who wants something you don’t want her to have. This tends to lead to even more crying next time and might start a pattern of behaviour that can be hard to change later. Our article on temper tantrums suggests other ways to soothe your crying child.
- If the crying happens at bedtime, you might need some help settling your child.
If your child cries a lot more with you than he does with other people, he might have found that crying gets your attention. Try to focus on showing your child positive attention when he’s not crying. This might help to reduce his tears when you’re together.
Preschoolers and school-age children: crying
Children tend to cry less as they get older. Once they can talk, it’s much easier for them to tell you why they’re upset and what they need.
Preschoolers also start to understand about right and wrong times to cry. You can help by teaching your child different ways to deal with her feelings. Talking about what’s upset her can be a good place to start.
It’s OK to cry sometimes. For both children and grown-ups, crying can be a healthy way to deal with a significant loss, pain or sadness. When your child expresses these feelings to you, try to listen, comfort and reassure him that his feelings are OK.
How to manage your preschooler’s or school-age child’s crying
Make sure that your child isn’t sick or hurt. If your child is physically OK, try the following ideas:
- Give your child a chance to calm down, then ask her what’s made her so upset. Show you’re listening by repeating her feelings back to her. For example, ‘You’re feeling sad because Sam wouldn’t play with you’.
- Offer your child some other ways to deal with the situation. For example, ‘How about you ask to join in Jai’s game instead?’
- Make sure your child understands that sometimes it’s OK to cry – for example, when something sad happens or when he gets hurt. For example, ‘Ouch, I’d be crying too if I hit my head’.
If your child seems to spend a lot of time crying and acting sad, consider asking your GP for advice.
Crying: your feelings
Crying is one of the most common reasons parents seek professional help.
If your baby is crying a lot, you might be feeling very low, or even
depressed. If you feel like this or are having thoughts about hurting your child, it’s important to seek help straight away.
You can contact a parenting hotline or a parenting support service in your area. Our article on services and support has a list of places and people to help you.
Never shake, hit or hurt a crying child.
If you need to, put your child somewhere safe and take a five-minute break. Letting your child cry for a few minutes won’t hurt her, and it can help you get things under control.
Sometimes it helps to have another person take over for a while. If you can, ask your partner to come home, or get a friend or relative to come over and help out.
Parenting can be really hard work, especially if you have a child who cries a lot. Taking time out and asking for help are positive things you can do for yourself and your child.
Crying in front of your children
Your child learns about when and how to express emotions like sadness, anger and happiness by watching you. Seeing your emotions also teaches your child that mum and dad are people with feelings too.
But if you’re crying a lot, or crying without knowing why, you might need to speak with your GP about getting some help for depression or postnatal depression.