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Crying: babies and children 0-8 years

0-8 years

Crying – all babies and children do it, and some cry a lot. But knowing this doesn’t always make it easier to cope with crying. The good news is that children tend to cry less as they grow and develop.

Babies: crying

Babies are born with the ability to cry.

For newborns, crying is their main way of communicating. It works too. If you hear a crying baby, you usually want to do what you can to soothe him.

When your baby cries, it can sometimes be a real challenge to work out what she needs. She might be crying because she’s hungry, cold or hot, scared, overtired, in pain or uncomfortable.

Around one in 10 babies cry a lot – ‘a lot’ means more than three hours a day. Babies under 12 months of age tend to cry most in the late afternoon and early evening. This can be very stressful, especially if you’re trying to make dinner, supervise homework or give older children a bath.

If your baby has symptoms other than crying, such as vomiting, call your GP or child and family health nurse.

Video

How to settle a crying baby

2:02

This short video demonstration takes you through essential tips to help settle a crying baby. It outlines a checklist of common things that can upset a baby and cause crying. You can check whether your baby is hungry, tired or uncomfortable and whether the conditions are right for settling.

When you comfort your crying baby, he learns that the world is a safe and predictable place. He trusts you and tends to cry less. A young baby who’s left to cry could have a harder time forming a secure attachment to his parents.

How to manage your baby’s crying
The first step is to check whether your baby is hungry, tired or uncomfortable using our illustrated guide to soothing crying babies. Over time, you'll get to know your baby’s crying, and what different cries mean.

If you think your baby is in pain, or you’re not sure about a symptom, make an appointment with your GP or call your child and family health nurse.

Here are some other helpful strategies:

  • If you can’t get your baby to settle, put her in a pram or a baby sling and go for a walk. You could even take a drive. Even if your baby doesn’t stop crying, it’s sometimes easier to cope when you’re on the move.
  • Ask for help at the times of day when your baby cries most. There might be a friend or relative who could help you.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, put your baby somewhere safe and take a five-minute break. A little bit of crying won’t hurt your baby. This stage of intense crying will pass, probably sooner than you think.

It’s always OK to ask for help. Your child and family health nurse or GP are good places to start.

Video

Settling strategies

2:20

This short video describes strategies and techniques you can use to settle and soothe your baby. These include rocking, patting, singing and walking. Every baby is different, and not all babies will respond to all techniques. You might need to try several things before you find one that works for your baby.

Toddlers: crying

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.

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Last updated or reviewed
11-08-2015

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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