If you have a baby in the house, crying is something you expect and deal with every day.
It can get to you at times, but you remind yourself that crying is your baby’s only way to communicate.
But what about when you have older children? A preschooler? A school aged child? Should you expect crying?
When an older child cries, it can be seen as quite irritating, especially when it seems to be over something silly.
What You Need To Say Instead Of “Stop Crying”
Many of us will find ourselves saying, “stop crying!” Perhaps we say it because we’re frustrated with noise, or maybe we say it because we want to help them find other ways to handle a situation. Either way, in the end, it doesn’t really help them or us.
Why Is Saying “Stop Crying” Unhelpful?
I’m not judging, I say it at times. The noise, the emotion, it can be so hard to meet every need our children have. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to not only meet all their physical needs, but their emotional ones too.
But here’s the thing, when we dismiss our children’s feelings, even if they seem silly to us, we are making our job harder! That’s right, taking the “easier” way out is making us work more in the long run.
Now it shouldn’t be about finding the easiest way to parent. However, when our days are long, we want to find efficient but also healthy ways to best raise our children.
We want our children to learn to use their words. We want our children to learn emotional regulation. We want to get out the door, end sibling squabbles and get through bedtime.
Sometimes, “stop crying” will get us there. Or it won’t, and we just all end up even more frustrated and our children sadder.
But what it doesn’t do is teach emotional regulation. It doesn’t teach children to use their words. It doesn’t teach us how to accept and deal with sadness or frustration.
And ultimately, it sends the message that crying isn’t an acceptable response to emotion, when in fact it can be a healthy one.
The more we dismiss “silly” feelings, the more likely our children will have them and the more insecure they may become. The more insecure our children are about having a safe emotional place to fall, the more support they’re going to need from you in the future.
But My Child Can Talk, Why Does He Cry So Much?
Babies cry because they can’t communicate otherwise, right? Yes and no. Certainly babies use crying to communicate hunger, discomfort or other needs. However, they have emotions too!
Your toddler is likely to cry less than a six month old because he can tell you he’s hungry, thirsty, etc. However, he isn’t going to never cry. He’s going to be frustrated, sad, disappointed, as will your preschooler, tween and even teenager.
As an adult, perhaps we won’t cry over an uncomfortable sock, a lost toy, or a sibling looking at us funny. However, we’ve also learned emotional regulation, we have control over our lives (e.g. we can change our uncomfortable sock without asking someone for help), and we have ways to cope with big emotions. We’re more secure about our place in this big world.
Of course, we cry over “silly” things too. I once cried because my taco order was messed up and the restaurant was 20 minutes away and I wasn’t going to go back and get it fixed. I blame postpartum hormones, but nonetheless, I cried.
And you know what? No one yelled at me to stop. Why? Because adults are often extended more grace for their “silliness” than children.
Won’t They Be Whiney Forever If We Don’t Teach Them To Stop?
Crying isn’t inherently bad. Sadness or frustration isn’t inherently wrong. We do our children a lifelong disservice if we teach them they should never cry.
We can teach them how to handle those big emotions. We can teach them it’s inappropriate to throw themselves down, screaming extremely loud, or breaking items in anger when they don’t get what they want. But we don’t need to teach them not to cry.
Just as our children need to learn to walk and talk, they also learn over time how to control their emotions. You can learn more by reading Emotional Regulation – 5 Ways To Teach It To Your Child.
What Should We Say Instead?
Children need to feel heard and understood. They need to know that their feelings are important and valid. What seems silly to us is a very valid emotional response to a small child in a big world.
Helping your child feel heard and understood is what helps to reduce crying. Your options aren’t simply yell “stop crying!” or listening to endless crying.
You can say:
- It’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to cry.
- Would you like to tell me why you’re sad?
- It’s okay if you need to be alone. I’m right over here if you need me.
- I can help you work this out.
- You’re right, this feels unfair.
- I hear you.
- You’re feeling sad/frustrated/disappointed/etc.
- This is hard for you.
Your exact words aren’t the most important thing. What is important is that you help your children feel understood and heard.
They need to know you’re available and willing to help them. You don’t need to just let them cry, you can help them work through their big emotions without dismissing them.