About crying in babies and children
All children cry when they’re hungry, tired, uncomfortable, sick or in pain. Sometimes they cry because they need affection. Toddlers and older children might also cry because they’re frustrated, sad or angry, for example.
But it can sometimes be hard to work out what your crying child needs, especially if she isn’t talking yet.
So when your child cries, start by checking that he 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 crying for another reason, there are lots of things you can do to help.
Babies are born with the ability to cry. Crying is their main way of communicating.
Around 1 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 busy doing things like making dinner or giving older children a bath.
This stage of intense crying will pass, probably sooner than you think.
How to manage your baby’s crying
The first step is to check whether your baby is hungry, tired or uncomfortable. Over time, you’ll get to know your baby’s crying, and what different cries mean.
Here are some other helpful strategies:
- Put your baby in a pram or a baby sling and go for a walk. You could even take a drive – as long as you’re not too tired! Even if your baby doesn’t stop crying, it’s sometimes easier to cope when you’re on the move.
- Ask a friend or relative to help at the times of day when your baby cries most.
- If you’re feeling overwhelmed, put your baby somewhere safe and take a five-minute break. Letting your baby cry for a few minutes won’t hurt her, and it can help you get things under control.
It’s always OK to ask for help. Your child and family health nurse or GP are good places to start.
Toddlers cry for the same reasons as babies. But toddlers also cry as a way of dealing with new and difficult emotions like frustration, embarrassment or jealousy.
How to manage your toddler’s crying
If your child is physically OK, the following tips might help:
- If you think your child might be tired, a rest might help. Or you could give her some quiet time listening to music or a story.
- If the crying happens at bedtime, you might need some help settling your child.
- If your child is angry or having a tantrum, take him somewhere safe to calm down.
- If your child is frustrated, try to work out a solution together. For example, ‘You’re frustrated because the blocks keep falling over. Let’s try again together’. Naming an emotion lets your child know that you understand her feelings. It also helps her learn self-regulation.
- If your toddler is just cranky, try a change of scenery like a walk outside, give him a bubble bath, or put on some kids’ music and dance around together. You might be surprised how much fun you have.
Preschoolers and school-age children: crying
Children tend to cry less as they get older.
Once your child can talk, it’s much easier for her to use words to tell you why she’s upset and what she needs. It’s also likely to be easier for you to talk with her about her feelings.
How to manage your preschooler’s or school-age child’s crying
If your child is physically OK, try the following ideas:
- Give your child a chance to calm down, then ask him what has made him so upset. Show you’re listening by repeating his feelings back to him. 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 she 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 in babies and children is one of the most common reasons parents seek professional help.
If your child 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.
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.
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.