About crying in children
All children cry when they’re hungry, tired, uncomfortable, sick, in pain, frustrated, sad or angry. Sometimes they cry because they need affection or comfort, or because they fear being separated from their carer.
But it can sometimes be hard to work out what children need when they’re crying, especially if they aren’t talking yet.
So when your child cries, start by checking that they aren’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 a reason other than sickness or pain, there are many things you can do to help.
Never shake, hit or hurt a crying child. If you feel you might hurt your child, stop before you do anything. Walk away and take some deep breaths. Call someone for help.
Toddler crying happens for the same reasons as baby crying. But toddlers also cry as a way of dealing with new and difficult emotions like frustration, embarrassment or jealousy.
If your child is physically OK, the following ideas might help you manage your child’s crying:
- If you think your child might be tired, a rest might help. Or you could offer some quiet time listening to music or reading a story together.
- If the crying happens at bedtime, you might need some help settling your child.
- If your child is angry or having a tantrum, take your child somewhere safe and use time-in to help your child 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 and the reason for it sends the message that you understand your child’s feelings. It also helps your child learn self-regulation.
- If your child is just cranky, try going for a walk outside together or offering a bubble bath. Or put on some music you both enjoy and dance or sing together.
- If there’s another special person who can soothe or distract your child, you could ask this person for help. For example, you could try video-chatting with a grandparent.
Preschoolers and school-age children: crying
Children tend to cry less as they get older.
Once children can talk, it’s much easier for them to use words to say why they’re upset and what they need. It’s also likely to be easier for them to talk about their feelings.
If your child is physically OK, try the following ideas to manage your child’s crying:
- Help your child calm down, then ask them why they feel upset. Show you’re listening by repeating your child’s feelings back to them. For example, ‘You’re feeling sad because Sam wouldn’t play with you’.
- Offer your child ways to deal with the situation. For example, ‘How about you ask to join Jai’s game instead?’
- Make sure your child understands that it’s OK to have feelings and to cry – for example, when something sad happens or when your child gets hurt. You could say something like, ‘Ouch, I’d be crying too if I hit my head’.
If your child seems to spend a lot of time crying and feeling sad, consider asking your GP for advice.
Looking after yourself when your child is crying
If your child is crying a lot, it’s very important to look after yourself.
If you’re feeling stressed, anxious or angry, it might help to have another person take over for a while. If you can, ask your partner or a friend or relative to help out. Walking around the block or doing meditation can give you a break and might help you feel calmer.
Seeking support is an important part of looking after yourself. It’s good for you and it’s good for your family. Crying in babies and children is one of the most common reasons parents seek professional help.
If you need support, you can phone your GP or child and family health nurse. They might offer phone consultations. You could also call Lifeline on 131 114, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, or your state or territory parenting helpline.
You should also see your GP or nurse if you or your partner is crying a lot, or you’re crying without knowing why. You might need some help for depression, postnatal depression in birthing mothers or postnatal depression in non-birthing parents.
It’s OK to cry in front of your children sometimes. For both children and grown-ups, crying can be a healthy way to deal with significant loss, pain or sadness. 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 you have feelings too.