Kids cry — it's what they do. Their minds are little tornadoes of emotion on a good day, so it makes sense that when things go awry, they'd have an outsized reaction. But some kids are next level. Knowing how to deal with a child who cries over everything might be the thing that keeps you from tears as well.
As a mom with one neurotypical child and one autistic child, I understand that there's a difference between children with special needs whose primary method of communication involves crying, and kids who are simply criers. This article is focusing on the latter. Kids who cry over everything and throw tantrums are often referred to as "highly sensitive children," noted Parents. Pretty much every child goes through a phase where there's just too much in this world for their developmental stage, and they react by just losing their crap — all of the time. What do you do when this happens? Occupational therapist Dr. Shelli Dry, OTD of Enable My Child tells Romper that communication with your child is key, noting that it's "important to stay as honest and open as possible during communication."
Dry says the simple truth is that some children are more sensitive and feel things stronger than others, just by their nature. "The best thing the parents can do in the case of a highly sensitive or empathic child is to teach their child that it is OK to feel sad and help them validate their feelings." Talking your child through a crying jag is no easy feat, and often, you might (absolutely) want to rip your own hair out while hiding under a weighted blanket drinking chardonnay. I'm not saying I know from personal experience, but I know from personal experience. If you don't believe the banshee myth, come to my house when the internet is slow and my daughter is playing Roblox — you'll be a true believer.
Dry says that if your child is highly sensitive, you might want to anticipate their triggers, whether it's aural, visual, or tactile, and talk them through it. Help them know what's coming if you can't prevent it. "If the parents identify challenging sensations and can decrease the level of stimulation, they will help their child maintain a calm state and decrease chances of exhaustion or fatigue and anxiety spikes." And hopefully, help manage your own anxiety in relation to theirs.
Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes, says that this ability to maintain your own chill will have a huge effect on your child finding theirs. "Kids are sensitive to energy and if you do not take care of yourself, it will affect their nervous system as well. The old parenting rules do not apply to this generation, so best to start with parental self-care now to help your child relax and stay calm," she says. I don't know anyone my age without a parent who would go fully Red from That '70s Show when their kids were melting down. I'm lucky enough to have on video an occurrence of my grandfather admonishing my father, saying "Hey, a 5-year-old kid can't take care of an 18-month-old baby," when his own child lost his cool. It was recorded confirmation of three generations of people who would never learn to relax.
Needless to say, it's been a learning curve for me learning how to deal with a child who cries all the time, when I was also that child.
Dry offers a series of more concrete solutions if you're not exactly in a place to relax. She says that after you've assured your child that they are safe and their emotion is valid, you should "give the child a goal-oriented activity to do when they are starting to feel sad." Like petting the family dog until they calm down. "This can be paired with a social story for repetitive practice," Dry adds. Every time your kid gets wound up, repetition and soothing influences might be necessary. She also notes that you can develop a gratitude practice with older kids to help them find an introspective point from which they can pull themselves out.
I understand that some kids might not have the safety measures in place and life that would engender gratitude all of the time. This is absolutely a position of privilege, and I recognize this. So does Dry, who also suggests learning meditative practices that allow children to find focus and calm through mantras and within themselves. For this, I love the book Zara's Big Messy Day by Rebekah Borucki, which has been instrumental in teaching my daughter meditative techniques that help calm her down exponentially.
And when all that fails — because some days it will — remember, kids are going to flip out. They're going to cry over Roblox and lose their mind when their brother eats all the snacks. This is just a part of growing up. By helping them learn to look inside and providing them a safe person to rely on for calm, you're doing what you can. However, if your child keeps crying and really having a hard time with everything, talk to your pediatrician and see what they think. It might be just normal kid stuff, or it might be a red flag — that's between you and your child's care provider.