How To Deal With A Child Who Cries Over Everything, According To Experts
It comes down to love and patience, but you already knew that.
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 and their feelings explode like a volcano, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. Knowing how to deal with a child who cries over everything might be the thing that keeps you from tears as well. And yes, there are ways to help your sensitive kid learn to self-regulate, even if it feels like they cry at the drop of a hat. 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. Pretty much every child goes through a phase where there's just too much in this world for their developmental stage, and they struggle to manage their emotions. What do you do when this happens? And how can parents help them get through these moments?
How to deal with a child that cries over everything
Communication with your child is key, says occupational therapist Dr. Shelli Dry. “It’s important to stay as honest and open as possible during communication.” The simple truth is that some children are more sensitive and feel things stronger than others, just by their nature, says Dry. It can be extremely stressful to deal with a child that seems to cry over every little thing, and it’s important to figure out if you’re simply in a challenging developmental phase, or if there’s a broader issue that your family could use help managing. If you feel out of your depth in terms of handling your childs big emotions, talk to your family’s health care provider about getting appropriate support to help your child thrive.
However, if you are simply in a bumpy patch, there are some simple ways our experts suggest you can deal with a child who cries over everything at this moment.
Focus on your own emotional state & calm yourself first
“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,” says Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes, licensed clinical psychologist. Working to calm yourself, even before you try to help your child calm down, may be the key to getting everyone on a more even keel. Try taking a few long, slow, deep breaths before you begin to interact with your crying child.
Validate their feelings
“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. I'm not saying I know from personal experience, but I know from personal experience.
Once you’ve assured your child that they are safe and their emotions are OK and valid, try “giving the child a goal-oriented activity to do when they are starting to feel sad,” Dry suggests, 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.
Try to anticipate triggers
Dry says that if your child is highly sensitive, you might want to try to anticipate their triggers, whether they’re 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.
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 every little thing, talk to your pediatrician and see what they think. It’s normal to ask for help, and pediatricians are trained to support families behavioral needs and emotional well-being as well as their physical well-being. Your child might be just going through normal kid stuff, or maybe they need additional support — that's between you and your child’s care provider. A visit to behavioral health specialist or occupational therapist can be hugely informative, and may get your family into a better place if you feel like you’re struggling to meet your childs’ emotional needs.
Dr. Shelli Dry, occupational therapist
Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes, licensed clinical psychologist
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