Babies are born with the ability to cry. Crying is their primary way of communicating. They call when they’re hungry, tired, uncomfortable, sick or in pain. Sometimes they cry because they need comfort. But it can sometimes be hard to work out what your crying baby needs. So when your baby cries, start by checking that the baby isn’t sick or hurt. If you’re not sure, make an appointment with your GP or call your child and family health nurse.
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 call because they’re frustrated, sad or angry, for example. But it can sometimes be hard to work out what crying children need, especially if they aren’t talking yet. My Baby Nursery has a wide range of baby nursery playpens for your little bub.
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 lots of things you can do to help.
Crying and Fussing: What to Expect
On average, babies cry and fuss for almost three hours a day, and around 1 in 10 babies call for a lot longer than this. Crying usually reaches a peak at about 6-8 weeks of age and then gradually lessens as babies get older. Also, babies under six months tend to cry most in the late afternoon and early evening. It might help to know that this stage of intense crying will pass, usually before five months. As babies get older, crying is more likely to be spread throughout the day. That’s because crying in older babies is more about communicating with you or about something in their environment.
If your child is physically OK, the following tips might help you manage your toddler’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 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 your child 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 their feelings. It also helps your child learn self-regulation.
- If your toddler is just cranky, try going for a walk outside together, offering a bubble bath, or putting on some music and dancing 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 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 preschooler’s crying:
- Give your child a chance to 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 some other ways to deal with the situation. For example, ‘How about you ask to join in Jai’s game instead?’
- Ensure your child understands that it’s OK to have feelings and 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 acting sad, consider asking your GP for advice.
As a parent, you deal with a LOT of feelings daily. Right? And sometimes, it can all get to be just a little bit much! When you’ve had what seems like hours of multiple people crying at you, the temptation to make it stop is high!
We’ve all said it, or at least thought it. ‘Stop crying! Just stop!’ Or maybe you heard it as a child?
“Don’t be silly.”
“Shh, everyone is looking at you.”
“Stop that noise, right now!”
“Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about!”
But what if I told you that every time you dismiss or minimise your child’s feelings, you make your job harder. You very rarely succeed at making them stop anyway, and it’s more likely that they will need more support from you in the future rather than less. If you don’t hear the message they are trying to send you, the messenger gets louder and louder until you do. Children are looking for empathy and understanding. If they don’t get it, they’ll keep trying.
Crying Is Ok.
It’s a very healthy and necessary way for children to express their feelings, and we don’t need to make them stop. By telling them to ‘stop crying,’ we send the message that their feelings are unnecessary, not valid, silly, and annoying. If we want our children to learn how to regulate their emotions and trust us with their problems and feelings, we cannot be dismissive of them when they try to do this!
Crying Is Always Appropriate.
Whatever your child is upset about is valid. It might seem trivial to you, but a child does not have an adult perspective on the world. Often people struggle most with allowing children to express their feelings in public, thinking that it is not an appropriate setting and worrying about other’s reactions or judgement. But let’s not teach them they need to quiet their feelings for others. They will eventually learn our unspoken social rules. One day they will know how to deal with their emotions and express them at times that adults consider ‘appropriate’, but the way we support emotional regulation is empathy and understanding, not silencing.
Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big because to them, all of it has always been big stuff.
What Not to Do When Your Child Is Crying
Don’t distract. When you distract your child from their feelings, you miss a chance to connect and help them learn the emotional regulation skills they will need in the future. You also send the message that their feelings are unimportant or too much for you to handle. Children need to know that you can deal with their emotions to feel safe and competent. It’s also a pretty disrespectful way to respond. Imagine opening up to a friend or partner only for them to say ‘ooh, but look at my new puppy!’ or something irrelevant. You would likely feel shut down, disrespected, embarrassed, and be unlikely to confide in them in the future.
Punishment and rewards are not a part of respectful parenting. Never punish, threaten, shame, blame, or judge a child for their feelings!
When you’re empathising with your child’s feelings, refrain from following it up with a ‘but’. E.g. “You’re sad because you wanted another piece of cake, but you can’t have one”. ‘But’ invalidates everything that comes before it. It tries to explain away or fix the feelings. There’s no need to do that. Empathising is enough.
Ask too many questions. When your child is full of substantial overwhelming feelings, they can’t provide answers to lots of questions. Empathise first, ask questions later.
Say, ‘it’s Ok.’
People are well-meaning when they say ‘it’s OK, ‘you’re fine, ‘shh’, but the thing is, your child is not fine right now. They don’t feel fine, so even though you’re trying to be reassuring, it can come across as minimising their feelings. A simple ‘it’s OK to cry’ is a better option.
Have a Time Limit
Don’t use empathy as a technique to ultimately stop the crying. That’s not the goal! The aim is to help your child feel heard, understood, validated, and supported. That might take a while, especially if their feelings have been dismissed in the past. There might be a lot to get out of! Don’t try empathy for 5 minutes and then declare it ‘doesn’t work’ because your child is still crying. Empathy is not a technique for control but a way of meeting your child where they are and supporting them.
Next time your child struggles with an overwhelming feeling, have some of the above phrases memorised and meet them with empathy and understanding because they deserve it. Feelings aren’t something to be avoided but opportunities for connection.
How to Manage Your Baby’s Crying: Tips
The first step is to check whether your baby is hungry, tired or uncomfortable. You might be able to respond to your baby’s crying by giving a feed, putting the baby down for a sleep or changing the baby’s nappy. Check out our extensive range of baby nursery change tables.
Here are some other tips that might make crying easier to cope with until your baby gets older and can tell you what they need. Some of these tips are useful for calling at any time of day, and some are most useful for crying at sleep time. You might need to try different things at different times – experiment to see what suits you and your baby best.
Moving Your Baby
- Gently rock or carry your baby in a baby carrier or sling. Sometimes movement and closeness to a parent can soothe babies.
- Go for a walk or 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. Note that leaving your baby to sleep unsupervised in a pram isn’t recommended.
Calming and Relaxing Your Baby
- Give your baby a warm bath.
- Try baby massage. This might help you relax too. It can also strengthen the bond between you and your baby. Your child and family health nurse can teach you how to do baby massage.
Settling and Soothing Your Baby for Sleep
- Try to establish a pattern for feeding and settling.
- Wrap your baby. This can help your baby feel secure.
- Lay your baby on their side in the cot, and rhythmically pat the baby’s back. Gently turn baby onto their back if they fall asleep.
- Offer a dummy or the breast. Sometimes your baby isn’t hungry but wants or needs to suck. If the baby is 3-4 months or older, you could also help them find their fingers or thumb to suck.
- Speak softly to your baby, sing to a baby or play soft music. White noise can also be soothing for some babies. You could try a fan, a vacuum, or a radio set to the static between stations.
- Calm things down by dimming the lights, which helps to reduce stimulation.
Pay Attention to Your Words.
After checking your emotional temperature, the next step is to avoid making blanket statements or judging their behaviour. Saying things like “only babies cry” or “stop crying” will not help them calm down, and it may make the situation worse.
Rather than escalating the situation, you could say, “I can see by your crying that you’re sad because [xyz]. After you take some deep breaths, let’s talk about it.”
Other helpful phrases to say include, “I can see this is hard for you,” and for older kids, “I can hear you crying, but I don’t know what you need. Can you help me understand?”
Help Your Child Learn.
Housman says that by helping your child — no matter the age — identify, understand, and manage their emotions, you are helping them develop what are known as the four underlying components of emotional intelligence.
“These are emotional identification, expression, understanding, and regulation, and they are foundational to lifelong learning, mental, well-being, and success,” Housman notes.
Use Schedules and Routines
If the crying stems from being overtired, ensure that you are sticking to a regular nap schedule and regular bedtime that includes a consistent routine. All kids eliminate screens before bed and use the 30 to 60 minutes before lights out as reading time.
Maintaining a schedule also applies to feeding time. If you find that your child is extra fussy, keep a record of what and how often they’re eating. Keep in mind that stress or conflict about what or how much they’re eating can also cause emotional reactions.
With younger kids, if separation anxiety is causing tears, Dixon says to try the following:
- Start with brief times away from the child.
- Kiss, hug and step out.
- Come back, but only after some time away (after the child’s crying has subsided, and they see they will not perish without you).
- When you return, tell them they did a great job while you were away. Reassure, give praise, and show affection.
- Lengthen the time out as they continue to get used to you being gone.
If you’re approaching mealtime and your little one is starting to fuss, hunger is the first thing to consider. According to the experts at Seattle Children’s Hospital, this is the most common reason for crying in babies.
Keep in mind that as your little one grows, mealtime schedules and needs may change. There is nothing wrong with a baby or child wanting to be fed earlier or eating more as they grow, so be open to altering schedules and amounts as needed.
They’re Feeling Pain or Discomfort.
Pain and discomfort that you can’t see are often reasons your kid may be crying. Stomachaches, gas, hair tourniquets, and earaches are just a few examples to consider in young ones.
If your child is older, they’ll likely tell you if something hurts. That said, it may help to take some time to run through a few questions to see if they can identify what’s wrong more specifically. This will help you rule out anything internal that you cannot see.
Discomfort can also result from being too hot or too cold. Scan what they’re wearing, compare it to the temperature, and adjust as needed.
Whether it’s the midday meltdown or the before bed tantrum, kids of all ages can find themselves in a puddle of tears if they are overly tired. Needing sleep takes second place after hunger for the top reasons babies cry.
That’s why infants and toddlers, especially, need to maintain a sleep and nap schedule. And if they’re too young to use words to indicate that rest is what they need, you’re going to have to look for physical cues that point to fatigue.
If your little one is breaking eye contact, rubbing their eyes, losing interest in activities, yawning, or irritable, it’s probably time to get some rest. Crying is a late indicator that they’re overly tired.
Older children can tell you if they’re tired, but that doesn’t always mean they will. Some preschool and school-age kids still need naps, so you may continue to see crying during the day if they need to sleep.
Overstimulation is a trigger for kids of all ages. In infants and preschool-age kids, too much noise, visual effects, or people can cause crying. You may notice your child looking around or trying to take shelter behind your leg or in a corner before they start crying.
For school-age kids, a packed schedule, being on the go too much, and even a full school day can result in a crying spell. This can lead to anger, frustration, and fatigue.
They’re Stressed or Frustrated.
Stress and frustration can look different depending on the situation.
Maybe your little one wants something that you won’t give them, like your phone, or they’re frustrated because their toy isn’t working the way they’d like. Maybe things in your household are tense due to changes or challenges, and they’re picking up on the mood. Regardless of the cause, little ones struggle with managing these emotions. Consider what they were doing right before they started crying. That could be a clue as to why they are stressed or frustrated.
They Need Attention
Sometimes kids need our attention, and they can’t or don’t know how to ask for it. If you’ve ruled out all other causes of crying, such as hunger, fatigue, overstimulation, and frustration, it might be time to ask yourself if they need some time with you.
Just be cautious of this reason and try to address the issue before the tears begin. If your kid uses crying as a way to gain your attention too often, it can turn into a cycle that is difficult to break.
They’re Feeling Separation Anxiety.
Separation anxiety can happen at any point in your child’s life. Still, Dr Becky Dixon, a pediatrician at Riley Children’s Health in Indianapolis, says 12 to 20 months is a typical age for it to occur.
Managing Your Feelings
Try putting in some imaginary earplugs. Let the sound of the crying pass through you, and remind yourself that everything is OK. You’re doing all you can to help your baby.
Looking After Yourself When Your Baby Is Crying
If your baby is crying a lot, it’s essential to look after yourself. Even just five minutes of reading a book, walking around the block or doing some meditation can give you a break if you’re feeling stressed, anxious or angry. Or sometimes 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.
Make Sure You’re Calm.
If you’re running hot, it might be time to step away, take a deep breath, and collect yourself before you address your child — especially if the crying is too much for you.
The AAP recommends placing your baby in a safe place with young kids, such as their crib without blankets or other items and leaving the room for 10 to 15 minutes while they cry. If they are still crying after this brief break, check on your baby, but do not pick them up until you are calm.
If your children are older, it’s still perfectly OK to take a time-out for both you and them by sending them to their room or stepping outside for a moment while they’re in a safe place in the home.
Accept That You Can’t Fix Everything.
No matter how well you know your child, there’s going to be a time when you have no idea why they’re crying, especially with younger kids. And when that happens, Woods says distracting your young child by changing the scenery (going from indoors to outdoors) or singing a song sometimes helps.
There will also be times that you can’t fix the reason they’re crying. Just allowing them to work through the tears and offering cuddles or silent support may be enough for older kids.
When to Contact Your Doctor
If you’ve tried everything in your toolbox and you’re still struggling with the crying, consider making an appointment to see the doctor. Some red flags that it’s time to call a pediatrician, include:
- When crying is unexplained, or frequent, or prolonged.
- When crying is accompanied by patterned behaviour (rocking, fidgeting, etc.) or a history of developmental delay.
- When persistent crying is accompanied by fever or other signs of illness.
Additionally, if your child is crying more than usual or, conversely, not expressing emotion at all, talk to your child about how they are feeling.
If they suggest that the feeling doesn’t go away, is much more frequent, or they can’t seem to manage it, talk to your pediatrician about whether your child may need the support of mental health professional. Check out My Baby Nursery for all your baby product needs.
Crying is a normal part of development. It’s essential to understand why your kid is upset and then teach them appropriate ways to manage their feelings.
As they get older, having them identify the triggers — whether that’s hunger, stress, overstimulation, or just need a hug from you — will help them feel more in control of their emotions.