Listening to your children cry can be frustrating, but should you tell your child to stop crying? Here’s why you shouldn’t.
He scraped his knee and I held him in my arms, whispering, “Don’t cry, don’t cry…” Another time he’d been crying for 30 minutes straight and I snapped, “Stop crying already!” Maybe it was when I’d sent him to his room, telling him he can come out when he’s finished crying.
It’s amazing how many times we tell our kids to “stop crying,” for many and even with good intentions—from comforting pain to losing our patience.
Regardless of the reason, one thing is true: we want them to stop crying. We don’t want to see them in pain or hear more crying for another hour. And maybe we’ve just had it with their defiance and tantrums.
Why you shouldn’t tell your child to stop crying
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Crying isn’t the most pleasant of emotions. Except telling our kids to stop crying isn’t the best choice, however much we feel inclined to say it.
It restricts your child’s emotions.
No one wants to be told to stop crying, including children. Let’s imagine ourselves in their shoes for a minute. You had a terrible day. Maybe your boss embarrassed you in front of everyone, and dinner turned out to be a flop again.
You felt so upset and cried at home, not in the mood to spend time with others. Except instead of comfort or even the space to be, others tell you, “Stop crying already.”
Not pleasant, right? But this is what it feels like when our kids hear us say those words. Their emotions are as real to them as yours are to you. And telling them to stop crying restricts their emotions. I’d love to have you around when you’re happy, but not when you have unpleasant feelings.
Allowing your child to cry gives him the safe space he needs to sort through his feelings. Telling him to stop limits what he feels he can express.
It doesn’t give your child teachable moments.
Convenience sometimes comes at a price. Telling your child—even getting angry at your child—to stop crying may just do the trick. Told often enough, or afraid enough, he’ll likely dwindle his tears to a few hiccups and sniffles.
But he has missed out on several opportunities, including learning to manage his feelings. In holding him in your arms, you make it clear you’re here for him, no matter what. You also show him how to self soothe: taking deep breaths or holding onto a stuffed animal. Maybe you guide him to a quieter space, so that in the future he’ll learn how to calm himself down.
And afterward, you can talk about what happened. He’ll learn that everyone feels sad and that it’s normal. That anger and frustration aren’t permanent but come and go. And that he can make them go away, such as doing something he likes or talking about it.
He won’t learn any of this when we tell him to stop crying.
Anyone who has ever told her child to stop crying knows how ineffective it is. It hardly works. I have yet to see any of my kids calmly stop crying after I told them to.
And for good reason. They’re in the middle of some pretty rough feelings. They don’t feel comforted, especially if we yell at them to stop. And they have no sense of logic in this state—no amount of explaining will convince him to stop.
You might as well save your breath because telling your child to stop crying hardly works.
What to do instead
So far, we’ve learned that telling our kids to stop crying isn’t the most effective or ideal response. What to do instead?
- Comfort your child without words. Whether your child feels hurt, sad or angry, hold him in your arms and let body language do its trick. Right now, he can’t process anything logical. But through rubbing his back or giving him a kiss, he knows you’re here for him even as he cries. At most, say, “It hurts, doesn’t it?” or “I know, buddy, I know…”
- Offer a comfort item. My two-year-old knows to grab his lovey whenever he feels upset to soothe himself. Giving your child a comfort item can be a practical way to calm your child down.
- Give him space and time. Maybe your child isn’t in the mood to hug. Let him be. Don’t banish him to his room because he’s loud—that will make the situation worse. But do give him space and time to get it out of his system. Emotions don’t have time limits or need to be finished in five minutes.
“But what if my child was misbehaving?” you might ask. “Won’t comforting him enable and encourage his misbehavior?”
In short, no. Enabling misbehavior means letting him rip pages out of the book or hit his sister. Comforting your crying child doesn’t make him cry even more. He won’t think, “Well, that was nice. I’ll cry some more so mom can hold me again.”
He won’t associate crying with attention (unless you only hold him when he’s misbehaving). Comforting him will, instead, decrease the amount of crying. My kids have melted in my arms and stopped crying versus the times when I told them to stop crying or got upset. Sometimes all they need is that hug, that reassurance that they’ll be all right.
And remember, crying is necessary. We all cry, and the younger and more limited our vocabularies are, the more tears we shed. Kids communicate and express their emotions through crying. It’s cathartic. Even adults feel better to cry than to bottle emotions.
Whether to comfort or to discipline, telling your child to stop crying isn’t the way to go. Holding back tears restricts his emotions. He misses out on learning opportunities to manage his feelings. And it’s ineffective—rarely does a child stop crying when told to.
Instead, allow your child to cry. Teach him ways to soothe himself. Reassure him that his feelings are normal. And, most importantly, show him you’ll be there for him. After all, the times we least feel like being with them is when they need us the most.
Do you struggle with getting your kids to listen? I’d love to share with you one effective word I’ve found to get kids to listen in this FREE printable handout. Learn about the word, why it works and how to use it (comes with a worksheet, too!).
Get more tips on your child’s emotions and behavior:
- Before You Get Angry with Your Child, Read This:
- Here’s How to Address Your Child’s Failures
- Parenting Mistakes: Judging Your Child’s Emotions
- How to Stop Your Child from Whining and Speak Politely Instead
- How to Discipline a Toddler Who Deliberately Disobeys
Your turn: When have you told your child to stop crying?