Wondering how to deal with a child that cries over everything? These 7 phrases will help guide your overly sensitive child through this stage.
The blanket that isn’t set exactly the way she wants. The artwork that got bent along the corner. A sibling playing with the toy he wanted to play with. Let’s not forget the stuffed animal that wasn’t where he left it, the finished cookie, or the sandwich cut the wrong way.
These are just some of the things my kids have cried easily about, enough to drive me crazy. In short, they cry about anything that isn’t exactly their way.
Sure, it helps that they don’t cry at school, but that only left me even more confused about why they’d cry over everything at home. And it’s not just little tears, either—sometimes they’d scream their heads off. No wonder I was exhausted with little patience to deal with it much longer.
How to deal with a child that cries over everything
Perhaps you can relate. You can’t help but wonder if your child crying over everything—the silliest of reasons—is normal. And why does she cry all the time?
Big changes are often the culprit, from a new baby to moving to a new house. I’ve learned that, as overwhelming as these changes are for you, you can imagine how much harder they are for her. She also feels safer with you—while she’ll stay composed at school, she knows you won’t reject or abandon her at home.
Sometimes, you simply face the end-of-day meltdowns, especially when she’s been behaving well at school all day. We all have less willpower as the day stretches, so she’s more likely to make poor choices stemming from built-up frustration.
And finally, young kids are still learning how to cope with their big emotions. Your child doesn’t have a reliable way to regulate strong feelings the way you and I are better able to do.
So, how then can you deal with an emotional child who cries so much?
Well, I learned that how you respond—specifically the words we use—can set the stage and stop this habit once and for all.
Below, I list seven phrases you can tell your child when she’s crying over every little thing. It’s not just about telling her to “stop crying already.” Setting these standards and starting a conversation about them gives her the tools and options to handle her problems and see them in a new way:
1. “I see you’re upset…”
Does your child throw “fake tantrums” for attention?
The thing is, many of her dilemmas—however petty they might seem—can truly feel devastating to her. Instead of brushing her feelings aside, acknowledge them for being the real and even raw feelings she’s going through.
Saying “I see you’re upset because…” validates her feelings and gives words to those feelings. Not only does she feel normal and have a name to describe how she feels*, but now she can simply say, “I’m mad…” instead of throwing a fit.
After acknowledging her feelings, you can then follow up with your expectations: “But we don’t throw toys when we’re mad…” Offer suggestions of what she can do instead, from telling you she’s mad to walking away. You’re still giving boundaries while validating how she feels.
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2. “I don’t understand crying or whining.”
Your child may have gotten used to crying or whining as a normal way of speaking to you. Reset those habits and establish new rules of communicating—namely, that you won’t engage with her unless she changes her tone.
Don’t deal with the issue—finding the teddy bear, for instance—until she can better communicate. The less attention she gets through crying and whining, the less she’s likely to continue that behavior. In fact, praise her for the times she does calmly seek your help, acknowledging that this is the proper way to speak.
3. “There’s a better way to say that.”
Your child’s problems and complaints wouldn’t be so bad if she didn’t say it in a grating, whining way. It’s not that you don’t want to help her find her lost teddy bear. It’s that she breaks down in an instant without even considering her options or other ways to get help.
But once you tell her that there’s a better way to phrase her problems, she can then say the same thing, but differently. Model for her how to say exactly what she’s saying, in a better tone. Instead of, “My teddy bear is GONE!!!” she can say the same thing in a much calmer way: “My teddy bear is gone.”
4. “That’s not a reason to cry. That’s a reason to ask for help.”
As much as we want to validate our children’s emotions, we also want them to see that not everything is worth crying about. And one of the best ways to flip that assumption is to let them know that they can simply ask for help.
Yes, they have a problem—but that doesn’t always mean they need to cry about it. Asking for help is one of the easiest ways to resolve the issue they’re having.
Your child still needs help verbalizing her thoughts, even if you know what she’s thinking. Helping her communicate her thoughts means involving her in the problem-solving process.
Let’s say she cried because a crayon broke in half. Show her that she can always ask and tell you what she needs, and together, you can find a solution. Maybe that means coloring the rest of the flowers orange, or coloring with the longer of the two broken pieces.
As always, talk to her when she’s calm, not when she’s in a fit. But now she knows that every dilemma isn’t the end of the world, and more important, she can come up with solutions to fix those problems.
5. “Do you want to talk about it?”
After validating your child’s feelings, you can also offer to talk about it. Once again, you’re refusing to hold a conversation with her when she’s crying and whining, but reassuring her that you’re here if she wants to talk.
Because there’s a big difference between crying and actually talking about the problem. She’ll see that you’re more than willing to help and talk with her about it once she’s calm.
You might say, “I can see you’re feeling upset about [fill in the blank]. Would you like to talk about what we should do?”
6. “Would you like a hug?”
Sometimes all kids need to calm down from crying is a warm hug. We can’t process anything logical or verbal when we’re in the middle of a meltdown, kids included. Rather than teaching, talking, or reasoning with her when she’s clearly not in the right frame of mind, rely on non-verbal communication instead.
A hug can be one of the best ways to show her that you’re still here, despite her tantrums. While you’re not willing to engage with her unreasonable demands and tears, you are here for her to help her calm down.
“It seems like you’re having a bad day,” you might start. “Would a hug make you feel better?” Hugging, facial expressions, and soft body language can be all it takes to soothe her back to calm.
As I say in my book, 31 Days to Better Parenting:
“Children are especially attuned to body language, more so than words or instructions. Sometimes we don’t even need to say anything at all. A hug, a touch on the arm, a rub on the back. Those can be enough to signal that it’s all right and we love them.”
7. “What if everybody did that?”
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I’ve seen my son’s teacher ask this phrase of her students with great success. The question forces kids to imagine what would happen if everyone was allowed to behave the same way they did, and what that would look like.
Suddenly your child can see how ridiculous the household would be if everyone—including her parents—cried over every little thing that goes wrong. Even more, it makes her then wonder why she ought to be the exception to do that all the time.
You might even check out the book titled What If Everybody Did That? by Ellen Javernick. Talk about how chaotic her environment would be if everyone made poor choices:
In fact, reading books about feelings is one of the best ways to start a conversation about how she reacts to her problems. She can see she’s not alone, and can model her own choices on the characters she reads about.
Learning how to deal with a child that cries over everything can drive anyone nuts. Thankfully, you now have a few phrases to stop your child from crying over everything.
Let her know that you don’t understand her when she cries and whines, and that there’s a better way to say what she wants. Acknowledge how she feels, especially when you can sense true distress in her tears. Then, let her know that she can always ask for help rather than resort to crying.
Ask her if she’d like to talk about her dilemma, or if she could use a hug—both are calmer ways to respond to whatever she might be upset about. And finally, ask her to imagine what it would look like if everybody behaved the way she did, forcing her to see the consequences of her choices.
Now you can respond calmly without getting sucked into your child’s tears—even if it’s over a bent piece of artwork or a sandwich cut the wrong way.
*Source: Kids Helpline
Get more tips:
- What to Do when Your Child Cries at School Drop Off
- Why You Shouldn’t Tell Your Child to Stop Crying
- The Key to Helping Your Child Stop Crying at School
- What to Do When Your Toddler Is Hysterical at Bedtime
- How to Respond When Your 3 Year Old Tantrums Every Day
As frustrating as your child’s behavior may be, a lot of it can be prevented simply by seeing things from her perspective. In my PDF, The Power of Empathy, you’ll learn how empathy is truly the secret key that makes a huge difference in how we interact with our kids.
Imagine transforming your relationship with your child, using just the lessons you’ll learn right here. Join my newsletter and download your PDF below—at no cost to you. You won’t want to pass this up: