Hearing your child cry and whine can feel frustrating, but here are a few compelling reasons why you shouldn’t tell kids to stop crying.
I’ll admit: I’ve told my kids to stop crying pretty often.
They could’ve been crying for 30 minutes straight before I snapped and said, “Stop it already!” I’ve sent them to their rooms, telling them they can come out when they’re finished. And I’ve also held them in my arms after a scraped knee, reassuring them with a mantra of “Don’t cry, don’t cry…”
I’m certain I’m not alone. It’s amazing how many times we tell our kids to stop for various reasons—from comforting pain to losing our patience.
Regardless of why, 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. Maybe we’ve had it with their defiance and tantrums. And other times, we think this is how we’re supposed to respond (especially when we don’t know what else to do).
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Why you shouldn’t tell your child to stop crying
Perhaps you can relate.
Your child cries and screams all day, and nothing calms him down. You’ve tried talking to him, distracting him, and giving him a time-out, with zero luck. He literally cries about everything, compelling you to tell him to just stop it already.
And sometimes, the easiest way to get him to finally quit being upset is to tell him to stop his outbursts.
Crying isn’t the most pleasant of emotions, for sure. It’s not that we want our kids to enjoy feeling sadness or discomfort. But telling them to stop may not be the best choice, however much we feel inclined to say it. Here are a few compelling reasons why:
1. It restricts children’s emotions
Imagine that you had a terrible day. Maybe your boss embarrassed you in front of everyone, dinner turned out to be a flop again, and you forgot your wallet when you ran an errand.
You felt so upset and ended up in tears, not in the mood to spend time with others. Except instead of comfort or even the space to be, people told you, “Stop crying already.”
Not pleasant, right? But this is what it feels like when your child hears those words. Her true emotions are as real to her as yours are to you, even if she’s crying about a lost toy or a fallen cracker. And the message that she’s hearing when you tell her to stop?
I love having you around when you’re happy, but not when you have unpleasant feelings.
Allowing her to cry gives her the safe space she needs to sort through her big feelings. Telling her to stop limits what she thinks she can express.
Besides, crying is necessary—it’s cathartic and a natural process. We all cry and feel better than had we bottled a negative emotion. And the younger and more limited kids’ vocabularies are, the more tears they shed.
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2. It doesn’t provide your child teachable moments
Convenience sometimes comes at a price. Telling your kiddo to stop crying—even getting angry at him—may do the trick. Told often enough (or even threatened enough), he’ll likely dwindle his tears to a few hiccups and sniffles.
But he misses out on several opportunities, including learning to manage his feelings. What if, instead of telling him to stop, you use the moment to help him learn a lesson?
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 by taking deep breaths or holding onto a stuffed animal. Maybe you guide him to a quieter space, so that in the future he knows he can go to his room to calm down.
And afterward, you can talk about what happened. He can 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 help them go away by doing something he likes or talking about it.
Pretty important insights, right? But he may not learn any of these valuable skills when you simply tell him to stop crying.
3. It doesn’t work
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 the minute I told them to.
And for good reason. Your child is in the middle of some pretty rough feelings. She doesn’t feel comforted, especially if you yell at her to stop. She has no sense of logic or reason when she’s in this state—no amount of explaining can convince her to stop.
You might as well save your breath because telling her 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 he feels hurt, sad, or angry, hold him in your arms and let your 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, you can say, “It hurts, doesn’t it?” or “I know, buddy, I know…”
- Offer a comfort item. My kids would grab a favorite toy whenever they felt upset as a way to soothe themselves. Giving your child a comfort item can be a practical way to calm himself down.
- Give him space and time. Maybe he isn’t in the mood to hug. That’s okay—let him be. Don’t banish him to his room because he’s crying loudly, 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 misbehavior?”
In short, no. Enabling misbehavior means allowing him to keep ripping pages out of the book or hitting his sister. Comforting a crying child doesn’t make him cry even more. He won’t think, Well, that was nice. I’ll cry some more so mommy can hold me again.
He won’t associate crying with attention (unless you only hold him when he’s misbehaving). Instead, comforting him can decrease the amount and frequency of crying.
He’s more likely to stop crying safely in your arms than if you tell him to stop crying (or get upset that he is). All he needs is that hug, that reassurance, that he’ll be all right.
Whether to comfort or to discipline, telling your child to stop crying isn’t the way to go. Holding back tears restricts her emotions. She misses out on learning opportunities to manage her feelings. And it’s ineffective—rarely does a child stop crying when told to.
Instead, allow her to cry. Teach her how to soothe herself, reassuring her that her feelings are normal and a part of life. And, most importantly, show her that you’ll be there for her. As frustrating as it is to hear her cry, this is most likely the time when she needs you the most.
Get more tips:
- The Key to Helping Your Child Stop Crying at School
- How to Stop Your Toddler Whining (Even When You’ve Tried Everything)
- How to Deal with a Child Who Cries Over Everything
- Here’s How to Address Your Child’s Failures
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p.s. Check out Crying Is Like the Rain by Heather Hawk Feinberg and Chamisa Kellogg, a wonderful book comparing tears to rain:
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