From the moment they are born, children are innately wired to use crying as a form of communication. Babies have no other way to express their needs and discomfort or to gain your attention than to cry. Even though language develops throughout the course of childhood, children often resort to crying as a way of expressing emotion or to exert control over your actions.
That’s not to say that children are manipulative and purposely use crying to get what they want and to avoid what they don’t want. They do it because it was so natural for them as infants – it is still a hard-wired method of pleasure gaining and pain avoidance.
However, it can be challenging at times to discern the real tears from the fake ones.
How do I know when my child’s crying is for real?
Simply put, all tears are real. If your child is crying, they are genuinely sad, mad or frustrated about something. It’s a matter of figuring out whether the tears are an expression of those emotions or a means to appease them.
For example, you deny your child an ice cream. The tears come. Is your child:
A) Genuinely expressing their sadness over the absence of the ice cream, or
B) Crying because they’ve been conditioned to believe that doing so will result in achieving what they are being denied?
Unless you can crawl into your child’s head, it is impossible to know. Thankfully, you can deal with both situations in the same way.
How To Deal With Your Child’s Crying
- Let them come to you.
Whether your child’s tears are sincere or not, immediately rushing to them (when it is not an emergency situation) only reinforces the idea that crying equals immediate attention. Allow your child to come to you – if they are genuinely upset, they will seek comfort. If they are simply miffed about being denied something, they will likely choose to sulk on their own. Either way, make it clear to your little one that you are always open and available to provide them comfort if they need it.
- Talk about their feelings.
Your child has an inherent inability to verbally express the way they are feeling. This communication deficit is a completely normal part of their development. Help them by giving them the words they need to describe how they feel. For example, “I know you are disappointed that you can’t have ice cream and this is making you sad,” or, “I can see that you are upset about the ice cream. Does not having any make you feel sad?”
- Let go of the guilt.
You are not a horrible parent for saying “no” but most of us can’t help but feel that twinge of guilt when that tiny word leads to sadness. In a way, it’s almost as if we have directly made our little ones sad and this makes us feel guilty.It shouldn’t, though. “No”, as devastating as that word may be to a child, is necessary in teaching our children boundaries and expectations. Picture, for a moment, a child that never gets told “no” is now an adult trying to survive in the real world. How does that look? Do we want that for our children?
I guess the take-away here is that all tears should be treated equally – with respect, openness and an understanding that we cannot give in to our children all the time. Despite their lack of emotional intelligence (again, a totally normal part of their development), children are emotionally resilient. What upsets them right now will likely be forgotten in a matter of moments. How we approach those tears right now will have a lasting effect on their lives.