We’ve all been there: you’re moving and grooving through your day with your little one, and then it hits—the tears! Where did they come from? Weren’t we jamming to our favorite song just a minute ago? When the tears come, sometimes it can feel overwhelming to know how to help your child calm down, or even know why they’re crying.
Children are complex and they have big feelings that they cannot always communicate. It’s our job to help them navigate those feelings and help them through the tears. Here are reasons why your child may be crying, and ways that you can help them calm down.
Why Do Kids Cry?
Sometimes, you may be able to stop the breakdown before it gets out of hand by anticipating how they may be feeling. If you suspect your little one is fussing because they are tired or hungry, a simple fix would be to give them a snack or help them to rest their body. Before we get into how to calm your child down, let’s first talk about why they may be crying in the first place.
You know when you’re so tired from your busy day and you get home and your patience is nowhere to be found? The same is true for our little humans!
The added struggle for them is they don’t have the words to express that they are tired and they also don’t always know what the feeling is. Instead of politely telling you that they need to take a nap—we can dream!—they may be overly emotional and bring out more tears than usual.
Making sure your little one is getting enough sleep through naps and nighttime sleep is key. Kids between the ages of three and five years old should get 10-13 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period.
Kids between six and twelve should get between 9-12 hours of sleep. These are guidelines, but you know your child best. They may need a little more or a little less, but making sure they get consistent sleep is important for their emotional and physical health.
Kids. Never. Stop. Moving. Between playing and running and exploring and growing, their body is constantly using up energy, which can make them hungry. This is why you are likely going through enough snacks in your house to feed an entire soccer team.
Now, here’s the tricky part…sometimes they don’t eat as much as they normally would. It’s totally normal for kids to go through phases of eating a lot some days, and then not as much the next.
When kids are hungry, they don’t always know how to express the feeling and they are a lot more sensitive than they normally would be. There’s a reason the word ‘hangry’ exists. If your child breaks down for no apparent reason, try and offer them a healthy snack. If it helps them come out of their tears, you may want to make sure that you have snacks on the ready.
They’re In Pain
Did your little one just bump their head on the table they’re climbing under? Or did they just fall while running down the sidewalk? They will likely cry. Poor baby!
When kids are little, boo-boos are inevitable. They’re a sign they are getting out there and trying new things. No one likes to get a boo-boo, but we just have to be there to give them snuggles, clean them up, and help them get back on the metaphorical horse.
Kids are also more sensitive if they aren’t feeling well. If they have a tummy ache, headache, or growing pains, they may be crying more than usual. If they are old enough, they can probably tell you how they’re feeling.
Help them to get comfortable with rest, and maybe grandma can read them a story over video-chat. Once the discomfort has passed, they’ll be back to their normal happy selves again.
Have the monsters under the bed visited your house yet? Kids between four and six have very active imaginations, and they can’t always tell the difference between real and fantasy.
If your little one is having trouble with fears, just being there for them can help. Give them snuggles and reassure them that they are safe. You can help them put words to the fears they are feeling and have open communication.
Separation anxiety can also be a source of their fears. When kids are younger, usually in the toddler years, they can become overly clingy to a parent, especially when we have to leave our kids in a safe place like school, daycare, or with a babysitter.
To help your child through these times, create a simple exit ritual before you leave. Be loving and firm when you say goodbye. It’ll take some time, but they’ll get more used to the idea that sometimes you have to go, but you’ll eventually come back.
Has your family been more on the go lately? Maybe you’ve had a few extra play dates scheduled in the week. Is your little one just starting school for the first time?
All of these new activities can overstimulate your child. Overstimulation happens when there’s more activity than one can cope with. Children don’t always know how to communicate that they need some alone time.
Cue the tears! If you suspect your child is overstimulated, help them by bringing them to a quiet place. You may want to find a relaxing activity you can do together to help them settle down. Scheduling quiet time during your day, especially if your little one is past the nap stage, can really help reduce overstimulation.
They Want Something (Or They Don’t Want Something)
Have you ever been in the situation where your toddler asks for a PB&J cut in triangles with the crusts cut off, and you hand them exactly what they ask for, yet they cry? Same!
Toddlers don’t quite know how to express how they are feeling and sometimes, even when you do exactly what they ask for, it isn’t what they really wanted. If you’ve ever been around a toddler, this makes total sense.
For a little one who doesn’t have the words to express themselves, they are trying to tell you that their needs aren’t being met. It’s our job to help them clearly communicate their needs.
Whether or not these tantrums stick around depends a lot on how you handle the situation. Staying calm and helping them work out their feelings is key. Try not to give in to the fit just to get them to stop crying. They may learn throwing a fit equals getting whatever they want.
They Need Attention
People of all ages need to be given attention. Not celebrity-level attention, but to know someone in your life holds space for you and is present when you need them is so important. The same goes for our little ones but to an even greater extent. The caregivers in their lives are their whole world. We need to take the time to really put down any distractions we have and really focus on them.
We get it: as adults, your life is incredibly busy with a lot of responsibilities. It’s impossible to give your child every ounce of your attention. It’s also good to let them experience independent play. Set aside times during the day to really get down to their level and give them the attention they are craving.
Ways To Help Your Child Calm Down
Now that you know a few of the common reasons kids cry, the big question is: how do we help them calm down? Of course, if they’re hungry or tired, you can help correct those issues, but what if your little one is crying and you’re unsure why?
When a child cries, it can be a learning opportunity for both of you. It can help you understand how your child is feeling, and what needs of theirs aren’t being met.
It can help your child understand how to identify and process their feelings with the help of someone they trust. The more you can help them through these crying times, the better they will be at processing their feelings as they get older.
Here are some ways to help them work through their tears and help them calm down.
1. Stay Calm
Kids will cry. They may throw themselves on the floor in the middle of a grocery store or during storytime at the library. When and where they decide to let out their feelings is up to them. You can’t fix everything, and sometimes those tears just need to come out and you need to be a safe place for them to fall.
No matter if your child starts crying at home or in public, the best thing you can do is stay calm to help them through their feelings. They look to you to steer the emotional ship. Whether you are panicked or stay steady when the emotional wave hits, they will likely follow suit.
We understand this tip can be incredibly hard to follow, especially if you’re tired or overwhelmed yourself. Practicing your own self-care can help you be better prepared to help your child navigate their own emotions.
2. Keep To A Schedule
Kids thrive when there is a routine in their lives. A schedule helps them build their confidence, gives them a sense of control, makes them feel safe, and engages them with the daily events of the family. Schedules also help to make sure they are getting the sleep they need for their growing bodies. As we know, if a child is tired, they can be more apt to have crying fits.
In your daily schedule, include meals and snacks for your little one. If you are able to meet their needs before they have to ask for something, specifically when it comes to food, it can help prevent some of the tears.
A schedule also helps them know what comes next. If you always go for a walk before lunch, they will be less likely to get upset when they have to go inside. They know they’ll be given a delicious lunch. They will also know that they get to go back outside with you tomorrow.
3. Avoid Saying “Stop Crying”
Asking your child to stop crying is like asking them to stop wanting the cookie they’re crying about. Although we have probably all said it ourselves or heard our own parents say it, telling a child to “stop crying” is anything but helpful.
There are much better things you can say to help them calm down. Let them know that it’s okay to be sad. After all, everyone cries sometimes, and for kids, that is a major way in which they communicate. You can also just let them know that you are there for them.
If they are needing attention, these words can go a long way. Saying “can I help you?” will let them know you are on their team and you’re ready to help them in any way.
4. Help Your Child Find Words For Their Feelings
Children have big feelings and a small vocabulary. If your child is having a crying episode, see if you can help them put words to their feelings. Are they crying because they’re disappointed and sad to leave the park?
Help them find those words. “Leaving the park can be disappointing and sad.” If their block tower falls over and they start crying, you can say, “you worked really hard on your tower and it fell over, that can feel frustrating.”
Helping them identify their emotions can start before you are in the middle of a full-on crying fit. You can talk to your child about emotions even when they are babies. Reading books that show different expressions that match emotions is a great place to start.
As they grow, talk about different emotions with your child throughout the day. Giving them the vocabulary for how they are feeling—happy or sad—can help them when they’re feeling overwhelmed.
5. Validate Their Feelings
Once you understand how your little one is feeling, validate those feelings. Are they feeling sad that they lost their favorite toy? Letting them know you understand how they’re feeling goes a long way. Kids need to know that their feelings matter just like adults do.
In this situation, you can also ask if you can come up with a solution with them to solve the problem. Perhaps you can look for their favorite toy together.
When you validate kids’ feelings, you are letting them know that you’re on their side. You are showing them that you care about how they feel and are there to help them get through those feelings if they need you. This validation can help to strengthen your relationship.
If you have done all the tricks and your child is still not calming down, it may be time for a little redirection. This doesn’t mean bribing them with a cookie to stop crying. It also doesn’t mean if they are crying because they want to play in the rain, but you said no, to let them do it just to get them to stop crying.
Redirection can be anything from going outside to look for butterflies, taking a walk, or singing a song. You could ask them if they want to call grandpa and do some activities together in the Caribu app.
Changing the scenery for your child and helping them move past what they’re frustrated about may help calm them down. If you feel like you need to revisit their big feelings, you can always discuss them when you are both more calm.
Keep Calm And Carry On
Our kids will cry, it’s just a part of childhood. Knowing what can cause these tears, like being overtired, hungry, or overstimulated, can help you know how to help your child calm down.
Stick to a schedule, avoid saying “stop crying,” validate their feelings, and help your child find the words to express their feelings. Whatever tricks you use to calm your little one down, the most important thing you can do yourself is stay calm.
The next time you see a parent with a crying child in public, give them a little solidarity nod. We’ve all been there, and letting other parents know that they aren’t alone will help them feel supported themselves.
Caribu has many books that are all about feelings and how to express them. Next time your child is on a video-call with a loved one, they can pick one of these books and talk all about how it makes them feel. Working with your little one through their feelings is extremely important in strengthening your relationship with them, and Caribu helps you do this even if you are miles apart!