While most people know that crying is common for babies and toddlers who haven’t developed language skills yet, many parents of early elementary school students are surprised at how often their child still cries. Many also find it difficult to respond gently to their children’s big emotions and find themselves frustrated when they sense that tears are coming.
The truth is though, crying in childhood, just as it is in babyhood, can be communication or a way to release emotions. Read on to find out what you should do next time your elementary schooler starts to cry.
Recognize crying as communication
When your child was a baby, you probably understood that crying meant that they could be hungry, tired, uncomfortable, or scared. This crying was communication and helped you become aware that your baby needed something. As kids grow up, it can be tempting to think that they should use their words every time they have a need. While they probably do a lot of the time, learning how to communicate feelings can be a lifelong pursuit.
When your child cries, recognize that they’re telling you something, just like they did when they were babies. Don’t rush to problem-solve, but take a few breaths and prepare to sit with them as you figure out what they need.
Check off the basics
When kids are crying, it usually means that they’re experiencing physical discomfort, emotional frustration, or feelings of overwhelm. Often, crying or a meltdown happens when sometimes challenging happens when a child is already overtired, hungry, or uncomfortable.
First, sit with your little one and let them know you’re there for them. Once they’ve calmed a little (often your presence and attention will offer a lot of relief), work to meet their basic needs before you dive into any bigger conversations. A glass of water, a protein-packed snack, and a check-in to make sure they’re comfortable can go a long way!
Don’t be scared of big emotions
Many of today’s parents and caregivers grew up with their own parents telling them to “stop crying,” “toughen up,” or “get over it.” While we know that these responses can be damaging, it can be hard to rewire our brains to welcome our emotions and the emotions of others, including our kids. If you need to take a few deep breaths before responding to your child, do it.
Don’t rush the process
Often, parents want to stop their child’s crying as quickly as possible, either because they don’t like to see their child upset or because they want things to feel calm and easy. It can be helpful to pause and remember that every time a child shows you their emotions is an opportunity for them to practice managing big feelings.
Instead of jumping in to solve the problem, work with your child to understand what’s really wrong and what steps they can take to make it better. Sometimes, there is nothing that can be done to make the situation better, like when a loved one moves away. In these situations, it can be valuable to help your kids learn to sit with sadness, anger, or whatever feeling prompted the tears and brainstorm ways to cope with their big feelings.
Responding to our kids’ big feelings is one of the most important, and toughest, parts of being a parent. Taking a few deep breaths and reminding ourselves that we are our kids’ safe place can go a long way toward helping us manage their big feelings calmly. You’ve got this!