These are the children who routinely respond
with tears to what seems like only the slightest provocation or
challenge. Often they are viewed with disdain by other children and
with embarrassment by their parents. Even the word "crybaby" reflects
our disappointment that they are not as mature or resilient as we
would like them to be.
Genetics and temperament seem to play a role
in determining which children become crybabies. They are often the
newborns who startle easily, have difficulty adjusting to bright
lights, or seem very sensitive to the texture of clothing and
More Tears and More Laughter
That sensitivity appears to have a positive
side as well, as these children later on generally become more
empathic. They are quick to pick up and respond to the emotions not
only of other children but also of animals. In their social
interactions, they not only cry more than their peers but laugh more
Almost all toddlers and young preschoolers
show dramatic emotional responses, such as anger or crying, over what
parents and other adults think of as trivial issues. This is
especially likely if they do not yet have the verbal skills they need
to express their frustration when a playmate grabs their toy, for
instance, or steps on their sand castle.
Such melodrama and tears are not expressions
of weakness. Rather, they are signs that a young child is emotionally
overwhelmed. Since he cannot express the intensity of what he's
feeling in words, his emotions come out in tears.
Generally, toddlers and preschoolers are
quite forgiving of a playmate who occasionally cries. It's more of a
problem for the parents, who sometimes (and wrongly) interpret their
child's tears as evidence of a failure on their part.
How to Help
There are a few things you can do to help a
sensitive child learn other ways besides crying to handle stress.
- Don't discourage your child from crying,
especially when he's already upset. Remember that bursting into
tears is a sign that your child is emotionally overwhelmed. If you
choose this moment to tell him not to cry, he'll become even more
upset and produce even more tears. Instead, give him the comfort he
needs to regroup emotionally.
- Don't spend time telling your child that
routine experiences like doctor or dentist visits "won't hurt" or
"won't be scary." This only raises a child's anxiety. After all, he
figures, you wouldn't have brought up the subject of pain if there
weren't going to be any! Instead, arrange for your child to visit
the dentist's office to look at the equipment, go for a ride in the
chair, and have his teeth counted. That way, he'll be more relaxed
and cooperative when he returns for his actual exam.
- Check whether you may be unintentionally
reinforcing the crying. Some children come to believe that crying is
the only way they can be sure of getting their parents' or teachers'
undivided attention. This is similar to children who misbehave
because they'd rather be yelled at than ignored. If you think this
may be what's going on, be sure to pay extra attention to your child
when he's behaving the way you would like, such as negotiating with
another child who wants to play with his toys.
- Teach your child alternatives to crying.
For example, a preschooler will often focus on the emotions of a
situation ("She's mean. I hate her!"). This tends to perpetuate the
crying. After acknowledging his intense feelings ("I can see you're
very angry at your sister"), help your child focus on the behavior
that led up to the problem ("Did she push you?").
- Talk about what else he might have done
besides bursting into tears. (Wait until he's calmed down, of
course!) You'll have to supply the alternatives, especially at
first. Then do a little role-playing so he can practice one of these
new approaches for the next time he's stressed out.