Allowing Toddlers to Cry

Responding with sensitivity to our children’s needs is a main principle of attachment parenting. How we respond with sensitivity at each stage can look slightly different, but the intent remains the same, to support and honor our children as they learn and grow. As our children grow our roles as parents change. At different stages of growth and learning, different behaviors or expressions of emotion become appropriate.

One of the biggest things I have learned from attachment parenting is being in touch with our emotions and allowing for appropriate displays of emotion. When young children are developing a sense of their world and independence they can experience new emotions, and not all of them will be pleasant. Crying is one of those emotions that any parent can become unsure of how to handle, even though crying is a natural and appropriate display of emotion.

Different reasons for crying

Toddlers can cry for many reasons, but it can usually be broken into two categories – physical or emotional. Hearing your child cry can be hard on any parent, regardless of the reason for the tears. As infants, crying generally indicates that a baby needs immediate attention; with toddlers, the cries can become an opportunity for growth and learning.

What should we do when our children cry?

As our children grow, we grow as parents as well, and our responses to our child’s needs also grow and change. As a child develops into a toddler, our response to crying needs to match their developmental stage. Toddlers are learning to express themselves and to explore emotion. We can support our children during these displays of emotion and should approach it as a learning experience.

Crying is a valid response to both pain and other emotional triggers. It is important to embrace crying as a natural and normal response in your child, as well as yourself. Crying is not a sign of weakness nor should it be viewed that way. This is not to suggest that you should not comfort a crying child, it is just a suggestion to be mindful of the way you react to their tears or the tears of others. Children read our non-verbal communication and internalize our reactions as markers for appropriate behavior.

Resources for further reading

About The Author: Shannon R

The_ArtsyMama My NPN Posts

Shannon R is a breastfeeding-cloth diapering-working-mother and devoted wife. She is expecting her second child in April. She blogs about breastfeeding, expressing at work and cloth diapering at The Artful Mama.

9 Responses to Allowing Toddlers to Cry

  1. Luma  

    “Children read our non-verbal communication and internalize our reactions as markers for appropriate behavior.”

    I have found this truth a tricky one to work with in the past. If I tried to ‘do the right thing’ and not react emotionally to my child’s emotions I entered a state of denial and inner conflict that my child picked up regardless.

    If I let my reactions fly… I freaked out my child (and myself) further.

    In recent times I’ve found the best way to stay present with my child when they’re emotional is to simply say how I feel as I’m with them, while also validating their experience.

    e.g. “You’re feeling really upset right now, I’m feeling a little anxious, and we’re both okay… Breathe.”

    This stops me from reacting or denying and going into some kind of inauthentic ‘parenting role’. Instead we can connect and grow through our emotions together.

  2. Amy  

    Nice, Luma. 🙂 Thank you for putting this together, Shannon. Very pertinent stuff.

  3. Sylvia@MaMammalia

    Thank you for bringing up such an important topic. Sometimes the shift from responding to a crying baby (who cries only for NEEDS) to a crying toddler (who cries also for WANTS) can be hard to navigate. Your point about non-verbal communication is well taken and I gratefully appreciate the reminder!

    Also thanks to Luma for some useful phrases to use!

    • Shannon R

      Thank you Sylvia. I still find it very difficult at times to not immediately rush to quell the crying, but as with all things parenting, it is a learning process.

  4. Amy  

    I found it very difficult at first to internalize the idea that my daughter was starting to cry for “wants” and not always “needs”, as she did when she was an infant. As she grew, I started to be able to tell when she was crying theatrically instead of crying authentically, and that helped me to discern what type of attention the tears merited.

  5. Carrie  

    It’s so valuable simply to reflect your child’s emotions back to him or her: “You are frustrated, is that right?” “You are really upset right now,” “You are angry,” “I can tell you’re sad,” etc. (A few of the many reasons a toddler may cry.)

    This helps your child identify and learn the vocabulary for his/her emotions, so when your child gets a little bit older, he or she will be able to name and talk about what he or she is feeling rather than *just* crying, screaming, kicking, sulking, etc.

    It also serves a very valuable second function – to let your child know that YOU observe and understand his or her feelings.

  6. Ashley

    I work in day cares and it upsets me to hear the owners say to children of all ages “put your tears away” before even taking the time to work through their emotions with them. That approach seems so cold to me and you can see the looks of confusion on the kids faces. I know that I get upset when someone tells me that MY feelings aren’t valid.