Child Cries to Get Her Way - How Bad?

Filed under: Behavior: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Behavior: Big Kids

A letter came in from a father recently, and the part that stood out was:

"My wife has a habit of just letting things go where I feel there might be the need to address a situation. This usually ends up with my daughter in my wife's arms in tears and most times getting some sort of treat to calm her down ...

I don't want my daughter to think it's OK to just back away when she's confronted with something a little difficult or awkward ..."

The note also said: "I think we're being played."

Admittedly reading between the lines, I got the picture of a daughter that cries a lot, a mom that tries to console her, and a father who feels fed up with all the crying. A lot of parents mention kids' crying as a major source of agitation, so I called Mommy Adviser Rosanne Tobey, director of Calm and Sense Therapy, a counseling service, for her take on how to help a child who cries when she doesn't get her way. How bad?

"Well," Tobey says, "You have to ask yourself: What is all this crying about? Perhaps it's about what the child needs right now, and not about whatever she's crying about. Maybe this is how the child is reaching out to the parent, by crying."

Or maybe the crying is about the child not getting her way?

"The parent should not indulge the crying, but in the end, the parent has to consider that maybe he's missing something here, and to find a way to reach his daughter because she's trying to make a connection with him. I understand that he doesn't want to reward the negative buy for attention, but if she's crying once in a blue moon for attention there's nothing wrong with putting your arms around a child and comforting her."

But what if she's crying all the time? Especially, when she doesn't get her way?

"Then what he needs to look for is patterns. Because if the family is in a negative pattern, he doesn't want to set himself up for more negative patterns." Here's how:

Take notes: Tobey recommends writing down every time the child cries, for a week, to see if patterns emerge.

"The parents can ask themselves: Does she cry when she's stressed? Are we pushing her too hard? Have we been too busy? Are we arguing in front of her? Is she over-tired? Or does she need to just have a cry?" The point is, Tobey says, "She's expressing something with those tears, and there is a fine line between comforting her and letting her think that screaming and crying helps her get her way. Parents have to set a limit, but if the child is crying as a way to express her feelings and connect, the parent should be willing to tolerate the crying, without giving in. Listen to the crying."

Look at the big picture: As hard as this might be, Tobey advises, "Don't just react with your own annoyance, try to look at the larger picture. In the moment, comfort your child. After the moment, start making your notes."

Solve the real problem: After a week, Tobey says, analyze your notes. If there's a pattern to the crying, what is it? "If you can figure out the pattern," Tobey says, "You can figure out what are the contributing factors to the pattern. Then you start to come up with what the answer might be. It's proactive parenting instead of reactive parenting."

Finally, Tobey says, there may be no issue here. "If it's not a pattern -- it's not a problem. Life is filled with imperfections and ugly moments. Children cry. That's normal. Children cry in reaction to not getting their way. You can't give them their way to keep them from crying -- that means the child is controlling the parent by holding the family hostage with the crying. But you can let them cry. However, if you see a negative pattern, you want to address it and make a change. A negative pattern that goes unaddressed is going to cause everyone a problem."

Sabrina Weill is a former editor-in-chief of Seventeen magazine and the author of three books about teenagers.

If you've ever had a less-than-perfect parenting moment that has left you wondering, "How bad?" Send it to Sabrina at She'll try to answer as many as she can.

Related: Sippy Cup Full of Soda - How Bad?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.