If your preschooler is perpetually in tears over every little thing, it’s time to set her right. Follow these expert tips to help settle her.
Your child seems to cry so easily – just about anything seems to set off the sobs, and you are beginning to run out of patience with her. Of course, you understand that every four-year-old cries occasionally, perhaps when she falls, or maybe when reprimanded for serious misbehaviour. Spontaneous tears are normal at these times, and are a genuine involuntary response to pain or distress. That’s why you do your best to comfort your child until she calms down. But if your preschooler shed tears at every minor challenge or discomfort, if she turns on the tap for the slightest thing, then you’ll be much less sympathetic. A “crybaby” howls whenever anything goes even slightly wrong (for example, when she can’t get her own way, when her jigsaw pieces won’t go together, or when she wants more breakfast cereal) and she doesn’t care whether she is at home, in the playground, or in the local supermarket.
Don’t panic, though. You can help her learn to control her urge to cry. Her tearful over-reaction to every minor crisis is simply learnt behaviour, nothing more, and it can be changed. In other words, your child has learnt that turning on the waterworks in an instant is a very effective way of getting your attention, of achieving what she wants, or of ensuring that you sort out her difficulties for her. Think about it – if her excessive crying didn’t get the reaction she wanted, she would have stopped that behaviour a long time ago. You’ll find that once you cease rewarding her endless tears with your attention (or any other positive reaction), she’ll be less likely to turn on the tap so quickly.
Here are some suggestions to encourage your child to learn how to keep her crybaby instincts in check:
Explain that her tears are not taken seriously anymore
Point out that people tend to ignore her tears now because she cries so much; tell her the story of the “boy who cried wolf”, emphasising the similarity between her crying behaviour and the behaviour of the boy in that story. Your message will get through eventually.
Emphasise the practical implications
She might not realise that her friends won’t like playing with a kid who is always on the verge of another tear-fest. Tell her that although she is a lovely child and fun to be with most of the time, others her age would prefer to play with someone else if she makes a fuss all the time.
Encourage her to try hard not to cry
Ask her to make an effort to contain herself, no matter how stressed she feels. Point out that if she cries less, you’ll know that her tears are a sign of genuine distress and not just another attempt to gain attention. She may object to your comments, but don’t get into a long discussion about this.
Change your behavior too
Instead of rushing over when you see that she’s once again about to howl in distress – because responding so quickly only reinforces the very behaviour you want to stop – ignore her tears (assuming you are confident that she is crying unnecessarily.) It really is that simple; don’t respond to her sobs.
Reward any changes
Persist with this approach until you eventually see an incident in which she would normally have cried, but held back her tears instead – that’s the time to reward her with lots of praise and cuddles. Tell your child how pleased you are that she reacted so maturely.
By Dr. Richard C. Woolfson, Young Parents, November 2014