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11 ways to respond to your child’s tears with empathy

It’s no secret that hearing our kids cry makes us uncomfortable. Just think about how anxious you feel when your little one tears up without an obvious reason. We know that a newborn’s main way to communicate is to cry, yet we still look at it as something to be “fixed.” Once that infant becomes a walking, talking toddler, we sometimes expect them to process emotion the way we do rather than the way they have always done: through crying.


In fact, studies have found that our brains are hard-wired to have an instant reaction to a crying child, making us more attentive and ready to help—and fast! A crying infant triggers our fight-or-flight response by increasing our heart rate and pushing us into action… even if that child is not our own.

It seems we have to react to a crying toddler, but how?

Remember, crying doesn’t always equal sadness

For many toddlers, crying is not a reflection of sadness—it’s a way to process any emotion. They may cry out of anger, frustration, fear, excitement, confusion, anxiety or even happiness. The trouble is, they may also lack the verbal ability and self-awareness to explain how they’re feeling. This means asking them, “What’s wrong?” will rarely yield a productive response.

Saying “don’t cry” only makes life harder

You may think that making the crying stop will also stop your child (and your heart!) from hurting, but when you tell your toddler, “Stop crying!” or “Don’t cry!” they’ll immediately think that you don’t understand how they’re feeling. Their message is therefore likely to become louder and more persistent.

By asking or telling them to “stop,” you’re also telling your child that their emotions are invalid and unimportant. Regardless of how trivial the reason may seem to you, your failure to acknowledge how they are feeling in that moment deprives both of you of the opportunity to learn how to process that emotion in a more positive way.

Our goal as parents, no matter how tricky it can seem, is to support our little one’s development of emotional self-regulation—something we can only do when we treat them with empathy and understanding.

As tempting as it is, don’t distract them

Many of us view distraction as the ultimate tool in our emotional arsenal. Figuring that if we can distract our crying toddler from whatever it is they are crying about, we can stop the crying altogether. We’ve all dangled a favorite toy in front of tear-streaked faces or sung a song through clenched teeth in high-pitched desperation! Sadly though, distraction misses an opportunity to connect with your child and teach them how to deal with their emotions.

Yes, if he’s fighting over a toy with another child, distracting your boy with a second toy is completely appropriate. But if your child is crying because you helped them put their shoes on instead of letting them do it by themselves, distraction is likely to only make them respond louder and more fervently in order to be heard.

It’s true that sometimes distraction can work, but it’s often just a band-aid. It doesn’t help your child to learn how to cope with a similar situation or emotion in a more positive way in the future.

What to say to your crying child instead...

The next time you’re faced with a crying toddler, try to take a moment to make sure you are calm. If you’re angry, stressed or frustrated, the things that you say will just add to your toddler’s distress. Take a breath or two, acknowledge how you’re feeling, focus on what’s going on inside your body (your heart may be beating a little faster; your jaw may be clenched; you may be feeling tense) and, when you’re ready, use a low voice, and try these 11 alternatives:

1. “We’re on the same team. I will help you.” Even if your child says they do not want your help, they do want to feel as though you will back them up when they need you.

2. “I can see this is hard for you.” This simple phrase acknowledges that you hear and see them.

3. “I understand you’re sad/disappointed/scared/anxious/happy and that’s OK.” Reinforce the notion that feeling an emotion is what makes us human.

4. “That was really sad/frustrating/disappointing.” Acknowledging the event that triggered your child’s crying helps them also see what triggered their emotion and figure out what to do next.

5. “Let’s take a break.” Removing you both from the situation helps your toddler understand that sometimes you need to walk away in order to compose yourself. Your child may legitimately be tired or over-stimulated and simply need to have time in a quiet, soothing place before rejoining the activity.

6. “I love you. You are safe.” This invites connection with your child rather than separation. They may need a hug, a snuggle or to hold your hand in order to feel that you are indeed there to help them.

7. “Would you like help/a break/to try again?” Many times when your child cries out of frustration, they need one of three things: help performing the task, a break from the emotional situation, or to try to do the task again, possibly with assistance. Asking them, not telling them, what they would like empowers your child, helping them to feel important and significant.

8. “I can hear you are crying, but I don’t know what you need. Can you help me understand?” Even if your child cannot verbalize why they are crying at first, this can give them a chance to practice.

9. “I remember when you…” While it may seem like a distraction technique, helping them recall a time when they felt happy and peaceful helps prepare their brain for rational thought. Trying to reason with a toddler who is in a highly emotional state is kind of like negotiating with a tiny dictator. They are not prepared to listen to reason when they are in the midst of feeling helpless or angry or sad or exhausted.

10. “Let’s come up with a solution together.” Ultimately we want to help our children to develop problem-solving skills. Coming up with a solution that will help process their emotions teaches them how to look at the situation objectively and come up with possible solutions.

11. Nothing at all. Maintain silence and hold loving space for your crying child. Be a pillar of empathy and strength for them.

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We've had some struggles, you and me. In my teens, we were just getting to know each other. It was a rocky road at times, like when people referred to you as "big boned." I was learning how to properly fuel you by giving you the right foods. How to be active, to keep you strong and in good shape. I wish I knew then what I do now about you and what a true blessing you are. But that's something that has come with the gift of motherhood.

In my 20's, we became more well-acquainted. I knew how to care for you. After I got engaged, we worked so hard together to get into "wedding shape." And, looking back now, I totally took that six pack—okay, four pack—for granted. (But I have the pictures to prove it.)

Now that I'm in my 30's (how did my 30's happen so fast, btw?) with two kids, I'm coming to terms with my new postpartum body.

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If there are two things a mama is guaranteed to love, it's Target plus adorable and functional baby products. Target's exclusive baby brand Cloud Island has been a favorite destination for cute and affordable baby clothing and décor for nearly two years and because of that success, they're now expanding into baby essentials. 🙌

The new collection features 30 affordable products starting at $0.99 and going up to $21.99 with most items priced under $10—that's about 30-40% less expensive than other products in the market. Mamas can now enjoy adding diapers, wipes, feeding products and toiletries to their cart alongside clothing and accessories from a brand they already know and love.


The best part? The Target team has ensured that the affordability factor doesn't cut down on durability by working with hundreds of parents to create and test the collection. The wipes are ultra-thick and made with 99% water and plant-based ingredients, while the toiletries are dermatologist-approved. With a Tri-Wrap fold, the diapers offer 12-hour leak protection and a snug fit so parents don't have to sacrifice safety or functionality.

So when can you start shopping? Starting on January 20, customers can shop the collection across all stores and online. We can't wait to see how this beloved brand expands in the future.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Many people experience the "winter blues," which are often worst in northern climates from November to March, when people have less access to sunlight, the outdoors and their communities. Another 4% develops Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of clinical depression that often requires formal treatment.

If you have the winter blues, you may feel “blah," sad, tired, anxious or be in a worse mood than usual. You may struggle with overeating, loss of libido, work or sleep issues. But fear not—it is possible to find your joy in the winter, mama.

Here are eight ways to feel better:

1. Take a walk

Research has shown that walking on your lunch break just three times per week can reduce tension, relax you and improve your enthusiasm. If you are working from 9 to 5, the only window you have to access natural sunlight may be your lunch hour, so head outside for a 20 minute brisk but energizing walk!

If you are home, bundle up with your kids midday—when the weather is often warmest—and play in the snow, go for a short walk, play soccer, race each other, or do something else to burn energy and keep you all warm. If you dress for the weather, you'll all feel refreshed after some fresh air.

2. Embrace light

Research suggests that a full-spectrum light box or lamp, which mimics sunlight, can significantly improve the symptoms of the winter blues and has a similar effect to an antidepressant. Bright light at a certain time every day activates a part of the brain that can help restore normal circadian rhythms. While light treatment may not be beneficial for everyone (such as people who have bipolar disorder), it may be a beneficial tool for some.

3. Plan a winter trip

It may be helpful to plan a getaway for January or February. Plan to take it very easy, as one research study found that passive vacation activities, including relaxing, "savoring," and sleeping had greater effects on health and well-being than other activities. Engaging in passive activities on vacation also makes it more likely that your health and well-being will remain improved for a longer duration after you go back to work.

Don't overschedule your trip. Relax at a beach, a pool, or a cabin instead of waiting in long roller coaster lines or visiting packed museums. Consider visiting or traveling with family to help with child care, build quiet time into your vacation routine, and build in a day of rest, recovery, and laundry catch-up when you return.

4. Give in to being cozy

Sometimes people mistake the natural slowness of winter as a problem within themselves. By making a concerted effort to savor the slowness, rest and retreat that complement winter, you can see your reduction in activity as a natural and needed phase.

Research suggests that naps help you release stress. Other research suggests that when your brain has time to rest, be idle, and daydream, you are better able to engage in "active, internally focused psychosocial mental processing," which is important for socioemotional health.

Make a "cozy basket" filled with your favorite DVDs, bubble bath or Epsom salts, lemon balm tea (which is great for “blues,") or chamomile tea (which is calming and comforting), citrus oils (which are good for boosting mood), a blanket or a favorite book or two. If you start to feel the blues, treat yourself.

If your child is napping or having quiet time in the early afternoon, rest for a full 30 minutes instead of racing around doing chores. If you're at work, keep a few mood-boosting items (like lavender spray, tea, lotion, or upbeat music) nearby and work them into your day. If you can't use them at work, claim the first 30 minutes after your kids are asleep to nurture yourself and re-energize before you tackle dishes, laundry, or other chores.

5. See your friends

Because of the complex demands of modern life, it can be hard to see or keep up with friends or family. The winter can make it even harder. While you interact with your kids throughout the day, human interaction with other adults (not just through social media!) can act as a protective layer to keep the winter blues at bay.

Plan a monthly dinner with friends, go on a monthly date night if you have a partner, go to a book club, get a drink after work with a coworker, visit a friend on Sunday nights, or plan get-togethers with extended family. Research suggests that social interactions are significantly related to well-being.

Realize that given most families' packed schedules, you may need to consistently take the lead in bringing people together. Your friends will probably thank you, too.

6. Get (at least) 10 minutes of fresh air

A number of research studies have shown positive effects of nature on well-being, including mental restoration, immune health, and memory. It works wonders for your mood to get outside in winter, even if it's just for 10 minutes 2 to 3 times per week. You might walk, snowshoe, shovel, go sledding or go ice-skating. If you can't get outside, you might try these specific yoga poses for the winter blues.

7. Add a ritual

Adding a ritual to your winter, such as movie night, game night, hot chocolate after playing outside, homemade soup on Sundays, or visiting with a different friend every Saturday morning for breakfast, can add beauty and flow to the seemingly long months of winter. Research has suggested that family rituals and traditions, such as Sunday dinner, provide times for togetherness and strengthening relationships.

8. Talk to a professional

Counseling, which helps you identify the connections between your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, can be extremely helpful for the winter blues (especially when you are also experiencing anxiety or stress). A counselor can assist you with identifying and honoring feelings, replacing negative messages with positive ones, or shifting behaviors. A counselor may also help you indulge into winter as a time of retreat, slowness, planning, and reflecting. You may choose to use the winter to get clear on what you'd like to manifest in spring.

The opposite of the winter blues is not the absence of the winter blues—it's taking great pleasure in the unique contribution of a time of cold, darkness, retreat, planning, reflecting, being cozy and hibernating. Nurturing yourself and your relationships can help you move toward winter joy.

Weary mama,

You are incredibly strong. You are so very capable.

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