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11 soothing phrases to say when your child is crying

These calming phrases work a whole lot better than "don't cry."

how to calm a crying toddler

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 emotions 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, 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?


Your crying toddler is not necessarily sad

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!" makes life harder for you

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

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 a 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 instead when your child is crying

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).

When you're ready, use a low voice, and try these 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 okay."

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 to perform 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. Maintain silence and hold loving space for your crying child.

Be a pillar of empathy and strength for them.

Originally posted on GoZen.

When it comes to calming your kiddo, you're the expert, mama. But if you need a little help, we have some tried-and-true favorites.

Sunday Citizen paws for snugs toddler blanket

Sunday Citizen paws for snugs toddler blanket

Sometimes all you need is a good old fashioned snuggle. And there's no better blanket to curl up underneath than the super plush goods from Sunday Citizen. This toddler-sized blanket is perfect for nap time or couch time when everyone needs a break.

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Slumberkins alpaca snuggler

Slumberkins alpaca snuggler

Slumberkins is an oh-so-soft plush creature that comes with a book and mantra card to help kids calm fears and anxieties by naming their feelings. We like to think of them as loving tools that help build resilient, confident and caring humans.

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Plan Toys my mood matching game

Plan Toys my mood matching game

This wooden matching game from Plan Toys teaches the subtleties of different expressions and emotions in a fun and easy to understand way. The Emotion Color Wheel can help little ones visually group feelings and practice emotion vocabulary, making them better equipped to express themselves.

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An expectant mama's to-do list can feel endless… but here's the good news: A lot of those tasks are actually really exciting. Planning your baby registry is especially thrilling: You get a say in what gifts friends and family members will buy for your new addition!

But it can also feel a bit overwhelming to make sense of all the gear on the market. That's why we suggest mentally dividing your registry into two categories: items you need to prepare for your baby's arrival and items that sure would be nice to have.

Here at Motherly, our editors have dozens of kids and years of parenting experience among us, so we know our way around the essentials. We also know how mama-friendly the registry-building experience is with Target, especially thanks to their recently upgraded registry and introduction of Year of Benefits. Just by creating your baby registry with Target, you'll snag a kit with $120 in discounts and samples. The savings keep coming: You'll also get two 15% off coupons to buy unpurchased items from your registry for up to a year after your baby's expected arrival. Change your mind about anything? The Year of Benefits allows for returns or exchanges for a full year. And as of August 2020, those who also sign up for Target Circle when creating a baby registry will also get the retailer's Year of Exclusive Deals, which includes ongoing discounts on baby essentials for a full year.

Here are 10 items we agree deserve a spot in the "need" category on your registry, mama.


A crib to grow with your baby

Delta Children Farmhouse 6-in-1 Convertible Crib

First-time mamas are likely creating nursery spaces for the first time, and that can get expensive. Adding a quality crib to Target registry gives friends and family members the option to join forces to make a large purchase through group gifting.

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A safe + convenient car seat

Safety 1st OnBoard 35 LT Infant Car Seat

The list of non-negotiable baby essentials is pretty short, but it definitely includes a car seat. In fact, most hospitals will not allow you to leave after delivery until a car seat check is performed. We recommend an infant seat, which can easily snap into a base in your car.

$99.99

A traveling nursery station

Baby Trend Lil Snooze Deluxe II Nursery Center

It's hard to beat a good playard when it comes to longevity. This item can be baby's sleeping place when they're sharing a room with you for the first months. Down the line, it can function as a roving diaper change station. And when you travel, it makes a great safe space for your little one to sleep and play.

$99.99

A swing for some backup help

4moms mamaRoo 4 Bluetooth Enabled High-Tech Baby Swing - Classic

A dependable swing can be a real lifesaver for new parents when they need their hands free (or just a minute to themselves). Because many babies are opinionated about these things, we appreciate that the mamaRoo has multiple modes of motion and soothing sounds.

$219.99

An easy-to-clean high chair

Ingenuity SmartClean Trio Elite 3-in-1 High Chair - Slate

Our best registry advice? Think ahead. It really won't be long before your child is ready for those first bites of solid food, at which point you'll need a high chair. We like one that transitions to a booster seat atop an existing dining room chair.

$99.99

A diaper bag to share

Eddie Bauer Backpack - Gray/Tan

When you're a mom, you're usually toting diapers, wipes, clothing changes, bottles, snacks, toys and more. You need a great bag to stash it all, and if you're anything like us, you'll choose a backpack style for comfort and functionality. Bonus: This gender neutral option can easily be passed off to your partner.

$64.99

A hygienic spot for all those diaper changes

Munchkin Secure Grip Waterproof Diaper Changing Pad 16X31"

We can confidently predict there will be a lot of diaper changes in your future. Do yourself a favor by registering for two comfortable, wipeable changing pads: one to keep in the nursery and another to stash elsewhere in your house.

$29.99

A way to keep an eye on your baby at night

Infant Optics Video Baby Monitor DXR-8

Feeling peace of mind while your baby sleeps in another room truly is priceless.That's why we advocate for a quality video monitor that will allow you to keep tabs on your snoozing sweetheart.

$165.99

A comfortable carrier to free up your hands

Petunia Pickle Bottom for Moby Wrap Baby Carrier, Strolling in Salvador

A wrap carrier may be about as low-tech as baby items come, but trust us, this product stands the test of time. Great for use around the house or while running errands, this is one item you'll appreciate so much.

$39.99

A full set of bottles + cleaning supplies

Dr. Brown's Options+ Complete Baby Bottle Gift Set

Whether you plan to work in an office or stay at home, breastfeed or formula feed, bottles are a valuable tool. To make your life as simple as possible, it's nice to have an easy-to-clean set that is designed to work through the first year.

$39.99

Target's baby registry is easy to create from the comfort of your own home. Start your Target baby registry now and enjoy shopping with the Year of Benefits featuring exclusive deals available via Target Circle, two 15% off coupons, a year of hassle-free returns, a free welcome kit and more!

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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