10 Things to Say Instead of ‘Stop Crying’

10 Things to Say Instead of 'Stop Crying'

As a parent, you deal with a LOT of feelings on a daily basis. Right? And sometimes, it can all get to be just a little bit much! When you’ve had what seems like hours of multiple people crying at you, the temptation to make it stop is high!

We’ve all said it, or at least thought it. ‘Stop crying! Just stop!’

Or maybe you heard it as a child?

“Don’t be silly”

“Shh, everyone is looking at you”

“Stop that noise, right now!”

“Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”

But what if I told you that every time you dismiss or minimise your child’s feelings, you actually make your job harder. You very rarely succeed at making them stop anyway, and it’s more likely that they will need more support from you in the future rather than less. If you don’t hear the message they are trying to send you, the messenger just gets louder and louder until you do. Children are looking for empathy and understanding. If they don’t get it, they’ll keep trying.

Crying is ok. It’s a very healthy and necessary way for children to express their feelings, and we don’t need to make them stop. By telling them to ‘stop crying’ we send the message that their feelings are not important, not valid, silly, and annoying. If we want our children to learn how to regulate their emotions, and to trust us with their problems and feelings, then we cannot be dismissive of them when they try to do this!

10 Things to Say Instead of 'Stop Crying'

Crying is always appropriate. Whatever your child is upset about is valid. It might seem trivial to you, but a child does not have an adult perspective on the world. Oftentimes people struggle most with allowing children to express their feelings in public, thinking that it is not an appropriate setting and worrying about other’s reactions or judgement. But let’s not teach them they need to quiet their feelings for others. They will eventually learn our unspoken social rules. One day they will know how to deal with their feelings and express them at times that adults consider ‘appropriate’, but the way we support the development of emotional regulation is by empathy and understanding, not silencing.

“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”
― Catherine M. Wallace

10 Things to Say Instead of ‘Stop Crying’

Sometimes, even when you know that you shouldn’t tell your child to stop crying, it’s hard to know what to say instead! You might feel like you need to do something, but aren’t sure exactly what. As a child if you were often required to silence your feelings for others, these situations can be incredibly uncomfortable. Having grown accustomed to pushing your own feelings aside, the experience of a child fully expressing their sadness, anger, disappointment, or any other negative emotion can be quite triggering. The good news is, practice makes perfect, and it can actually be quite healing for yourself to be able to support your child through their own emotions.

So, what can you say? Here’s some suggestions!

10 Things to Say Instead of 'Stop Crying' 10 Things to Say Instead of 'Stop Crying'

You could also just say nothing! Sometimes no words are needed and physical comfort or presence is enough.

What NOT to do When Your Child is Crying

Don’t distract. When you distract your child from their feelings, you miss a chance to connect and help them learn the emotional regulation skills they will need in the future. You also send the message that their feelings are unimportant, or too much for you to handle. Children need to know that you are capable of dealing with their emotions so that they feel safe and capable too. It’s also a pretty disrespectful way to respond. Imagine opening up to a friend or partner only for them to say ‘ooh but look at my new puppy!’ or something totally irrelevant. You would likely feel shut down, disrespected, embarrassed, and be unlikely to confide in them in the future.

Don’t punish. Punishment and rewards are not a part of respectful parenting. Never punish, threaten, shame, blame, or judge a child for their feelings!

No but’s. When you’re empathising with your child’s feelings, refrain from following it up with a ‘but’. E.g. “You’re sad because you really wanted another piece of cake, but you can’t have one”. ‘But’ kind of invalidates everything that comes before it. It tries to explain away or fix the feelings. There’s no need to do that. Empathising is enough.

10 Things to Say Instead of 'Stop Crying'

Ask too many questions. When your child is full of huge overwhelming feelings, they don’t have the ability to provide answers to lots of questions. Empathise first, ask questions later.

Say ‘it’s ok’. People are well meaning when they say ‘it’s ok’, ‘you’re fine’, ‘shh’, but the thing is, your child is not fine right now. They don’t feel fine, so even though you’re trying to be reassuring, it can come across as minimising their feelings. A simple ‘it’s ok to cry’ is a better option.

Have a time limit. Don’t use empathy as a technique to ultimately stop the crying. That’s not the goal! The aim is to help your child feel heard, understood, validated, and supported. That might take a while, especially if their feelings have been dismissed in the past. There might be a lot to get out! Don’t try empathy for 5 minutes and then declare it ‘doesn’t work’ because your child is still crying. Empathy is not a technique for control, but a way of meeting your child where they are and supporting them.

10 Things to Say Instead of 'Stop Crying'

Next time your child is struggling with an overwhelming feeling, have some of the above phrases memorised and meet them with empathy and understanding. Because they deserve it. Feelings aren’t something to be avoided, but opportunities for connection.

46 thoughts on “10 Things to Say Instead of ‘Stop Crying’

  1. Great article and ideas and just what I needed today!! The part about suppressing my feeling in the past and hearing her cry or whine is such a trigger for me and I immediately get frustrated but I need to practice more patience! Thank you!! I started following you when I decided I’d homeschool and now I’m totally all in unschooling thanks to you 🙂 but even more importantly I’m becoming a more respectful parent! So thank you very much for bringing joy to our home!!

  2. Thanks for the positive reinforcement. This is a tough parenting task! I’ve found that backing off and respecting the feelings even if I don’t understand them is the most effective way through.

    The most difficult part, as with lots of things, is dealing with well meaning onlookers. I occasionally have to quietly shoo people away who are sure they know the way to get my kid through their metltdown.

  3. Thank you so much for this article!
    I have noticed that when my daughter gets hurt while playing and comes to me crying, I acknowledge her getting hurt but tend to distract her with jokes or stories so she is not focusing on the pain, what are your thoughts on this approach?

    • I would always ask my child if they were going to be okay. If they said yes, I knew it was just a minimal owie, but if they said no, then time to look into it a little deeper. If they said yes, they were going to be okay, the crying almost always soon stopped but it was on their timetable not mine.

  4. This is a tough one. I think there’s more to it, though. Some, probably most, children have a wide variety of responses to disappointment, pain, confusion, anger, and are able to distinguish between small events that are easily managed and larger events that are more of a challenge. There are a few, though, who have an immediate response to challenging events that involves a fair amount of drama for everything from stumbling while playing to a friend wanting to sit quietly for a moment when your own child wants to run a race and run it now. The crying and weeping is to the point that it ruins play dates, alienates friends and negatively impacts others in the household. It’s really hard to be these kids and they need help managing this problem! Clearly it’s not helpful to angrily tell them to stop crying, but they need to have the goal of not falling apart over so many situations. Differentiating between big and small things is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to them. They need to know that their responses need reigning in and they need their parents to help them beyond listening empathetically. The reactions are sometimes manipulative. Their reactions convince themselves that they’re powerless. It’s perfectly reasonable and very helpful for these kids to have an adult point out that they can have a different reaction and how to do it. Being told, “I see you’re disappointed, take a deep breathe and let’s find a solution, let’s look at this differently, how else can you react that lets you keep moving?” isn’t a terrible experience that shames them or diminishes their reality, it enhances their reality and helps them build understanding and self control. You can’t let them continue to have that interpretation of events.

    • Saying this to a child that is very overwhelmed: “I see you’re disappointed, take a deep breathe and let’s find a solution, let’s look at this differently, how else can you react that lets you keep moving?”

      sound pretty good. If you say this with pauses in between, giving some space to the feelings.

      It’s a lot different than “Don’t cry or I’ll give you something to cry about ” ;D

    • This is where I struggle and why I read this article. I have a six year old who has always been prone to whining and throwing fits to get what he wants. He started kindergarten this year and that behavior has increased tremendously. He cries about the tiniest little things if they don’t go his way. And he cries and cries (more like a blubbering lip quivering sob which he never used to do) for what seems like forever but definitely more than just a few minutes. On the other hand he also gets very angry sometimes and screams at everyone. He is one of nine children so our house is generally loud and emotions run high, but out of all of the children he is the only one who exhibits an inability to self-regulate. This is a daily occurrence that starts almost as soon as he gets home from school and doesn’t stop until he goes to sleep. The other children get upset but not nearly as much or as intensely as he does, and they are able to calm down or be comforted quickly. The unfortunate thing is his youngest sibling is an infant who requires a lot of my time. I find it nearly impossible to give him time to process his feelings and I don’t even know how to effectively help him do that due to my own upbringing. I’ve had an initial appointment with a therapist because I’m desperate to help him, but I know therapy doesn’t always help depending on the relationship with the therapist. Any other suggestions for helping him cope that can especially work in a large busy family?

      • recently my kid 3 years, also started kinder garden, and his behaviour also changed and i have a 10 month old baby too. but by listening to him, his tempers improved. most of the time children behave in the way they do because they need attention or they are uncomfortable about something and they don’t know how to express it or correct it. Secondly when a kid starts school he doesn’t get all the preferences he enjoyed at home being the smallest, so he exerts himself where he can. In such a situation you and your partner should have turns becoming his confederate and once you gain his trust, you can guide him in the right and wrong of what he wants and how he behaves. you can also point out that he cannot express his point while he is crying . So he needs to become audible which cannot happen until he is crying

    • I agree with you – I think once they are calm and understood etc it is important to teach perspective on these things and giving them tools to be able to gauge what situations are more or less serious. I think that does just naturally come with age though too.

      • I think teaching to self- regulate is important and while crying is a catharsisfor that, youhave to teach you children how to cope be more proactive in their self-control and not just reactive. I would also say, get the family involved, it maybe a problem at school or a emotional need he is lacking that is specific to him. My four year old, does that, but I have a ritual in the morning that as soon as she’s up I spend and hour with just her, and she dictates the hour. It really centers her emotionally. You may not have an Hour. Maybe it’s 30 mins. But make the time he needs to focus completely on him. He’s manipulating you because he’s reacting
        to a specific emotional need. Get the family involved to facilitate that. Maybe he’s trying to figure out his place with an added child and he feels lost. idk that’s my suggestion. There’s this really good book by Gary Chapman called the 5 Love languages for children. It give good perspective about the importance of emotional need fulfillment. And how to access that need.

  5. I’m so glad to see empathic, needs-oriented parenting tips. Glad to have found your blog and Insta.Thanks for the reminder that it’s hard to do a ‘don’t’. Silent kindness to myself for the distress or frustration I feel hearing that crying or other behaviour often helps me get centred and clearer. I’m training myself to silently guess what I’m needing and name that in my head before I do or say anything. Eg: I love it when I have peace …. or I love it when I have ease … or I love it when I have support. Thanks to Mary McKenzie who taught that tip.

  6. A great reminder to parents, especially those with toddlers like ourselves! Thanks for these tips – it’s putting what we know into practice that’s hard, but that’s what parenting is all about. We just keep trying and learning all our lives, isn’t it? 🙂

  7. This is great and all but what do I do when my son isn’t really crying at all. He likes to fake cry to try and manipulate me to do things his way. He is is 4 by the way.

    • “fake” crying is a way to get attention or manipulate a situation. Try to get to the core of the behavior and address that instead of the “crying”.

  8. Depends on the situation. I always try to address feelings before dismissing – but my kids are overly dramatic and once they learn that they can cry and wail to get their way its REALLY hard to undo. But I always try to talk it through first.

    • She wasn’t saying to give them their way. You can empathize and validate feelings and still keep a boundary up. I think thats a big misconception about gentle parenting. You can be gentle without being permissive. You can empathize without giving in. You can correct without hitting.

  9. I will admit it, I have used these words with my kids numerous times and reading this reminded me of the deep issues I grew up with suppressing my feelings and being told not to cry or talk… I really do not want my kids growing up the same way…I have issues now communicating my feelings even with my husband… i can’t use words, but only tears letting others know I am not feeling well. I want to change and not put my kids in the same situation as me. This article sure will help. I have taken a picture of the 10 things to say… thanks!

    • Cristina, I had similar experiences growing up, and am working on finding my voice. I was gifted a series of books one of my sisters found valuable, as others, with this common challenge. The author is Brene Brown, the first titled, “I thought It Was Just Me.” This is one of many tools I wish I had when my daughter was young, but I can still use the practice and skills moving forward, and in dialogue with my daughter now so she can recognize any ineffective skills I have inherently transferred and learn better communication methods sooner. 💚

  10. My son threw a fit for 15 min bc he didn’t want to go into church class. He is six and he’s started to do this with everything. Doing feeling words here for an hour isn’t gonna work. So I don’t see these tips as useful to that situation. He was fit throwing in the classroom I told him was not appropriate and stand by it.

  11. I don’t agree with this article as it does not differentiate between tears of sadness and tears of a tantrum. The way I parent, the tears of a tantrum need to be ignored while the tantrum disciplined – as it is their strongest tool of defiance and parent manipulation. For tears of saddness, yes we need to empathise but I’m all for helping them cope and process their emotions at an early age, by helping them think through the situation. To me, appropriately disciplining tantrums gives a child greater emotional fortitude and helps them understand the boundaries of what is appropriate and what is not.

    Of course, the parent yelling at their child to “STOP CRYING!” isn’t a healthy approach either. A parent needs to find their zen, breathe and address the root of the tears appropriately.

    • Sorry, couldn’t even finish reading your comment. Tantrums are an overwhelmed child trying to deal with their emotions. They do not need to be “disciplined” (I’m sure you really mean punished). They still need to be met with empathy…that doesn’t mean you give them what they want just to appease them or quiet them. Limits what to be set and sometimes that means they aren’t going to like it or know how to handle the way it makes them feel. Gentle parenting is not the same as permissive parenting.

      • The idea that a young child throwing a tantrum is misbehaving or being naughty or “manipulative”and therefore needing “discipline” is very unhelpful for effective parenting. Parents who get into power struggles with the child who throws tantrums are not doing themselves or their child any favours! Step back, stay calm, offer help with empathy and understanding – you are your child’s lifeline and in a meltdown they need this more than any other time! Most parents fail at this because despite good intentions they have inappropriate expectations of their young child and possibly unexamined values and emotional issues from their own childhood. As the adult, step into your child’s shoes and model the behaviour you would like to see from them. Stay patient and treat your child as you would like to be treated when you have something not going your way…with empathy love and support!

  12. One of the best comments I ever heard was from a man who wrote a series of workshops for Teachers and Teachers Aides, this course was called F.A.T. City, frustration anxiety and tension in children with learning difficulties. A teacher complained that this boy who was throwing a crying tantrum was only doing it for attention. His response was “Then give him some.”

  13. I like the article and I’m going to apply these techniques with my 5 year old.
    Concerns:
    Does this make kids weak? “Snowflake”

    I always want to do the right thing but I don’t always known what that is.

    • No you need not worry about this – the more empathy understanding and support you can give your young child the greater his sense of security and confidence. Young children especially boys need a lot of support and validation especially from their dads – a warm caring relationship from good strong attachment parenting will set your children up for life! There is lots of great parenting advice out there – I recommend Steve Biddulph’s Secrets of Happy Children and Raising Boys /Raising Girls. Daniel Siegel has great books including No Drama Discipline. Good for you being such a concerned and caring Dad!

  14. Pingback: Should You Tell Your Child to Stop Crying? Not Always — Here's Why.

  15. This is a great article. But I’m curious what it is we can do to help our children self regulate? When I respond to my 6-year-old son in the ways suggested in this article, he continues crying for a very long time and can’t really snap out of it. Aside from being here to listen when he’s upset, how can I help him through it?

    • I’m not sure what the author of the article would say, but we let our kids cry in a “safe space”. For example, if our 2 year old is crying and whining because she’s tired and dinner was later than usual, we tell her that while she’s at the table we would like it if she ate, or even just sat and talked. But since we want to enjoy our meal if she needs to cry/whine we will put her in her room (she then is allowed to come out when she tells us she is ready, either to sit with us or to play in our vicinity). Basically, this particular child cannot self-regulate with us around. We’ve learned that from when she was very young (approx. 14 months) and she was throwing tantrums all that help her calm down was some space. But that’s because she was tantruming due to over-stimulation. You have to look at WHY the child is crying. Is it really over the fact that I didn’t cut her dinner up into tiny pieces? Or is it just the end of a very long day and she needs some space (cuddles don’t work for her)?

  16. How do you allow for feelings and simultaneously maintain a boundary (as is often suggested) without using “but”. That seems to be my biggest problem. For example. 2 year old just grabbed the container of raisins. I take them and explain “we aren’t going to eat raisins right now. It’s almost lunchtime. I will give you some raisins with your lunch.” Then she starts whining and fussing. I just read this article so instead of telling her to stop I said “you’re sad you have to wait to eat raisins.” More whining/”fake” crying…. this is where I got lost. And I want to say “you are sad you have to wait, but I can’t let you eat raisins right now or else you won’t be hungry for lunch”. But that’s a “but” statement. What do I do instead to maintain the boundary?

  17. Pingback: Language Matters: Fighting Childism With How We Talk to Children | Happiness is here

  18. Pingback: Beelzebub – Waffles Wife

  19. Pingback: 5 Ways We Undermine Empathy Development in Children | Happiness is here

  20. Pingback: Things to say instead of ‘Stop Crying’ – Mrs. A's

  21. Pingback: The Number One Way to End Power Struggles - and It Works EVERY Time | Happiness is here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *