Skip to Content

Learn What to Say to a Crying Child Instead of “What’s Wrong”


Crying is a natural way for children to communicate their feelings, but sometimes it’s hard to know what to say when your child is upset. Instead of asking “What’s wrong?” try one of these phrases to help comfort your child.

Asking a child why he is crying is adding fuel to the fire. So, why then is that our first reaction, and what do we do when a child is crying? My instinct is to inquire. I have to stop myself every time. Want to know what I do instead?

Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.― C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair1

5 Quick Ways to Get Your Child to Stop Crying

Have you ever been in a situation where your child is crying at school or whining, and you have no idea what to say? Or, at least, whatever you are saying is quite getting to the point.

Yeah, me, too.

As many of you know from my posts on parenting an angry child, I have had lots of experience in this area. Finding ways to help your preschooler or toddler stop crying is not easy.

So, what can we say to a crying child that actually might…oh, I don’t know, get him to stop crying, or at least let you in on WHY he is upset.

Newsflash: Kids rarely know the “why”.

The good news is that there are ways to help them identify the “why”. The other good news? A child being upset is actually okay. Sometimes we have to let it happen. Let them experience the emotions in order to be able to grow and learn from them.


Being upset is okay. I often tell my child that fact. That doesn’t mean I am not firm with my child, or that we don’t discipline a child acting out. What I mean is that one of our greatest responsibilities as parents is to help a child develop and grow his emotional intelligence. We won’t be successful at that task if we shut the child down.

Asking “why” is often difficult because a child doesn’t often know the answer.

mother holding crying baby

Letting a child experience a specific emotion is key.

Being kind and firm in helping the child “explore” the “why” is critical.

One of the greatest takeaways from any parenting book or article I’ve read in the past seven years is from Janet Lansbury. She emphasizes the importance of being the calm and gentle leader your child needs and wants from you.

Yeah, okay. Right?

Easier said than done.

What to Say to a Crying Child

This positive approach is not natural to me. All too often my emotions overtake the moment and my perspective is lost in a flurry of inappropriate and ineffective responses.

I work hard. Every day on how to better communicate with my kids. I practice a different approach. I practice being calm, taking deep breaths, and being gentle by reminding myself my child is having a hard time (not giving me a hard time).

Lucky for me, my boys give me loads of opportunities to practice these approaches!


Looking for Alternatives to What’s Wrong?

In a kind, yet firm tone, try these responses to help an upset child!

  1. “How can I help you?”
  2. “How can I support you?”
  3. “What do you need?
  4. “What is it about…”
  5. Reflect the statement back to the child

Want more? Here is an article from Janet Lansbury that you might enjoy reading: How to Be the Gentle Leader Your Child Needs

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.