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

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?

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.

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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.


Letting a child experience the specific emotion is key.

Related Read: How to Get a Child to Stop Whining

Being kind and firm 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

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

Related Resource: Check out the 2o19 Super Sensory Bundle – Available Now

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, 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 opportunity 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

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

Marnie Craycroft

Marnie hails from Maine where she spent summers buried in sand and winters buried in snow. She is the daughter of a nearly four decade veteran of the public school systems. Teaching has always been a part of her life. She founded Carrots Are Orange in 2010.

Carrots Are Orange is a Montessori learning and living website for parents and teachers.

Marnie graduated from Wesleyan University in 1999 with a BA in Economics. She spent nearly a decade working in investment management. In 2006, she earned her MA in business from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.

Marnie moved to the west coast in 1999 and currently lives in Boulder with her husband and three sons. She is Montessori trained. Her work has been featured on Apartment Therapy, Buzzfeed, PBS Kids, BabyCenter, the Melissa & Doug blog, Huffington Post, and Besides writing, passions include running (usually after her three sons), photography, and outdoor adventures.

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