Crying: emotional response or behavioral tool? You decide


As parents, we are told to ignore a lot. There are certain things that are no-brainers, but then there are situations that present more difficult choices for parents to make. This is especially true when it seems there is an emotional component to the child’s behavior.

Crying is one of those behaviors.

Trying to figure out when crying is an emotional response vs. a behavioral tool (something your kid uses to get something or to avoid something) can be difficult. We all know our children learn their behaviors can be functional in many ways. It can get them access to things they need, it can get them escape from things they don’t want and it can also communicate a need for nurturing and attention.

This is all very healthy.

But, there are times when you do not want your child to use crying (or other behaviors that will not serve them well in the future) as a do-all tool. Kids crying at the drop of a hat when things don’t go their way. Immediately crying when another kid takes their new Hot Wheels car or doesn’t take turns correctly. We know what these people are like when they grow up and you don’t want your kid to be one.

Try to be aware of the times when your kid is possibly crying as a behavior tool rather than an emotional response to something. Are you teaching them that crying is a functional tool to get something they want? Are you teaching them crying is a way to get out of something they don’t want to do?

Here is a trick: do they stop crying immediately when you do something?

That is a sign the crying was most likely being used as a tool. When was the last time you were able to stop your true emotional crying at the drop of a hat?

True emotional crying takes some recovery time, does it not?

Teach them more functional ways to communicate and respond to when things don’t go their way.

Be compassionate, but be careful. Sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do is make sure the crying (as a behavioral tool) does not work for them.

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