#1mom asks:

My 3 1/2 year old boy cries excessively. How can I change that?

OK i have a son and i think that he is a really good boy, others think that he cries way to much and that he is too needy. He cries for any reason even if it is not related to pain. I think he may cry about 15 times a day. It is definitely more around night time. Everyone tells me that is because i am an enabler, but i just love him very much so i pamper him. I try to always be there and help him feel better. others tell me that he only acts that way when I'm around. I want to learn of a solution to help him be more independent. What do i need to change, how can I improve my parenting skills???
In Topics: Cognitive development, Parenting / Our Family
> 60 days ago



Mar 26, 2010
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What the Expert Says:

At 3 1/2 crying is not abnormal. All three year olds are needy. It is the nature of toddlers.  It is good to sort out whether he is in pain, and if you have determined that he is not physically hurt, then it is wise to consider what he is trying to tell you. Fostering his independence is also a wise plan, but bear in mind that bringing kids to independence is a very long process, and at 3 or 4 or even 5 or 6, they still need a lot of help and encouragement.  They always will need your love. With little children, which 3 year olds are, parents have to be enablers. The word "enabling," which has evolved from the literature and thinking about addictions, does not really apply in the same way to toddlers. Parents must enable their children to become socialized in positive ways. If you give too much attention when he is crying, that might keep the crying behavior going. This may be what everyone says is enabling; however, with little ones, the word "enabling" is a little too harsh and can produce a little guilt in the parent.

With that in mind, you may want to enable, (make your son able) to tell you in words what is going on when he is crying. You can improve your parenting skills by believing that teaching and helping him to learn how to communicate what he needs is part of your job as a mother. The next step is to have a gentle conversation with your son.

Ask him to tell you using his words, what he is trying to say.  You can make suggestions.  At this age, "leading" questions may help because little children do not always have the thinking and speaking skills to put their thoughts into words.  So you say: "Honey, can you tell Mommy if something hurts?  Can you use your words to tell me why you are crying? Can you use your words to tell me what you want?  etc."

If he still cries and you are sure he is not hurt, or sick, then you can say, "If you need to cry it is okay. When you are done, please tell Mommy, because I would like to know. I will be right here (in the kitchen...etc)" This technique is something we refer to as "planned ignoring." If he is safe, not sick etc, then he may just need to release whatever the emotions are.   Once you are sure he is safe, you can let him cry a bit. You are not referring to this as tantrums, which would require some different techniques.

If and when your little one can tell you what he needs, fill the need in the most appropriate way you can, if you can. If you determine that it is attention he needs, you might try telling him that when he stops crying you will play with him, read to him, etc.  In other words, reward him for stopping the tears. Be sure not to punish for crying. That is negative attention and can cause poor self esteem and potentially make the situation worse.

When all is said, I would not worry a lot. Little kids cry.  They always have and always will. You love him. That is what he needs.  He will grow and you will too, as a parent.

Bette J. Freedson, LICSW, LCSW, CGP
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