Tips for Handling a Tearful Preschooler

Tear-stained, chubby cheeks, a trembling pout, little fists clenched: Every parent’s heart melts at the sight of their toddler in distress. Mom and Dad will want to fix everything. But how? Understanding what is upsetting your little one presents a challenge when his verbal skills are minimal. Even toddlers with well-developed speech find communication difficult when they are hurt or unhappy.

So what is the best way to calm a tearful tot?

Calm Parent

First and foremost, stay calm. If your child is screaming hysterically, don’t let her overwrought emotions ruffle you. Keep in mind that children need security; when they spiral out of control, they appreciate their parent’s matter-of-fact demeanor.

Validate

Then, try to get to the root of the matter. Do not brush off your tot’s complaint with a dismissive: “It’s nothing.” Instead, gently ask if something hurts. If a bump or fall caused the tears, examine the injured area to make sure no serious care is necessary. Acknowledge that he is hurting with a simple sympathetic question: “You hurt your knee?” In most cases, a kiss and hug will make everything better.
 
Some children crave a more medical approach. Applying an adhesive bandage, especially cartoon-themed, serves two functions: validating the child’s complaint and diverting his attention to a more pleasant activity.

Distract

Distraction is definitely an important tool in a parent’s bag of tricks. After adequately acknowledging your child’s feelings, try to help her move on. Take a quick look around for something that might appeal to your little one. Pets, airplanes passing overhead, or construction vehicles can all be riveting diversions for a two-year-old. If nothing around you seems likely to catch her interest, try giving your child a simple task she enjoys. If you are shopping, for instance, you might ask her to fill the shopping cart or help bag goods at the checkout counter. If you are at home, you can calmly begin reading your little one’s favorite storybook. Quite often, she will slowly forget her tears and become absorbed by the story and pictures she loves.

Avoid Soothing with Treats

This common-sense advice might seem self-evident, but the temptation to end unpleasantness quickly by the handiest means available can be overwhelming. While in the short run a candy bar magically makes tears disappear, this tactic often backfires in the long run. Children may come to expect sweets any time they get hurt. Even worse, you could be encouraging them to use food for solace, possibly creating negative eating patterns. When faced with a tearful tot, remind yourself firmly that you will regret plying him with sweets and turn to validation and distraction.

Just like older children, and even adults, once preschoolers have their feelings validated, they are able to move on. Sometimes they just need a little help processing their emotions. Most parents instinctively recognize that validation, followed by distraction, are the key to handling tearful preschoolers. Remaining calm will allow these positive parental instincts to guide you.