When Big Kids Cry Easily
Some kids are just very sensitive. They cry easily and often, even over situations that others might not feel are such a big deal, and even as they pass the age where we might expect it. Instead of rolling your eyes and groaning when your tween bursts into tears, as we parents can do, here are some ideas to keep in mind to help soothe the bruised heart.
Some kids are just naturally more sensitive. (Interested in learning more about high sensitivity? It’s also called Sensory-Processing Sensitivity, and Elaine Aron is one of the best researchers on the topic. Check out her book, The Highly Sensitive Child if you think the check list on her web page sounds a lot like your child.)
What does it mean to be highly sensitive? Is it something you as a parent should be worried about? Not at all. It simply describes about 15-20% of the population who tend to be more sensitive to subtleties in their environment, as well as responding to information and emotions a bit differently than everyone else. If this is your child, there’s no amount of “toughening up” that will change who they are, because this kind of sensitivity is an innate trait.
Having said that, not all kids who cry easily and often are highly sensitive. Start by asking yourself if your child could be overtired. The symptoms of fatigue might have been easy to spot when your kid was younger, but chronic fatigue can chip away at an older child’s resilience too. Speaking of resilience, ask yourself if there have been any major changes or stressors in your child’s life. Perhaps she’s handling school stress well while she’s there, but then comes home and cries when she sees what’s for dinner. And when talking about tweens, hormones must always be considered.
How can you help your child when he or she is feeling teary?
Don’t shame or ridicule him for his tears; instead, acknowledge the intensity of his feelings (“I can see that you’re really disappointed that we aren’t going to Grandma’s this weekend after all.”) Reassure him that it’s completely healthy and normal to cry, and adults do it, too.
Chat about what he could do in those moments when his feelings begin to overwhelm him and he thinks he might cry. Perhaps deep breathing might help, or counting to 10 to give himself some space between the situation and his response.
Maybe distraction might help, either physical distraction (leaving the room for a short time out, squeezing a stress ball) or a mental one (focusing on something positive, or repeating a mantra such as “I can handle this, I’m not going to cry” over and over to himself).
Let your child know that there’s nothing wrong with crying or crying more than others. But at the same time, there’s a balance to be had. Being around someone who cries all the time is something of a turnoff for peers.
If the crying is not the only concern, something else may be happening. Extreme moodiness or mood swings lasting for longer than two weeks, changes in habits, hygiene, friends, or grades, trouble sleeping, and withdrawing from social events could could be signs of depression. Take your child to a doctor or psychotherapist to discuss your concerns.