Ask BBB is a monthly column in which the renowned parenting expert Betsy Brown Braun answers your questions about raising children in the Palisades. Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Ask BBB.”
Q: Is it normal for my 6- and 4-year-old to be crying EVERYDAY? Literally every day, usually multiple times a day. It’s exhausting. Crying because we can’t get a milkshake. Crying because brother gets to brush his teeth first. I understand these are frustrations but at 6 is crying a common response? And no, my kids are not spoiled. I make sure to it that they are not entitled. Is this developmentally normal?
Let me make sure I understand what you are asking. Is it developmentally normal for both your children, ages 4 and 6 years, to cry every day, multiple times a day?
The answer is yes and no; it depends. But that isn’t what matters. Whether it’s normal or not, your kids are doing it! And it is clearly driving you nuts.
Children cry for all kinds of reasons, at different ages and stages. When 15 months to 2.5 years, a child will cry because he is hurt/hungry/tired/worn out/sad/and all kinds of reasons.
He will cry because he doesn’t have the language to express his big feelings. Neither does he have the maturity or the experience to tolerate frustrations of all kinds. Crying is certainly an age-appropriate reaction to many different situations for a very young child.
As the child matures, they learn other, often more appropriate means of expressing themselves and of getting their needs met. Three to 5 year olds cry when they are hurt, when they are frustrated, when they reach the end of their ropes. They cry when nothing else works.
This is also the period during which these children practice and learn how to handle a variety of social situations.
Young, elementary school-age children, 5 to 7 years, still cry some. But crying is less frequent and often happens as a result of “Lousy Local Conditions.” This is what I call it when the environment sabotages the child’s ability to be his best self—not enough sleep, poor eating, too many birthday parties in one day, too many errands with Dad, Mommy has been out of town, parents had too many nights out, houseguests stayed too long, etc … The child cannot hold it together at times when he usually can.
So yes, a 6-year-old crying multiple times all day long, every day is unusual.
I hope you know that children save their worst behavior for home and for the person whose love they trust the most. Therefore, it is not uncommon to have a child who is “perfect” at school, whose teacher raves about him, who is the opposite at home.
Children usually hold it together all day at school—they are well behaved, do what is expected and control their emotions. But once they get in the car (your home on wheels!) or walk in the front door, it is the invasion of the body snatchers! And a sibling often adds fuel to the fire.
You gave little information for me to use in responding to your question. So, I am winging it here. I will say, regardless, that there is a reason that both your kids’ reaction is to cry. They must be getting something out of it or it’s a really bad habit.
I wonder what need is being met by their crying. I wonder how you respond when there are tears.
Are they getting your attention? (Negative or positive attention?) Alternatively, are they not getting enough attention? Does the cause of the crying get solved as a result of their tears? Do you step in? Have you practiced other ways of responding, rather than crying? Did the 4-year-old learn to cry at the foot of his big brother? Do you discuss the crying after the child is no longer elevated emotionally? Are they aware of their automatic crying response?
There are two things that come to mind that I want to share with you. The first is that there are three peaks a child must climb in order to grow up: He must learn to tolerate frustration, tolerate disappointment and to delay gratification. Are your children being helped to cultivate these traits?
Second, the way you react to your children’s crying gives a message about the effectiveness of crying. Sometimes we over react. Sometimes crying is a plea for more of a reaction (but not often!).
I think you have never seen in my column the suggestion that a reader come in for a private session. This is a first. But if you are still experiencing this crying behavior from both your boys, I think it might be time for you to consult with a professional.
Something must be cooking. Please know this ship can be turned around.
BBB is a child development and behavior specialist in Pacific Palisades. She can be reached through her website, betsybrownbraun.com.