Understanding Why Our Children Cry

By Sleep Fairy, Sarah Quick

My little one, who is ten now, has been through some tough, emotional times this year. In addition, her teacher left just before half term and one of her best friends is moving away at the end of this week. Overall, she has coped well but she does get upset about all the difficult things she’s having to deal with.

It’s painful to see your child cry at any age but what I have realised recently, and from what I have researched, it is that our responses to our children’s cries can often be linked to what happened in our childhood.

When she cries, I want to comfort her, but she doesn’t always want me to. Sometimes she wants to process it on her own and she pushes me away. I find this really hard because MY maternal need is to comfort, while HER need is to process without my (possibly) “suffocating” arms around her. And I have to accept this even though it makes me feel rejected/ inadequate/ guilty/ unloving and a mixture of other emotions depending on the day.

For me, being one of six children it wasn’t always possible to have that comfort when I was 10 and so I can understand why my inner child is wondering, “Why doesn’t my daughter want what I couldn’t have?”. 

Sometimes I feel guilty when she cries. Sometimes I get exasperated when I try to help her with her piano practice, and “the child” in me is thinking, “Nobody helped me when I was her age so why doesn’t she feel grateful for the support I’m giving her?”  This isn’t something I recognise on a conscious level at the time but on reflection I can see that’s probably what really rattles my cage. I can see it’s MY pain, frustration, need etc that makes me react the way I do. Knowing this, I am now able to stop, think and then respond, rather than reacting in the heat of the moment. (Not all the time though, as I am human!)

Most of us know that babies and toddlers cry because, among other reasons, they don’t have the words to express themselves but older children also cry  to release  whatever they can’t express verbally. Most of us will have said or thought, “I just can’t find the words” and then we burst into tears! Unfortunately, the developing brain has so much going on inside it, as well as varying surges of hormones affecting it, that this will often happen to our older children. In these situations, the best thing they can do is to cry and “let it all out” because if they hold in whatever they are feeling, they will end up with a build up of emotions which can be even harder to cope with.


I get frustrated, sad and angry because I can’t always fix what’s going on for my 10 year old, which means that I feel like I can’t fix what made me sad, frustrated or cross as a child. Sometimes I get annoyed because I’m the parent and I should know what to do to make “everything alright”. I berate myself for not finding a different way to manage the situation and therefore not trigger those tears. But actually those tears are not so bad. They are just nature’s way of getting rid of any toxins that need releasing from our bodies and they help to cleanse our minds.  Dr Frey (an American biochemist) found that emotional tears shed hormones and other toxins which can accumulate in our bodies.  Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates endorphins,  our body’s natural painkillers and feel good hormones.

So even though it hurts to see our children crying, whatever their age, we need to acknowledge that that our children need to cry and that they will feel better afterwards. They really will!

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