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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How to deal with a crying toddler?

    My husband and I prefer not to hire a nanny as we enjoy taking our child to places. However, it is an absolute nightmare when our toddler begins crying in the middle of an orchestral performance, on an airplane or in a quiet restaurant. Advice? Is this simply a stage we will have to face?
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • Dr Beth Thomas

    Paediatrician

    Beth works at the Angliss Hospital (Ferntree Gully) which has paediatric inpatients and outpatients and a Special Care Nursery. She also works at Monash Medical … View Profile

    If crying is happening often, it might be worth looking at the circumstances in which it occurs. Is your toddler tired? Hungry? Bored? Although I agree that taking toddlers out for a range of experiences is fantastic, it is worth bearing in mind their attention span and other needs. Unfortunately, symphony orchestras often play matinees at 2pm (nap time) or 8pm (bed time) which doesn't fit in very well with children's needs. An event which they might enjoy at 9am when they are fresh and interested may be too much for them at the end of a day, or if they are due for a nap.

    Sometimes events which adults enjoy are frightening to children - cymbals can be unexpectedly loud, dramatic shows (even ones aimed at children) may have scary wolves or other elements which the child is not prepared to handle. If your toddler is too young to understand “pretend” then the sudden appearance of a wolf who devours grandma could be very frightening to them.

    Sometimes a child is fine for the first hour, but an extended trip even to somewhere fun (like the aquarium or museum) can be overstimulating, leading to crying and meltdowns. This is a stage which improves both with practice and as the child matures. You might prefer to start with a DVD of a performance at home (where you can pause and take a break) and work up to a full-length show. By age four or five years children are well able to sit and enjoy a movie or theatre performance, especially if they already know the story. At this age they will often prefer a show they have seen before or music that they know to something completely novel.

    There are some situations which may just have to wait until your toddler is older. It would be an unusual 3yo would be able to sit through or enjoy a full length operatic performance. There are many age-appropriate musical and theatre experiences, which are used to catering for children's needs (easy access to toilets, etc).

    There are also situations when the other members of the public have to realize that children are also part of society and going out in public is what families and children do. In airports, on public transport, in shops and restaurants, children are part of the public and have as much right to be there as adults. (And some of the attentive audience will be remembering what it was like to be in your position!) It can be embarrassing, but it is a relatively short phase of life, and soon enough your toddler will be a teenager and embarrassed to be seen with you!

    You know your child best, and their capabilities. By paying close attention to what is happening just before the crying starts you will develop a good idea of how to avoid the triggers which your child finds upsetting currently, and as your toddler matures you can all enjoy increasingly extended and sophisticated events.

  • Maria Nguyen

    HealthShare Member

    Children cry and toddlers cry a lot. My son cries when he needs something and he does not get it fast enough or if he does not get something his way. When he is crying because I do not let him play with an oven or dishwasher, I simply put him for a time out. If my son cries in a restaurant, I take him to a restroom for a time out and stay there with him until he stops crying. It usually take a few minutes for him to calm down since he always wants to go back to eating:-) I do not take my son to orchestra perfomances. I do not think he is old enough to enjoy this type of music peromance. Regarding airplanes, it is nothing I can do and just deal with crying and try to calm him down. 

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  • 4

    Thanks

    I’m a Masters qualified registered psychologist (AHPRA) and Associate Member of Australian Psychological Society. My basic philosophy is based on respect of clients and their … View Profile

    I agree that sometimes it is better to cut down on the number of events attended until the child is older. Another thing to look at is the child’s overall crying patterns. How often does he cry? Does he cry at home or only when you attend events? How do you respond to the crying?

    There is always a reason behind a children’s cry. It is either an unmet need or a way to release difficult emotions caused by a stressful situation. The stressful situation could be anything a child finds overwhelming. An uncontrollable outburst of crying usually means that there are bottled up emotions that the child is trying to repress until he can’t hold it anymore.

    If all needs are attended to and the crying continues, then the most important thing is to give the child your full attention. Children need to know that it is ok to cry when they are upset. They need us the most when they are crying. Giving caring and accepting attention will allow the painful and difficult emotions to surface and to be dealt with and the crying will eventually happen less often.  

    If we try to stop the child crying every time, we give the message that crying is not acceptable and children will learn to repress their emotions. They will bottle up what they are feeling and the uncontrollable outbursts will happen more and more often.

     Start with accepting all of his crying at home, and comfort him as long as he needs to cry with a caring and understanding approach. Try not to stop the crying by any form of distraction, just allow him to release the tension in your arms, in a safe and accepting environment. Crying itself isn’t harmful, it is a result and response to a stressful situation.

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