A Word of Advice on How to Deal With a Child Who is Crying After Being Told Off.

If you tell off a child, for whatever reason, there’s a chance that they will cry. I was one of these children who would cry no matter how minor the admonishment. Even a sharp word could set me off. Here’s my advice on how to deal with it, from my own experiences as a very sensitive child.

  • Some children will cry for attention, but be aware that not all of them are crying deliberately. For some of us, it simply is impossible to stop and we NEED to be able to let the emotion go in order to move on. Several times I attempted to hold in my crying, but it resulted in me being twitchy, unable to concentrate, and the second I let my guard down the floodgates would open. The sooner I got the cry over with, the sooner I could recover and continue with the activity/lesson. This still applies today even as an adult. If I feel a cry coming on, I find myself a quiet, private place and I have a good howl. It is usually over in minutes.
  • If you ask a child to stop crying and they say, “I’m trying,” DO NOT under any circumstances, say “Well, try harder.” That is the WORST POSSIBLE THING YOU COULD SAY. IT’S CRUEL, IT HURTS, AND IT OFTEN MAKES US CRY HARDER ANYWAY. I had an extremely good education with mostly kind, sensible teachers, but one of the worst things that was ever done to me was the exact conversation above. I had just been given my first detention - and I deserved it, I’d hit another child so I downright deserved to be punished - but it was a shock, and my natural response was a pretty intense cry. I was actually being fairly quiet about it, but the teacher saw I hadn’t pulled myself together and expected me to do so when I wasn’t able to. Another time, much later when I was volunteering, I saw another teacher say to a child, “Don’t you dare cry.” I very nearly took her aside and told her how uncomfortable that made me, especially as I saw the boy in question white and shivering, clearly trying to hold the tears in and unable to concentrate. He deserved to be told off, because he’d been naughty - but he did not deserve to be told he couldn’t react to it.
  • The best way to deal with a child who is crying after being told off - IGNORE IT. I’m absolutely serious. This also applies to those who are crying for attention or sympathy. If they get no response, they’re less likely to cry again for attention. For those of us who can’t help it, it gives us a chance to pull ourselves together by ourselves - and also teaches us the same thing. Crying should not gain us sympathy, because otherwise we’ll never learn to deal with it, but it should not be completely taboo. Continue with the activity/lesson as well as you can. If the child is being noisy, ask them to be quieter (most of us who can’t help crying will be trying hard to be quiet anyway. This may be one of the ways to tell if the child is vying for attention - but since I’ve never done that, I couldn’t tell you.) Make sure to leave some tissues on the table for them. Don’t make a big issue. The discipline is over.
  • If a child is still crying after five to ten minutes, now is the time to go to them. Explain more gently why they were told off. Explain what they can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again. If they have something to say on the matter, let them say it. If they’ve really got going then get them to do some deep breathing exercises to help them calm down. I would advise against cuddling them, even if they’re young - because that is a reward for crying, and remember they have been naughty - but a gentle hand on the shoulder often helps. Before you leave them, ask them “Now, are you going to be OK to pull yourself together while I deal with the other children?” If the cry was involuntary, they’ll likely say yes. Involuntary cryers do not want to draw attention to themselves. If there is something that desperately needs your attention, say something along the lines of, “I need to go and deal with >such and such< now. See if you can calm down and then we can continue.”

And those are my tips for dealing with a child crying after verbal discipline. Now remember, children cry for lots of different reasons. Those are the times to take a much softer and supportive approach (and cuddles! If that’s allowed.) These tips only apply to a child crying after being given a punishment. The child has still been in trouble and that must NOT be softened. If they’ve been given detention, they still must do that detention. Crying should NEVER be a get-out-of-jail-free card. But it IS a natural response, and something some of us cannot control as easily as others. By adapting to it and working round it, you not only help us deal with it, but make it a lot less likely to happen.