Decoding your toddler’s cries

Crying is the way in which toddlers express themselves. Here’s how to decode your toddler’s cries plus easy solutions to the problem. By Xanet van Vuuren


By Xanet van Vuuren

“Babies and toddlers cry for very much the same reasons. They cry when they are hungry and tired, when they are feeling cold and wet, or when they’re feeling lonely, frightened or anxious,” says Ann Richardson, author of Toddler Sense and co-author of Baby Sense and Sleep Sense.

Four reasons why your toddler might be crying:

  • One of the most common causes of toddler tears is tiredness. “The younger a child, the less resistance she has to manage periods of time being awake before her nervous system ‘collapses’,” explains Richardson. Daytime naps for toddlers and an early bedtime routine are still very important for toddlers.
  • Another cause of toddler tears is frustration. “Toddlers get upset when they’re unable to communicate their needs verbally, if they can’t manage to complete a physical task, such as getting their shoes on properly, or when they can’t have an object of desire, such a toy or sweet,” says Richardson.
  • A toddlers’ speech is not entirely developed at their young age and crying is their way of talking. “Toddlers cry because they aren’t yet able to identify their emotions and they also don’t have the words to tell you what is wrong. Crying is an emotional outlet for them,” says Dr Melodie De Jager, author of BabyGym and Mind Moves: Removing Barriers to Learning.
  • Separation anxiety can also be the cause of your tot’s tears, especially when you drop her off at day care or leave her with a child minder while you’re at work. Click here for tips on dealing with separation anxiety. 

Three ways to avoid toddler crying

  • Pinpoint the reasons for your toddler’s crying. If your child always cries while you’re in the car driving, take her favourite toy along to keep her distracted. If she tears up when you deny her access to your handbag or jewellery, move it out of sight and out of her reach.
  • Routines are very important. Toddlers usually thrive when they have regular schedules. Children feel safe and in control when they know what is happening next. Your toddler will be less likely to react emotionally if she knows what to expect.
  • Avoid over-stimulation. If you know your toddler is overtired, it’s best to avoid outings and rather let her take a nap.


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