When your 3-year-old cries, you might feel anxious, confused, afraid, unloving, resentful and exasperated. Your child’s crying ignites a powerful mix of emotions, research shows that areas of your brain will spark into life at the sound of your child’s cries1. But why? And how can you stop them crying all the time?
Nature has designed you that way. You were pre-programmed to have a strong stirring of emotion when you hear your child cry so you leap to their aid. Listening to their crying can feel like it lowers your self-confidence, so let’s bring it back up again by looking at why your 3-year-old is crying all the time and what we can do to help them stop.
Why does my 3-year-old cry so much? 3-year-olds can cry because of hunger, tiredness, and pain. Now your 3-year-old is developing emotionally, they may cry because of frustration, embarrassment, and jealousy. How you deal with their crying is important for their emotional development, so let’s take a look at the best methods to stop their constant crying and bring peace back to your house.
It’s normal for 3-year-olds to cry and it’s also normal for parents to feel frustration and other negative emotions when they do. Crying is a normal response to feeling overwhelmed by strong feelings. It’s how you respond to their cries that’s important. Let’s take a look at all the reasons why your 3-year-old cries and how you can help them through it.
9 Reasons Why Your 3-Year-Old is Crying All the Time and How You Can Help
1. Your 3-Year-Old is in Pain
If your child is crying the first thing you should do is check your child for any noticeable injury. You know your 3-year-old’s cries best. There are different levels of crying and I can always tell if the cry is serious or urgent. If you do feel like the cry is serious then just give them a quick look over.
My children cry and it’s normally for trivial reasons but I always feel horrible if I then realize they are crying because they have bumped their head or fell over in the few seconds I wasn’t watching them. So, always take a second to try and understand if your 3-year-old is crying for an obvious reason like an injury.
If you have a particularly adventurous 3-year-old then you might have plenty of crying from bruised elbows and scraped knees. So, give your little one a look over and try and find any obvious red marks, bumps, and cuts. Ask them if anywhere hurts.
If you do find they’ve had a little accident, then you can give them comfort, a big hug and help them through the pain.
2. Your 3-Year-old is overtired
It always surprises me how fast my 3-year-olds get tired. One minute they are bouncing off the walls laughing and giggling. I turn around and they are laying on a blanket in the middle of the floor asleep.
Sometimes tiredness gets too much for our little ones and turns into an emotional mess of overtiredness. Your 3-year-old will cry because their favorite shirt is in the wash or because they don’t like the color socks they are wearing. Overtiredness makes their behavior unreasonable.
To combat overtiredness, first, you need to think if they are getting enough sleep each day. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 10-13 hours of sleep for a 3-year-old. This includes sleep at night time and napping in every 24 hour period.
If your 3-year-old is struggling with their sleep then you should read my article about How to Get Your 3-Year-Old to Sleep and Stay Asleep. It’s packed full of tips for getting your 3-year-old to sleep without the fuss and helping them stay asleep so they wake up rested and refreshed.
If napping is a problem then I have a very thorough article on helping your 3-year-old to nap, called The Ultimate Guide to Napping for Your 3-Year-Old. It will show you the best ways to get your little one down for a restful nap quickly and easily.
Parents of 3-year-olds often worry about what time to put their child to bed at night. Getting it wrong can affect their tiredness throughout the whole day, so make sure you get the time right by reading my article on The Ideal time to Put Your 3-Year-Old to Bed.
So, if your 3-year-old is constantly crying and showing signs of tiredness like yawning, rubbing their eyes, and looking a little spaced-out. Then use the information in those articles to make sure they get restful sleep. Then they can ditch the constant crying and go back to their happy and fun-loving personalities.
3. Your 3-Year-Old is Hungry
“Hangry” is the mixed emotions of feeling hungry and angry. Adults suffer from it, I know I do. One skipped meal because “You didn’t have time” and not eating enough food can lead to a rollercoaster of negative emotions.
Some people are angry and dismiss their outburst with the phrase “my blood sugars are low”. You must have heard that one before? That’s Hangry in a nutshell.
3-year-olds are no different from us. They burn up all their energy through learning and play, then crash into a hungry mess, bawling with tears. Maybe your child is crying because they are feeling hungry and need an energy boost between meals.
Think, has my 3-year-old eaten in the last 3 hours? Have they just woken from a nap? Hopefully, your child will tell you they are hungry, but sometimes they don’t. That’s when a well-timed snack can keep those tears at bay.
If you need any ideas for healthy snacks for your 3-year-old. Take a look at this thorough list of wonderful snacks from yummytoddlerfood.com.
4. Your 3-Year-Old is Overstimulated
When your 3-years-old, the world can seem like a big, scary, and exciting place. Play centers, busy shopping centers, birthday parties. Places like these are full of stimulating experiences for your 3-year-old. The problem is that sometimes it’s all too much for their tiny emotions to handle and the tears start to flow.
If your 3-year-old is constantly crying, then look around you. Think about the environment they are in. Are the running around at a birthday party or play center? Are your surroundings bustling with passers-by? If their environment is busy and chaotic then your 3-year-old may be crying because they are overstimulated.
The best way to tackle overstimulation is to take your 3-year-old somewhere calm and quiet. Give them time to calm down and be there to comfort them if they need it. If your 3-year-old is still struggling to stop crying and calm down after some time, then you might want to consider taking them home. Some children need a place of security and safety like home, to be able to fully calm down at this age.
5. Your 3-Year-Old is Stressed
But how can a 3-year-old be stressed? What could they be stressed about? They have ample time to play, food, love, and attention. But Stress is relative. What I mean is, when a stressful event happens. Some people may feel immense stress while others breeze through the problem like it’s nothing at all.
If you found a water leak in your house right now, would you get upset, feel stressed and struggle to cope? Or would you deal with the situation as quickly and efficiently as possible? People deal with stressful situations in different ways.
Your 3-year-old has a different stress tolerance than that of an adult. So, yes, children as young as 3-years-old can become stressed. They need time to unwind from their busy days with play and rest.
3-year-olds can also become stressed from events in their life. Divorce, deaths in the family, unhappy parents. Our children soak up more of these negative feelings than we realize. They might become confused and scared about big changes in their life, like moving house or going to daycare. This can lead to more crying because they can struggle to make sense of stressful events.
If you feel like there has been a lot going on in your 3-year-old’s life and they are crying frequently. Try to reduce the number of commitments they have during the week. Give the playdates, play centers, and sports clubs a rest for a while. Schedule in more time for relaxing creative play.
If you are having a stressful time at home try to discuss it with your 3-year-old. Speak to them about any fears or worries they might have and try and think of solutions. Listen to what they have to say and value their opinions.
Another amazing idea for a stressed 3-year-old is to teach them the skills to manage stress. Mindfulness is perfect for stressed little ones. It’s a valuable life skill and easy to learn. It involves clearing your mind and relaxing by being in the moment. Give it a go yourself!
This article for Psychology Today has twelve simple tips to teach your 3-year-old how to be mindful and use it to help them successfully manage stress.
6. Your 3-Year-Old is Crying for Attention
Your 3-year-old is playing happily and then all of a sudden they are in floods of tears. So you rush in, bundle them up into your arms with big hugs and kisses or maybe you simply tell them to “stop crying”? Each of these is a common way people deal with a crying child, but they may be making the situation worse.
Children at 3-years-old crave your attention, at this age you are their world. But you can’t be constantly at their side. You need to do housework, pay the bills, go to work, and a number of other important things. As soon as you leave them for a few minutes they suddenly begin crying again. But Why?
Crying gets your attention and your 3-year-old craves that more than anything.
So, how do you give your 3-year-old the attention they deserve and get your chores done?
You fill up them up with positive attention. Imagine your child is like a car, and the fuel that they run on is your attention. When their fuel gets low, they look to you for attention, but sometimes you’re busy and can’t attract your attention in a positive way. So, they do the one thing that they know definitely gets your attention. They cry.
To break this attention-seeking cycle we can think of the car analogy again. This time, rather than filling up their gas tank of attention a little at a time. Schedule time in a few times a day to sit down and engage with your 3-year-old. Play a game with them, read a few books, let your child decide the activity.
Filling up your child with undivided positive attention a few times a day will make them less likely to try and attract your attention constantly and using negative methods like crying.
7. Your 3-Year-Old is Demanding Something
At 3-years-old your child has a poor understanding of the difference between wants and needs. They might see a toy in a store and cry uncontrollably, screaming that they “NEED IT!”.
It’s common for parents to try and withstand deafening cries and a torrent of tears when your 3-year-old demands something from you, then most people just give in. Every time you give in to your 3-year-olds unreasonable demands, you are teaching them the lesson that crying works, it gets them what they want.
Your child isn’t being manipulative on purpose. They aren’t some evil genius. They are just smart, they know that crying works, so they use it. After all, they’ve had the best teacher, you.
Now, it’s time to break that cycle. Let’s look at more positive ways you can deal with a demanding tearful 3-year-old and turn their behavior around for good.
Next time your 3-year-old makes an unreasonable demand from you, stand firm. Don’t give in no matter what. Help your child understand why you can’t give them what they want right now. But you can be there to help them through any difficult emotions.
Show empathy towards them, because they are feeling real and difficult emotions. You may want to give them a big hug and kiss and reassure them. Listen to their views and try your best to explain why they can’t have what they want.
Give a name to the emotions that your 3-year-old is feeling. Naming them helps your child to learn to understand each one of their different and complex emotions.
If you are struggling with a child who has a temper tantrum when they can’t get what they want. You will find the answer to your problem in my article The Ultimate Guide to Taming Your 3-Year-Old’s Tantrums. It has all the information you would ever need to help stop tantrums.
8. Your 3-Year-Old Doesn’t Want to do Something
Your 3-year-old is confident and independent. You certainly know when they don’t want to do something. They will make that clear.
The problems arise when they have to do something they don’t want to do. Then the tears will flow.
A few common problem points are bedtimes, leaving the park, and tidying toys. Your child’s tears are a plea to your emotions to give in. When your 3-year-old is faced with something they don’t want to do and they can’t think of any other way out of the situation. They start to cry out of frustration.
Have empathy for your child’s feelings, understand what they are going through by looking at it from their perspective. Offer comfort and understanding, but don’t give in.
Avoid having a lengthy discussion with your 3-year-old about why they need to do something. Be firm, and use positive discipline if needed.
Show that you understand their feelings by using language such as “I know you don’t want to go bed right now, but it’s late and you will be tired in the morning”. If they carry on crying, keep calm and try to ignore their negative behavior. Don’t reinforce negative behavior with attention.
If you are still struggling and need more helpful ideas for positive discipline that’s also effective for your 3-year-old. Then you need to read my article on How to discipline a 3-year-old. It will change your mind on how you discipline your children forever!
9. Your 3-Year-Old is Sensitive
Some children are just more emotionally sensitive than others2. These sensitive and tender souls are just more likely to cry frequently. The way they have been genetically wired lets them feel stronger emotions than other children.
But, if your child is a little more sensitive, I wouldn’t worry. These sensitive children are often more gentle, compassionate, and creative than their less sensitive friends3. They might just need a little more guidance from you about managing their emotions.
If you have a sensitive child, here are some tips to teach them to help manage their emotions:
- Breathe: Encouraging your child to slow down their breathing, and breathing in through their nose and out through their mouth. This helps their body physically calm down.
- Count: Encourage your child to count. This takes their focus off the problem.
- Give them a break: Take them out of the situation so your child can calm down and regain control of their emotions.
When to Worry & Seek Professional Advice
If you feel like your 3-year-old’s constant crying is unusual or has happened suddenly. It may be a good idea to take them to see a health professional. Your child might have developed an underlying medical problem that they are struggling to make you aware of.
It’s easy to make the mistake of believing that your 3-year-old is crying for a trivial reason, but you don’t want to leave your child in pain from a toothache or ear infection.
If you can rule out any medical problems and physical injury then use the information we have discussed. Try and find out the reason why they are crying and help them through it.
When your child is crying, it’s comfort and understanding that they are after. If you feel anxious and frustrated listening to them cry. Take a minute away, if it is safe to do so, take a deep breath and allow your self to calm down. It’s far better to calm yourself down first than snap at your child out of frustration.
Listen to your 3-year-old and value their opinion. I find myself sometimes asking my child a question and not really listening to the answer. If I really listen to what my children have to say I usually find the answer to their problems is simple.
Make sure you don’t miss reading my article on Temper Tantrums. A ton of research went into finding the best ways of helping you stop your 3-year-old having tantrums. It really works!
Hi, my name is Gavin and together with my wife we are the proud parents of twins. We believe that learning more about your children will help you be a better parent and love your 3 year old even more. That’s why we created At3yearsold.com, just for you!