Executive Skills Needed:   1. Emotional control, and 2. Flexibility.

    Steps to take:   When children cry over little things, they’re generally trying to communicate that they want sympathy, and they’re using this method of getting it because they’ve found it effective in the past. So the goal of this intervention is not to teach kids to be tough little soldiers or anything of the sort, but to help them find ways other than crying to get what they want. The goal is to get them to use words instead of tears in those situations where crying does not appear to be an appropriate response.

    1. Let your child know that crying too much makes people disinclined to spend time with him/her and that you want to help the child find other ways of handling feelings when upset so that this doesn’t happen.
    2. Explain that your child needs to use words instead of tears when upset. This can be done by having your child label his/her feelings (“I’m upset,” “I’m sad,” or “I’m angry,”: etc.).
    3. Let you child know that it may be helpful for him/her to explain what caused these feeling (for example, “I’m upset because I was hoping to go to Joey’s house, but when I called, no one was home,” or “I’m mad because I lost the game.”).
    4. When your child is able to use words, respond by validating his/her feelings (for example, “I can see you’re upset. Not being able to play with a friend must be a big disappointment to you.” Statements like this will communicate to the child that you understand and sympathize.
    5. Let your child know in advance what will happen when an upsetting situation arrives. This should include giving him/her a script for handling the situation. You might say, “When you feel like crying, can use words like “I’m angry,” “I’m sad,” “I need help,” or “I need a break.” When you use words, I’ll listen and try to understand your feelings. If you start to cry, though, you’re on your own. I’ll either leave the room or ask you to go to your bedroom to finish crying. At first you may periodically need to remind your child of the procedure to prepare him/her to follow the script when an upsetting situation occurs.
    6. As soon as your child starts to cry, make sure he/she gets no attention from anyone for crying. This means no attention for anyone (siblings, parents, grandparents, etc.), so you should make sure everybody likely to be involved understands the procedure. Without the attention for crying, it will gradually diminish (although it may get worse initially before it gets better).
    7. The goal here is not to extinguish all crying (because there are legitimate reasons for children to cry). A rule of thumb for judging when it may be appropriate to cry is to think about the average child of your child’s age. Would crying be a natural response in the situation at hand? Crying is appropriate, for instance, when dealing with physical pain or when a serious misfortune befalls your child or someone you child is close to.

    Modifications/Adjustments:  If crying is firmly entrenched, you may want to build in a reinforcer to help your child learn to use words instead of tears. Depending on the age of your child, you could give him/her stickers or points for using words instead of tears or for going a certain amount of time without crying. To determine how long that time should be, it would be helpful to take a baseline so you know how frequently your child cries now. A log to help you track how often the crying occurs, how long it lasts, and what the precipitating event is included below to help you do this. Following it is a “contract” you can make with your child to handle crying. Depending on the age of the child, the contract can be completed with words, pictures, or both.







    Duration of upset

    Precipitating Event







































    Things a Child can say to Themselves:



    Here’s what I can do instead of crying:





    Here’s what will happen if I can keep from crying when I’m upset:






    Here’s what will happen when I cry over little things:


    From Smart but Scattered by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare.  Copyright 2009 by The Guilford Press. P. 183.