Sunday, October 25, 2015

How to Comfort A Crying Child in Four Steps

One of the saddest things in the world is a child crying inconsolably for no apparent reason.

In class this week, a beautiful little girl started laughing hysterically during one of our class activities. Then, perhaps overwhelmed by the strength of her own emotion, she started crying as if brokenhearted. Tears poured from her blue eyes, her face turned red, and her breath heaved as she clung to the assistant teacher at her side.

The assistant teacher tried to soothe her, saying, "Why are you crying? What's wrong? What's the matter?" However, children often don't know what they're feeling, much less why they're feeling it. Our job is to help them identify the feeling and to help them make sense of the emotional maelstrom that threatens to pull them into its undertow.

"I don't think she knows why she's crying," I ventured. "You don't know why you're crying, do you?" I asked the child. She shook her head no. "It's okay. Sometimes I get really sad, too, and I don't know why, but it's good to feel all the feelings. Do you miss Miss Paulette?" She kept crying but nodded. Miss Paulette was the head teacher who usually attended class with us. "It's okay to be sad when we miss someone. It's okay to cry." The little girl seemed slightly reassured but kept sobbing.

At this point, the rest of the class was transfixed on the little girl, and since I'm a teacher, a red flag went off in my mind for two reasons. First, no one likes to be stared at when they're crying. Second, when it comes to children, crying can be contagious. Fortunately, music is one of the best ways to redirect a room full of children and calm turbulent feelings. We switched from the goofy, quick-paced activity to a sweet, moderately slow song about an owl. The song is written in a minor key, a musical flavor tinged with sadness, and features an owl hooting three times at the end of each line. As a class, we wondered if perhaps the owl was feeling sad. 

As we sang the song, the little girl's breathing started to slow. The attention was off her, and her feelings were being validated by the sad little owl who, with his slow song in a minor key, seemed to feel the same way she was feeling. By the end of the class, she was what psychologists call "emotionally regulated." Her feelings were no longer overwhelming her; she was comforted.

The next time your child is crying inconsolably, try these four steps:

1. Tell him he is safe and loved. These are the two things every child always needs to know, especially when they're upset.

2. Help the child name his feeling. Is he sad? Angry? Scared?

3. Validate the child's feeling. Help him understand why he might be feeling his feeling, and reassure him that it's okay to feel that way. 

4. Use music to help your child move through the feeling. Play or sing a slow song or lullaby, preferably in a minor key. For example, Sulla Lulla is a beautiful song that you may already have as part of your Kindermusik collection. If not, you can find it online at

May you be happy
May you be safe
May you be healthy
May you be at peace

"Miss" Lindsay

Miss Lindsay is the Director of Kindermusik with Miss Lindsay & Friends. For more information on our holistic approach to teaching music to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, please visit