When Siblings are Sensitive to Crying

Someone asked me what to do when one of their children was distressed by the other child crying. Their kids were 6 and 4, and so are mine. The 4 year old especially would cry quite often, and the parent wants to give the child space to cry and feel like all their feelings are okay and allowed, but the 6 year old is screaming or maybe throwing things at them or yelling “STOP CRYING” at them when they cry, so obviously the parent doesn’t want the 4 year old to get that message every time they cry!

This was my answer.

I would do one of two things:

1. Remove daughter from room to a private place, with you going with her to support, letting her know that it’s OK to cry as much as she needs and you’re there to be with her, and letting your son know that you’re going to go with sister and help her with (whatever is wrong) and you guys will be back in a little bit. State what he can do during this time if it helps.

2. Stay in place and remind your son of what he can do to escape (physically, i.e. go to his room, go to the office, go in the backyard, etc whatever works for you) or “escape” (emotionally, i.e. listen to music on his earbuds, put on noise-cancelling headphones, watch a video, whatever).

I would say something simple like “People are allowed to cry. We’re going to go in the other room and take some space. You can (play with your Legos, draw, read a book, whatever) and we’ll be back in a little bit.” Or, “People are allowed to cry. I know the noise bothers you. Remember, you can go in your room if you want, or put your headphones on if you want. I can help you find your headphones if you’d like.”

Mine are also 4 and 6 and we do this probably on a daily basis. If you’re anything like me, your main work here is to keep reminding yourself that no side of this is an emergency. It’s not an emergency that your kid is crying. It’s not an emergency that your other kid doesn’t like crying. It’s not an emergency that it’s loud. It’s not an emergency that anybody feels sad, bad, upset, or disgruntled. Your feelings of, “Aww, I’m genuinely empathetic, everybody’s having a rough time, and also, in the grand scheme of the world, we are all OK so I am not in a panic” are what rub off on them over time.