What Should I Do When My Child Fake Cries?

05/12/2015 04:31 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2016

In response to this piece, a few readers asked about the appropriate course of action if their child fake cries for attention. Should you soothe and respond with empathy, as I advise when a child is really crying?  Or should you tell a child to stop faking and respond with annoyance?  (Nobody really asked if they "should" respond with annoyance, but many parents do in this situation.)


Although your child's tears are fake, the feelings that underlie these fake tears are real.  Your child obviously wants or needs the comfort that would come with really crying, so he is doing something pretty smart and adaptive for a child: trying to act in a way that generally leads to comfort.  It's like how you might mope around waiting for your spouse to ask you what's wrong instead of directly telling him you're sad.  Would you want a spouse who picked up on your cues or who ignored them to teach you to communicate directly?  The latter spouse sounds fairly annoying.

If your child is fake crying, I suggest a new game plan of responding as though the tears are real.  This, of course, does not mean that you give in to your child or give him or her the toy or privilege or food or whatever that is desired.  Instead, soothe your child and empathize, saying "I see you're really upset."  After your child is soothed, at a later time that day, you can have an open, non-shaming discussion about how people generally react to fake crying.  This can go like this:

You: Hey, Madison, I wanted to talk to you about when you pretend you're crying but you're really just upset.

Madison: I don't pretend to cry.

You: Well, I wanted to tell you that usually, fake crying makes people feel annoyed and they are less likely to want to spend time with you.  That sometimes happens to me when you fake cry, even though I love you a lot.

Madison: Okay.

You: I want to come up with a plan for what you can do with me and with other people when you're upset about something, that isn't fake crying.  My ideas are: ask for a hug, or say, "I'm upset."  Do you have any other ideas?

Madison: I could tell you I'm mad.

You: Great, yes, you could say, "I'm mad" and even tell me what you're mad about.  I love you and thanks for talking to me.

Madison: Okay, can I have a cookie?

You: No, you can have fruit (just kidding, I thought I would roll with the super-parent idea).

To summarize: if your kid is fake crying, don't give in, but empathize the same as you would if your best friend or spouse was standing there moping around.  You wouldn't say to them, "I'm not going to talk to you until you stop moping" so saying that to your kid is just as rude.

Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Does All The Same Stuff As Readers Ask Me About, But All We Can Do Is Try To Do Better For Our Kids.

For more, visit Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, on Facebook, and on Twitter @DrPsychMom.