What Should I Do When My Child Fake Cries?

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.
05/12/2015 04:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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? ᅡᅠOr should you tell a child to stop faking and respond with annoyance? ᅡᅠ(Nobody really asked if they "should" respond with annoyance, but many parentsᅡᅠdo in this situation.)

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

If your child is fake crying, I suggest a new game plan of responding as though the tears are real. ᅡᅠThis, of course, does not mean that you give in to your child or give him or herᅡᅠthe toy or privilege or food or whatever that is desired. ᅡᅠInstead, soothe your child and empathize, saying "I see you're really upset." ᅡᅠAfter 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. ᅡᅠThis 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. ᅡᅠThat 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. ᅡᅠMy ideas are: ask for a hug, or say, "I'm upset." ᅡᅠDo 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. ᅡᅠI 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. ᅡᅠYou wouldn't say to them, "I'm not going to talk to you until you stop moping" so saying that to your kid isᅡᅠjust 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.