Crying, Age 3 and Younger - Home Treatment

Crying is a normal part of your child's life. Stay as calm as possible during crying episodes. There are many different ways to approach your child's crying, and over time you will understand your child's needs and know how to care for him or her.

It may be helpful to keep a record of your child's crying to see whether there is a pattern that you can discuss with your child's doctor.

Checklist of common reasons a child cries

Use this checklist to help you figure out the reason for your child's crying and take action to eliminate the cause of the crying. Remember that the crying may be normal for your child. Ask yourself whether your child:

  • Is hungry. Does he or she need to be burped? Does he or she need to suck (on a finger, pacifier, bottle, or breast)?
  • Needs a diaper change.
  • Needs to be moved to a more comfortable position.
  • Is afraid, bored, or lonely.
  • Is too warm (feels warm) or too cold. Young children usually have cool hands and feet. When they are cold, their hands and feet will be colder than usual. If you think your child may be cold, check the arms, thighs, or back of the neck for skin cool to the touch.
  • Is hurting from something pinching or poking the skin.
  • Is overstimulated. Crying can be a young child's way of releasing tension when there is too much noise, movement, or activity in his or her environment or when he or she is overtired.
  • Is uncomfortable from teething. Young children who are teething can be fretful and cry more than usual because their gums are swollen and sore. Children who are teething drool more than usual and may try to rub their gums with toys or fingers.
  • Had a recent immunization. If you think your child is uncomfortable from a recent immunization, acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20.


Illness or injury that may cause a child to cry

Young children may turn red or purple in the face when crying. A sick child may have pale, blue, or spots of bluish (mottled) skin and may be listless, unusually sleepy, or irritable. A sick child's cry may be weak and feeble or (in rare cases) high-pitched and piercing. If you think your child may be sick or hurt:

  • Check for a fever. For information on how to take a temperature, see the topic Body Temperature.
  • Look for other signs of illness, such as crying during feeding, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  • Check for other signs of pain.
    • Does your child have colic? You may want to limit visitors and activity during those times when he or she is most fussy.
    • Is something causing your child pain, such as an open pin sticking the skin, a red spot that may be an insect bite, or a strand of hair wrapped around a finger, a toe, or the penis?
    • Does your child have pain in the groin area? Check his groin area and scrotum or her groin area for a bulge that may be an inguinal hernia.
    • Does your young boy have scrotal swelling or tenderness (testicular torsion)? Testicular torsion can cause severe pain.
    • Has your child fallen or been dropped? Undress your child and look for swelling, bruises, or bleeding.

Comforting measures

If you don't find a reason for your child's crying, try comforting techniques, such as rocking your baby, breastfeeding, or offering a pacifier after breastfeeding is going well. If your child continues to cry after you have tried home treatment, place him or her in a safe, quiet place and leave him or her alone for 15 to 20 minutes. Sometimes children can relax and soothe themselves. Be sure to stay close by.

Talk with your child's doctor before giving your child any nonprescription medicines or herbal remedies as a comfort measure. Products with alcohol or sugar in them are not recommended.

Do not get angry at your child for crying. Never shake or harm your child. Shaking a child in anger or playing rough, such as throwing a baby up into the air and catching him or her, can cause shaken baby syndrome. If you find that you are losing patience or are afraid that you may hurt your child:

  • Place your child in a safe place while you go into another room, relax, and calm yourself.
  • Ask someone to help you. If you cannot find someone to take over for you and you still feel out of control, call your doctor.


Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • Changes in the level of consciousness develop.
  • Your child is not acting normally and cries in a way that is not usual for him or her.
  • Crying continues longer than 30 minutes, and the child appears to be in pain.
  • Crying continues longer than 30 minutes after an injury.
  • Symptoms become more severe or frequent.
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
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