There’s No Such Thing as a Fake Cry

“Oh that cry is so fake.” I’m guilty of thinking this myself. But is there really such a thing as a fake cry?

All behavior is communication.

When children talk, cry, scream, hit, hug, etc. they are telling us something. The best way to try to deal with certain behaviors, is to first try to understand what they mean.

The Fake Cry

If you are a mom, caregiver, teacher, or anyone who has ever been around kids, you’ve most likely witnessed a fake cry. The lip quivers, the head goes back or down and a child lets out a cry. But, there are no tears, and the sound is half-hearted. To us, this is fake. There isn’t anything streaming down the cheeks, no snot flowing from the nose and your child can stop on a moment’s notice.

It’s not real, therefore it’s fake. 

But you know what isn’t fake? What makes this kind of cry, in fact, real? The emotions behind it.

This cry means something. This cry is meant to indicate “I’m unhappy,” “I’m not satisfied” or “I’m sad.” Only our kids have a limited vocabulary, and if they do have the words to say these things, expressing it verbally and calmly is tough. So they let out a half-hearted wail to voice their displeasure.

How to React to a ‘Fake Cry’

It’s really easy to assume that just because we hear a fake cry, that the child doesn’t really ‘mean’ the way he or she is acting. The child isn't really sad or upset because the cry is not real. In reality, this line of thinking is wrong (and I’m guilty of assuming this often).

“You aren’t really upset, that’s such a fake cry.”


“Oh come on your don’t even care, that’s such a fake cry.”

But remember, all behavior is communication. So how can we validate and address these feelings, all while helping our kids develop alternative behaviors to expressing them, aside from the ‘fake cry’?

Prompting or modeling ways to express emotions are a great way to do this. Additionally, in using calming tools, we can have our kids try these, and can then ask questions to get to the root of the issue, or the emotion behind the cry. 

It’s really easy to feel manipulated by these tiny beings that we created. After all, their cries, tears, words and emotions rattle our sleep-deprived hearts. But the truth of the matter is, they don’t want to manipulate us in a negative sense. They are not starting each day with the devious notion that they are going to overrule us and make us miserable. Simply put, they have a want or a need and they are trying to achieve it.

Katie Chiavarone holds a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology from NYU and is a mom to three young children. She co-authored the book The Undeniable Power of Play. This post is adapted from her blog, Views From a Step Stool.

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