Is this toddler sadness reasonably normal?
January 15, 2013 1:31 PM Subscribe
My 2.5 year-old daughter has gently, soundlessly sobbed when I sang to her at bedtime twice now. It seemed like a deep and genuine sorrow that shocked me terribly the first time it happened. I feel extremely concerned. Is this normal?
posted by kitcat to grab bag (39 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
My daughter is a happy, confidant, enthusiastic girl with a sense of humor. Very strong-willed, but also sensitive (she hugs crying children, she cries not from outrage or frustration but from shame and/or hurt feelings if scolded). She has a generally happy and stable home-life, although my husband and I are not perfect and we sometimes squabble in front of her (and she says "Mommy, Daddy, stop!", which makes me proud although this is really unacceptable and we are working on it). I don't know exactly what happens at daycare (although, of course I hear about bigger incidents), nor can any parent unless they spend a full day or several days observing. She is deeply loved and gets lots of attention and affection.
The first time she cried in this way, she seemed out of sorts in the evening (maybe tired, teething, who knows). And I'm sure she was under stress during this period, since I was under extreme stress, anxious and distant most evenings and working at school every weekend. Anyhow, I was gently talking to her, asking her if she was sad, and she nodded her head. I asked her about possible reasons she was sad, and she nodded to all of them (are you sad because Nana just went home? Because Mommy is so busy, etc?). But if you know kids at this age, you know that sometimes you can ask them anything and they'll agree or say yes. Anyhow, I cuddled her and started to sing the Beatle's "I Will". Right away I heard ragged sobby intakes of breathe followed by deep quiet sighs - the kind of cry adults do when resignedly, hopelessly sad. I felt her eyes to confirm that there were tears. I was so shocked that I reacted badly by starting to cry myself, but my husband came in and we comforted and settled her.
A month later I'm not stressed, just happily job-searching and spending a lot of time with her. But last night she did the same thing when she woke up hysterical in the night (bad dream?) and I calmed her down and then started singing "You Are My Sunshine" at her request.
Clearly, both events were preceded by stress and upsetness. But this kind of crying just seems too adult for such a young child. She's not quite verbal or reliable enough yet to tell me why she is so upset, and I do try to be careful about putting words in her mouth. I don't think she understands or at least knows how to answer the question "why?"
tl;dr - I am really worried about this. I remember being about 4 or 5 and learning how to cry without making a sound, and realizing how said this was (since making a sound when crying is asking for help; being silent hides the sorrow from others). Am I overreacting and is this just a fairly normal stress response? Is it simply a matter of catharsis? If there are things or something she is very sad about, how can I help her? Should I stick to less sentimental, happier songs and bedtime? Thank you in advance.