The Crying Game

I love working with and playing with my children. But, the crying game is a game I don’t play. Many children treat the crying behavior as if it is part of a game. They are able to go in and out of the crying game all day long whenever they see it can benefit them. Children often cry simply to get attention. I know it is hard for many parents to discern whether their child is seeking attention or not. Here is a true story which is meant to help clear up some of that confusion.

Recently, I spent one day canning apple pie filling with my eight year old son, Porter. He was such a big help to me. He washed and peeled all the apples as I prepared jars, and made sauce to pour over the apples. As we worked we talked and sang songs. It was a beautiful, memory making day.

As Porter worked he became more and more confident in his canning skills. In fact, he had helped me do the family canning many times over his short eight years. As I was filling the jars Porter knew it was time to boil the lids for the jars. Without asking, he boiled the lids and started removing them from the pan and putting them on the counter top. Putting the lids on the dirty counter top was not a good way to prepare the lids for canning so I said, “Porter, don’t put the lids there. They will get all dirty. Put them back in the pan to boil for a few more minutes until I am ready to have them go directly on the jars.”

In hind site, I see that I probably should have praised Porter for trying to help with the lids without being asked, before I corrected him. It is always better to start a correction out on a positive note. However, in the minute I really was only thinking about quickly changing his course of lid preparation to make the project go smoother.

Porter put the lids back in the pan and then disappeared. I knew I probably didn’t handle the situation the best way I could have, but didn’t stop to fix it just yet as I was trying to get the pie filling finished. (Note: when inspired to fix a problem, do it right then. Later is not as good as now.)

A few minutes later my daughter came into the kitchen and said, “Mom, your youngest son is in his room crying.”

So I said, “It sounds like his is not accepting a no answer. I will go talk to him about it in a minute.”

In our house, if a child chooses not to accept a no answer by (1) looking at the person, (2) keeping a calm voice, face, and body (3) saying okay, or disagreeing appropriately (4) and then , dropping the subject, then the child earns an extra chore. So, when Porter heard me talking from the other room he knew he had chosen to earn an extra chore.

Within 20 seconds Porter walked calmly and happily into the kitchen and said, “Mom I wasn’t really crying. I was just faking it. Sometimes I just fake crying when I don’t get my way…I know how to stop crying.”

I couldn’t help but smile inside. I remember doing the same thing to get people to feel bad for me when I was young. I also realized that pretending to be sad helped me get out of so many chores and responsibilities. It was a manipulative skill I learned when I was young too, but had long since decided that lying was a dangerous way to try to create strong relationships. In fact, it just doesn’t work.

“Porter,” I said, “I’m so glad to know you are happy and that you really don’t have problems with accepting no answers. However, since you pretended not to accept no answers you still have to do an extra chore as a negative consequence… Okay?”

“Okay.” said Porter.

“When you fake crying to make other people feel bad for you, that is called seeking attention. Seeking attention means doing something to try to get someone to worry about you or treat you special. Seeking attention is kind of like a game to many people, but really it is only a lie. When you were pretending to be sad, you were lying to your sisters. If you are ever sad for real, they won’t know if you are lying or telling the truth…Crying is not a game. Okay?” I said as I hugged Porter tightly.

“Okay.” said Porter with a smile on his face. “What do you want me to do for my extra chore?”

“Porter, you are so good at accepting a consequence! You are calm and you said okay and even remembered to ask me what your consequence was. Accepting a consequence is a really honest thing to do. It shows that you admit you have made a bad choice and that you are wanting to fix it and not do it again. That is a very brave and grown up thing to do. High five!”

Seeking Attention

In this story Porter was seeking positive attention. He wanted people to treat him kindly and pamper him since he felt bad. Seeking positive attention is something all people do to some degree. We all want people to praise us and appreciate us. We want to be comforted and loved.

But, just like all good things, there are boundaries. When a person seeks positive attention by being dishonest, or manipulates other people’s feelings in order to get appreciated, praised, comforted etc. then the person has just crossed a boundary which will damage a relationship and create resentment and distrust instead of making a trusting, supportive relationship.

Part of growing up is also learning that you won’t always get praised and appreciated. So, learn to praise yourself and feel satisfaction without hearing it from others.

What Is Seeking Negative Attention?

Seeking negative attention is when a child does something bad on purpose to try to get into trouble. They want someone to get mad at them or to punish them. By becoming negative the child feels he is able to control the feelings of his parents. The parent then gets drawn into a power struggle with the child, or at the very least spends lots of time trying to calm and reason with the child. Children who seek negative attention have often times figured out that when they misbehave they have control. Or, that when they misbehave they can ‘get back at’ their parents. If the parent responds as the child desires the parent to, then the parent and the child are on a level playing field; the parent is also behaving child-like.

The important thing to remember about all inappropriate attention seeking is that the behavior is a lie. Each is an attempt to manipulate another person’s feelings and actions which is the means for failed relationships and disconnection from family. Also, seeking negative attention can be very addicting! Break the habit as quickly as possible by calmly, consistently treating this behavior just like you would any other negative behavior in your home.

Crying should never be a game. Good honest communication is always best. If Porter knows that, and I know that, then we can better love and support each other through the challenges of each day. Praising children for their efforts to help you and the family is the best way I know of to keep children content with honest family relationship building.

So, praise each other more. The experience above was a great reminder to me of that lesson.

Buy Nicholeen’s NEW children’s book to teach children to accept no answers HERE

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3 thoughts on “The Crying Game

  1. At what point did you apologize to Porter? You acknowledge that you made a mistake in how you handled the situation.

    It sounds to me like Porter DID get his feelings hurt and responded in the way that he knew how. In particular, this part of his response is intriguing: “Sometimes I just fake crying when I don’t get my way…I know how to stop crying.” How did he not get his way? He just made a mistake and was corrected.

    Your post is about how he was faking the crying to get attention, and how you dealt with that, but you don’t acknowledge that there was likely real emotion behind it, and you didn’t teach him how to express and deal with the emotion. It sounds to me like he knows the “game” you’ve set up and has figured out how to play the game to keep you happy, but does he truly know how to deal with his emotions and express them in a healthy way, or is he just suppressing them?

  2. The best book I know of related to praising children is “The Power of Positive Parenting” by Glenn I. Latham. I highly recommend it.

  3. I’ve read it. In fact, I referred people to that book for many years until I got my book done, which is much easier to apply. Good recommendation though. :)

    About your other comment. As a teacher we sometimes have to make decisions about where to end a story and start the analysis. I thought it was pretty obvious by my admission of making a mistake that I apologized for not handling the situation as well as I could have. However, even if I hadn’t apologized he should still be able to accept a no answer. “Emotionally vomiting,” as I have heard it called, every time a person doesn’t get their way is not healthy and is entirely different than crying because they can’t find their puppy or having a cut finger.

    (I am adding a disclaimer here for the reader who might think this next part is bragging. That is not my intent. I am merely going to try to convey the opposite of what has been implied. And, my personal experiences are the most powerful examples I have to share.)
    Possibly my children understand agency different than many children. My children know that THEY control their own emotions. Emotions don’t get to control them. They are not suppressed at all. In fact, when compared to many children their ages, they are generally more confident, more articulate, more mature, and certainly more happy. I always say, “proof is in the pudding,” and the proof is that my children, who know skills like how to accept no answers, follow instructions and disagree appropriately, are thriving and leading out among their peers in many ways. Not to mention, they look adults in the eye and converse with them as if they were peers. My children are not suppressed at all. In fact, my sixteen year old son says, “…we are not suppressed, we are enlightened and empowered because we know how to govern….The man who cannot cannot accept a no answer and take correction is destined for emotional and intellectual slavery.” (This is from my 16 year old university student)

    I think he turned out okay. :)

    Thanks for your thoughts. It seems to me that maybe to completely understand the benefit of accepting no answers it could be helpful to read my parenting book. And, if you want to look further, you can look at the Utah Youth Village, which is the organization who taught me these skills in order to prepare me to help troubled teens gain some control of their lives, their emotions, their addictions, and their relationships. I saw foster children transform day after day in my home, for years, as they learned how to accept no answers and other basic life skills. They became happy, secure, and connected to adults and family. I realized then that these skills needed to be learned by all people and be applied to regular families too in order to help free families from emotional bondage. (The LDS church is on the board of directors of the Utah Youth Village)

    Some people see emotions as freedom. I recognize them as bondage. They stop people from being able to trust, connect, serve and even love.

    That is my proof. For more examples and insight, consult the book, Parenting A House United.

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