Students cry for a variety of reasons. For some, the crying is less a reaction to what is happening than an effort to get a reaction -- typically attention or sympathy -- from someone else. Such students have learned that crying is an effective way to gain attention or manipulate others into giving them what they want.
Whatever the cause, crying episodes in the classroom interfere with lessons, distract other students, and cost the crying student and her classmates valuable teaching time. They need to be addressed.
In responding to a student who is crying, keep in mind, however, that crying is not necessarily a behavior problem. Indeed, a student might be crying for very understandable reasons; the crying might be an appropriate response to a distressing situation.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Comfort the genuinely distressed child. If you conclude, the student is upset about something and is not crying just to get her way or gain your attention, respond in a soothing manner. Dignify her distress by letting her know it's okay to cry, but also tell her that you want to help her. Ask her why she is upset. If she has difficulty putting the reason into words, suggest some possible causes and have her shake her head yes or no.
Find out what triggers a student's crying episodes. Talk with other adults who are involved with the student to see if she cries at specific times of the day. Make note of where she is and what she's doing when she cries. Answers to those questions can help identify what might trigger or maintain a crying episode, and help you determine what you can do to solve the problem.
Talk with the student's parents. If a student cries often in class, ask her parents to come in for a conference. Find out if she is quick to cry at home and if a particular family situation is upsetting her. Tell the parents how you plan to handle the crying and get their reaction. Keep them posted about their child's progress.
Discipline the student in a matter-of-fact manner. If a student tends to get upset or cry when disciplined, don't back off on consequences you think are warranted, but do use a soft voice and a calm demeanor. Make it clear you are displeased with the behavior, not with the student. Explain briefly why the behavior is inappropriate and why it causes a problem for you and for her classmates.
Prepare the student for changes in routine. New situations, especially those involving meeting new people, can throw some students for a loop. If a student becomes upset and tends to cry when the class or school routine is altered, let her know ahead of time about upcoming changes. Discuss those changes with her so she feels more prepared and in control.
Ignore the crying. If you are confident that a student is not hurt or genuinely distressed, but is crying to get attention or to get her own way, try not to give her what she wants. Ignore her. The crying might intensify briefly, but try to stay the course. Give her immediate and positive attention when she stops crying.