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A Mom's Guide to Baby Tears

Young toddlers: 12 to 24 months

Now your baby's on the go, gaining and refining her motor and communication skills at an astonishing pace. Toddlers are excited by exploration but afraid of getting too far from you. That's a lot to handle -- no wonder they resort to tears.

Your child probably also is starting to talk but doesn't know how to express frustration when, say, a playdate pal "borrows" a toy. She may start to exhibit concrete fears, too -- the dark! dogs! fireworks! -- that test her coping skills. And while toddlers are getting better at controlling their tears, sometimes parents expect more than they should. "Going to bed may not be a big deal for you and me, but for a child there's a lot going on in her brain. She just can't shut it off," says Dr. Jana. And since she doesn't know what to do, she cries.

The good news? Crying is actually pretty productive (and expected) for toddlers: They learn they can get through the tears, then move on.

What to do:

Prepare for a more sophisticated adversary. As with babies, if your child is hungry, tired, or sick, you can often cure crying (and sometimes prevent it) with a snack, a nap, or TLC. But because toddlers know they can manipulate adults with their outbursts, they go for it with gusto. As Dr. Jana says, they're "like sharks in the water. They smell blood." So stay calm -- and never let them see you bleed.

Focus on your child, not her audience. Few things are more embarrassing than being in public with a screaming toddler. As hard as it is, don't worry about the people who are throwing you dirty looks or unhelpful comments. Otherwise you risk doing something -- anything -- to stop the flood, which isn't the best strategy for the long run. Find a quiet place and deal with your toddler's tears one-on-one.

Introduce "Use your words." You'll have to say this a bazillion times over the next few years, but it's important for children to attach words to their emotions. Assign words to what you're feeling, too: "I'm feeling grouchy today because my tummy hurts." Misha Sauer of Los Angeles taught her daughter to say "I need help." "Now when she's frustrated, she can say that and know she'll be understood," Sauer says. And being understood is really the biggest thing that babies and kids -- and, hey, adults -- want when they cry.

Diana Burrell is the coauthor of The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock.

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