Understanding the Psychology Behind Fake Crying and Tantrums in Children

By Samrat Saxena|4 - 5 mins read| June 19, 2024

Parenting comes with a myriad of challenges, one of which is dealing with a child’s fake crying and tantrums. These behaviors can be perplexing and frustrating for parents, especially when it seems like nothing will console their child except giving in to their demands. To address this effectively, it’s crucial to understand the psychology behind fake crying and tantrums. This article delves into the reasons behind these behaviors and offers insights into how parents can manage them effectively.

What is Fake Crying?

Fake crying, often referred to as manipulative crying, is a behavior where children cry not out of genuine distress but to achieve a specific outcome. This can include getting attention, avoiding undesirable tasks, or obtaining something they desire. Unlike genuine crying, which is a natural response to pain, fear, or sadness, fake crying is a learned behavior aimed at manipulating the environment and the people within it.

Understanding Tantrums

Tantrums are sudden outbursts of anger and frustration characterized by crying, screaming, kicking, and other aggressive behaviors. They are common in toddlers and young children as a way of expressing overwhelming emotions. While tantrums can be a normal part of development, they often occur when a child is denied something they want or when they are unable to articulate their needs and feelings.

The Psychology Behind Fake Crying and Tantrums

  1. Attention-Seeking Behavior: One of the primary reasons children resort to fake crying and tantrums is to seek attention. Children need a significant amount of attention from their caregivers for their emotional development. When they feel neglected or overlooked, they may use fake crying and tantrums as a strategy to draw attention back to themselves. This behavior is often reinforced when parents respond to it, even if the response is negative attention.
  2. Testing Boundaries: Children are naturally curious and will test boundaries to understand what behaviors are acceptable. Fake crying and tantrums can be a way for children to test how far they can push their parents or caregivers. When parents give in to these behaviors, it reinforces the child’s belief that such tactics are effective, thereby encouraging them to continue using them.
  3. Expressing Unmet Needs: At times, fake crying and tantrums are a child’s way of expressing unmet needs. This could be a need for more playtime, a snack, or even emotional support. Young children, in particular, may lack the verbal skills to articulate their needs and resort to crying and tantrums as a form of communication.
  4. Developmental Milestones: As children grow, they go through various developmental stages that can influence their behavior. During the toddler years, for instance, children are learning to assert their independence and may experience frustration when they cannot accomplish tasks on their own. This frustration can manifest as tantrums or fake crying episodes.
  5. Imitation and Learned Behavior: Children learn by observing the behaviors of those around them. If they see other children or even adults using crying and tantrums to get their way, they may imitate these behaviors. Additionally, if parents or caregivers respond to fake crying and tantrums by giving in, it teaches the child that such behaviors are an effective means of getting what they want.

Managing Fake Crying and Tantrums

  1. Setting Clear Boundaries: It is essential for parents to set clear and consistent boundaries regarding acceptable behavior. When a child understands the limits and the consequences of crossing them, they are less likely to resort to fake crying and tantrums. Consistency is key; parents need to follow through with consequences every time a boundary is tested.
  2. Positive Reinforcement: Encouraging positive behavior through reinforcement can be more effective than punishing negative behavior. When a child behaves appropriately, parents should acknowledge and reward this behavior. Positive reinforcement can include verbal praise, a small reward, or extra playtime.
  3. Teaching Emotional Regulation: Helping children develop emotional regulation skills is crucial in reducing fake crying and tantrums. Parents can teach their children to identify and express their emotions in a healthy way. Techniques such as deep breathing, counting to ten, or using words to describe feelings can be beneficial.
  4. Providing Attention and Engagement: Ensuring that children receive adequate attention and engagement can prevent them from resorting to attention-seeking behaviors. Parents should make time for regular, focused interaction with their children, such as playing games, reading together, or simply talking about their day.
  5. Modeling Appropriate Behaviour Children: learn by example, so parents need to model appropriate ways of handling frustration and disappointment. Demonstrating calmness and problem-solving skills in challenging situations teaches children how to manage their own emotions and behaviors.
  6. Ignoring Minor Outbursts: In some cases, ignoring minor outbursts can be an effective strategy. When parents do not respond to fake crying or minor tantrums, children learn that these behaviors are not effective in gaining attention or achieving their goals. However, it is important to differentiate between minor outbursts and genuine distress, ensuring that the child feels supported when truly needed.


Understanding the psychology behind fake crying and tantrums is essential for parents and caregivers. These behaviors are often a child’s way of seeking attention, testing boundaries, expressing unmet needs, or navigating developmental milestones.

By setting clear boundaries, using positive reinforcement, teaching emotional regulation, providing adequate attention, modeling appropriate and sometimes ignoring minor outbursts, parents can effectively manage and reduce these challenging behaviors. With patience and consistency, children can learn healthier ways to express their emotions and communicate their needs.

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About The Author:

Samrat Saxena

Last Updated: Wed Jun 19 2024

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