When (And Why) You Should Ignore Crying Students

When And Why You Should Ignore Crying StudentsLike most caring teachers, it’s only natural to be drawn to a crying child.

It’s only natural to kneel down, put a hand on their shoulder, and try to get to the bottom of why they’re upset.

It’s only natural to want to make it all better.

But doing so in the moments after enforcing a consequence is a mistake.

It’s a mistake that can cause future behavior to worsen and subsequent attempts to hold them accountable more difficult.

Here’s why:

It can be manipulative.

Some students have learned from experience that if they cry, they have a good chance of avoiding consequence. The teacher may be persuaded to give them a second chance on the grounds that their despondency is proof that they’ve learned their lesson.

So they hang their head. They bury their face in their arms. They know that if they can lure the sympathetic teacher in close and get them to ask what’s wrong, they may wheedle their way out of time-out or a letter home.

It can be a form of reflection.

For some students, crying is a reaction to disappointment. Perhaps it’s the first time they’ve ever been truly held accountable. Perhaps they feel like they’ve let you down. Perhaps they feel angry, sorry for themselves, or remorseful about their behavior.

In any case, reflecting on their misbehavior, as well as on those who may have been affected by it, is a good thing. And the worst thing we can do is interrupt this process, sugarcoat their actions, or let them off the hook.

It causes others to do the same.

If every time a student cries you immediately rush to their side, then you’re going to find yourself doing it a lot. As soon as your class sees you go into comforting mode, the next time they get into trouble they’re going to do the same—or worse.

It’s human nature for students to seek a lesser consequence. It’s human nature to want to be told that disrupting the class, interfering with learning, or laughing at a classmate isn’t serious, that it isn’t such a big deal.

But easing the burden of responsibility, even a scintilla, whether through your words or actions, weakens your consequences, increases the frequency and severity of future misbehavior, and prevents important life-lessons from being learned.

Free Your Plan

If you make it a point to ignore crying, dramatics, and the like in the aftermath of misbehavior, then your students will stop doing it.

It’s as simple as that.

It doesn’t matter whether they’re crying to avoid consequence or experiencing genuine remorse, leaving them be will empower them to take responsibility. It will enable them to see that they alone are the cause of their predicament.

It will cause a growth in maturity, a deeper appreciation of how their actions affect others, and a resolve to make better decisions in the future. In other words, by staying out of it your classroom management plan will be free to do its good work.

Still, later in the day, after the student has settled back into the form and flow of your classroom, it’s a good idea to check in.

It’s a good idea to let them know that there are no hard feelings, that you never hold a grudge, and that forgiveness is always and forever extended. Not in so many words, perhaps, but in who you are and the way you connect with your students.

Eye contact and a smile from across the room . . . a silent fist bump . . . an earnestly delivered, “I believe in you.”

These brief moments between a well-liked teacher and a student in the midst of a bad day have the power to motivate, inspire, and change behavior.

But they must be combined with accountability that is real and consistent and never, ever watered down.

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5 Responses to When (And Why) You Should Ignore Crying Students

  1. 0bianuju precious March 5, 2016 at 2:34 am #

    Children should be consouled when ever they cry to know their problem

  2. Vivian May 7, 2016 at 8:36 pm #


    NO, you aren’t helping students by ignoring them or criticizing them when they break down. When a teacher took the time to talk to me, I NEVER had anyone make me feel like I actually mattered like she did. I had NO ONE. My “friends” abandon me, my parents had wished I died at birth, and my older sister, the only person I’ve ever had in my life that genuinely cared about me, has forgotten me.

    • Michael Linsin May 9, 2016 at 6:59 am #

      Hi Vivian,

      I’m so sorry to hear how you’re struggling. Please go and speak to your school counselor or an adult on campus that you trust. You’re not alone.


  3. Vivian May 7, 2016 at 8:45 pm #

    I was stressed and burst out crying yesterday because of a teacher and she had on that face that said “are you kidding?” and acted as if I was crazy. I hardly slept for the past two weeks because of a project, and on that day, I only had two hours of sleep because I was studying. It was the worst I’ve ever had. I was still crying when I walked home and my anxiety was so f*cking high I had a difficult time breathing. I ended up taking some scissors and slashing my thighs because I needed something to cope with. I rarely ever cut. And I was that person who used to think cutting was stupid. And every single time I think of what she said to me, it still hurts and I still cry. It will NEVER go away, and she can NEVER take it back.
    When teachers call students crying, “manipulative”, I feel like they are trying to reason themselves to not take the blame, and instead put that blame on their own students. LITERALLY, students don’t f*cking plan this out, thinking, “I’m going to make my teacher feel bad by crying!!” Who ACTUALLY thinks that?? We don’t force ourselves to cry.
    We cry because what you said HURT US.

  4. Vivian May 7, 2016 at 8:46 pm #

    Teachers who don’t feel bad for making a student cry are all about pride. You don’t even know what we have to f*cking go through, it’s incredibly disgusting how condescending teachers treat their students. I’ve had depression and anxiety for over 6 years, and when teachers call out students for skipping out on homework by assuming that they are “lazy”, need to reevaluate themselves for a f*cking moment. YOU don’t know what some students are going through. YOU don’t know whether or not a student is getting abused at home by parents. YOU don’t know whether or not a student is living in an unstable life. YOU don’t know how little self esteem teenagers perceive of themselves. YOU don’t know anything about us, except to label us as “lazy” or too “sensitive”. There’s a thing called DEPRESSION.