Any parent of a child that is not yet speaking – whether that child is special needs or not – has encountered the “mystery crying.” This phenomenon happens when a child starts to cry and yet you have no idea why. And not just a “tired” cry or a “mad” cry – it’s the “something-is-actually-wrong-or-hurt” type of cry.

Melanie did it twice this morning.

Melanie... poor, sad Melanie

No, this isn’t her crying from this morning but from Easter two years ago. (She was mad we put her in a dress.) I just added it for dramatic visual emphasis.

Kelli was upstairs nursing a pulled back muscle, Michaela is with her grandparents this weekend and that gave me a wonderful opportunity for some “Melanie” time. So I decided that this morning I would balance some play-time with work I needed to get done. She and I would play in the living room for a bit and then I would work on the computer at the kitchen table. While I worked on my laptop Melanie played well on her own: watching a movie, absorbing an iPad, etc.

In the middle of some computer time, she starts to cry. You know the kind: it starts silent but the face is clearly sad and tears rolling down her face. Then the whine; the type of whine that breaks your heart because you know something is wrong. She kept saying “Owwee” (her normal word for pain) but she wasn’t indicating what was hurting. She crawled up in the my lap and snuggled into me – something she will not normally do. I gave her a thorough inspection to make certain she was not obviously injured but found nothing. I held her and calmed her down a bit and then it was business as usual. I figured she bit her tongue or stubbed her toe on something.

About an hour later the same thing happens. I again try to calm her and attempt to locate any possible injuries but find nothing.

Melanie is a smart girl. She understands language for the most part but cannot speak. She knows a few words but cannot clearly communicate problems to us. She was using some phrases but nothing specific that would tell me the issue. The communication gap is maddening. We want her to tell us what’s wrong, what’s on her mind, what’s frustrating her, what’s making her giggle, what she wants to eat… she just can’t. And our ability to interpret her needs is improving, but is still a frustrating process.

How do/did you communicate with your non-verbal pre-schooler? What tricks did you use to help fill in the blanks with situations like this?