This post kicks off a new biweekly-ish feature at Amateur Parenting: Throwdown Thursday, wherein we discuss controversial parenting topics. This feature will alternate more or less with Throwback Thursday, wherein we talk about life before kids or life at earlier stages of parenthood. Have a request for a topic? Contact us with your idea!
My twins are 10 months old, and I still get a lump in my throat whenever they start the waterworks. Sometimes I cry with them. In fact, for the first, oh, say 4 months or so, every time they cried for more than a few minutes, I’d end up bawling so hard I couldn’t see while I was trying to soothe them. Which of course really helped the situation. Good times.
I’ve definitely gotten better as they’ve gotten older, but there are still few things as painful as listening to my kiddos in distress. Here’s the thing, though: As much as I hate to see my kiddos upset, what I’ve realized over the last several months is that crying isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes babies and children just need to cry, and at those times as parents it is our responsibility to let them cry.
Before you freak out on me and start calling me heartless, let’s talk about this crying thing. Think about the last time you cried. Were you sad? Frustrated? Frightened? Injured? Angry? Try to remember how you felt in that moment, when the tears were pouring. Now, think about how you would have felt if someone told you to stop crying, if someone shushed you and suggested that your reaction to your own feelings wasn’t okay because someone else didn’t like it. I don’t know about you, but when I’m really upset about something and another person tries to get me to just stop feeling upset already, it makes me feel worse. And it makes me feel like my emotions don’t matter. And it makes me feel more like crying, because that other person doesn’t care about what’s making me so upset. (Like the last time you felt legitimately annoyed with something and tried to talk to your husband about it and he said, “Jeez, calm down” and your blood pressure leapt like a thousand points? That feeling.)
Of course no parent likes it when their child is upset. But why are we so quick to want to quell crying?
- We hate to hear our kids cry.
- We hate for other people to hear them cry, especially when we’re in public.
- We don’t want them to “get out of control.”
- We feel embarrassed or inadequate because they’re crying.
- We feel judged by other parents when our kids cry.
- We feel like there’s something wrong with crying.
Kids cry for a lot of reasons, and not all of them require us to do something about it. Sometimes the thing to do is let them work it out themselves.
Note: If they’re under 6 months old (and I mean 6 months from their due date, not six months since they arrived on the outside), you DO need to do something about it, and promptly. Young babies should not be left to cry. If your less-than-6-months-old baby is crying right now, stop reading this article and go pick him up. Immediately. Despite what your mom and a million other people will tell you, you cannot spoil a newborn by holding him too much or responding too quickly to his cries. Babies cry because they’re hungry, they need a clean diaper, they’re hot or cold and can’t do anything about it, it’s too bright, they need to be touched… And it’s up to you to help them transition to life outside the womb.
As a culture, we need to change the way we thinking about crying in children. Just because a child is crying does not mean he is suffering. Kids cry for the same reasons we do: frustration, anger, fear, hurt feelings, physical pain, being overtired, being overwhelmed or overstimulated — you get the idea. But too often, parents respond indiscriminately to all cries. They respond based on their own needs and not the needs of the child.
- I need him to stop crying.
- I need to feel like I’m doing something.
- I need people to stop staring at me.
- I need to feel like a good parent.
So they shush and soothe and fix and bribe to get the crying to stop, and ignore the underlying reason the child is crying. But here’s the problem with that approach:
- Shushing your kid teaches him that what he needs to express doesn’t matter.
- Telling your kid, “You’re okay!” over and over again when he doesn’t feel okay teaches him that he can’t trust his reactions to situations and circumstances around him.
- Racing in to save the day every time your kid makes a peep prevents opportunities for him to work things out on his own.
- Throwing things at your crying kid — toys, treats, promises of special gifts — to get him to stop crying teaches him to use crying as a tool to get what he wants.
- Habitually avoiding things you need to do — grocery shopping, bath time, sharing toys, eliminating the pacifier, etc. — as a method of avoiding crying eliminates opportunities for kids to learn how to handle situations they may not like. (It’s also wimpy parenting.)
The next time your child cries, ignore the crying. Focus on why he is crying. If he’s hungry, feed him. If he’s frustrated, help him work through it. Whatever the reason, focus on what your child needs, not your desire to make the crying stop. You may be surprised at how much better you both feel.
How do you handle crying? What do you think is the best approach? Leave a comment.