ABC by Paley – DON’T CRY
As in the case of infants, we are able to rise to the heights of patience and accompany the child in experiencing his emotions. In the case of slightly older children, the tolerance to crying seems to decrease and you can hear parents repeat an often as unsuccessful: “Do not cry, nothing happened”. And when that doesn’t work, get irritated, “Calm down!”
Staying calm while your baby cries, and from an adult’s perspective there is no reason to do so, is a challenge worth taking on. The kind attitude of parents towards their child’s emotions will pay off and contribute to a greater openness and more efficient communication at a later stage in family life.
Everyone has the right to cry
Crying is a universal human response to stressful and difficult situations. It is not reserved for a specific gender or age. We can all cry. Big or small, boy or girl – everyone has the right to do so and needs the accepting presence of the other person, not judgement, criticism or threats. Crying is a signal that something important is happening in us under the influence of what we experience. For toddlers who cannot yet speak, crying has a communicative function. Having no other tools and strategies for communicating that they need something, infants let others know, by crying, that they are hungry, hot or that they need a caregiver to be close.
The cause of prolonged crying is sometimes an overabundance of stimuli in the child’s environment. A toddler in need of silence is bombarded with sounds, bright light and fragrances. When he needs a quiet environment to regulate his emotions, he collides with the misunderstanding of adults who in good faith rattle toys in front of his eyes, clap over his ear, sing songs, or speak in too high a voice.
MYTH: The baby cries for no reason
One of the repeated myths about crying is that babies cry for no reason. The cause of crying is always there, however it may be difficult for us to find it. And the smaller the baby, the more frequently and intensely it cries. The more limited the vocabulary and the greater the sense of misunderstanding, the more tears.
For both the babies who are given the opposite of what they need and the older babies crying can seem irrational from an adult perspective. In their world, losing a beloved toy or arguing with friends is something tragic and therefore they experience a sense of loss and deep sadness. Even if we adults don’t think it’s a big deal, we need to show them that these feelings are okay and that they can show them. In this way, children learn to deal with losses that will undoubtedly arise at a later time.
The importance of the problems
For a young man, his problems are big and significant. His life and experiences are his point of reference. From an adult perspective, they may seem insignificant, but for a young man they are the most important in the world. Trying to explain it by saying “someday you will see what a problem means” or “real problems will only start when you grow up” will not make the child look at difficulties from a different perspective. Rather, they will make him feel ignored and misunderstood and not want to share his affairs with us in the future.
Closing in on yourself
When we order our children to stop crying, two options emerge – either they will explode even more or they will shut down. The second situation may seem successful to us – after all, the baby stopped crying. However, his emotions did not disappear and his cortisol levels did not decrease. All this continues in the young person, and since there is no outlet, it will increase and affect the child’s well-being and behavior. By telling children not to cry, we are not teaching them how to control their emotional expression, but that emotions must be suppressed or ignored, and that they are not welcome.
At a later age, the child may cry because he is bored or frustrated with his efforts – toddlers, and then preschoolers learn, for example, that the world around them and people have their limits and it is impossible to get everything that you want or get it as fast as youwant. During this time, in addition to showing the child these boundaries and explaining how the world works, the children also needs relief and support in experiencing theiremotions.
MYTH: The baby forces things by crying
Sometimes you can find that the baby forces you to do something by crying, manipulates or tries to get attention. It usually happens that the child has tried to establish contact with the caregiver for some time through other, more subtle means of communication. He smiles, moves his hands vigorously, and at a later age directly asks his parent to play. However, when his requests go unanswered, the child, thirsting for a relationship and contact with another human being, begins to cry. He had simply exhausted all means available and known to him, and he had nothing left but to cry. So, when the caregiver feels that the baby is “being forced” to cry, it may be enough to spend more time with the baby. You can also honestly talk to preschoolers and explain to them that if it helps them, they can cry, and if they additionally tell them what happened, we will be able to help them more effectively and find a solution together. Such a direct signal of understanding and openness to the child’s needs can be a turning point in mutual communication.
However, in the case of manipulation, it is true that children can manipulate. Nevertheless, it happens with objects, not other people. The latter requires a well-developed prefrontal cortex. In young children it is very immature. Hence, frequent outbursts of anger, crying and the broadly understood lack of control over one’s impulses – simply the prefrontal cortex is not able to inhibit emotional reactions, let alone take part in such Machiavellian activities as manipulating another person.
By telling children “don’t cry, calm down”, we make them suppress their emotions. In this way, we communicate to them that their experiences are not important and that they should not feel what they are feeling. They stop trusting themselves. They feel inside that something is going on, they want to cry, but the adult, their authority and guide in life says that there is no reason to cry. And if there isn’t – then the thought sprouts in the head “maybe there is something wrong with me?”. Ultimately, however, the emotions and repressed sadness accumulated over a long period of time will be activated and poured out. Sometimes at the most unexpected moment, for a seemingly trivial reason.
A happy baby is not a baby that never cries. Even the happiest ones cry sometimes. What may be more disturbing is that crying never occurs, or very rarely. Perhaps for the caregivers it is quite a comfortable situation, but for such a child it can be a heavy burden that will make it difficult for him to express his opinion and needs in the future. If a child is labeled as kind and polite who never causes trouble, they won’t want to disappoint the expectations of their parents, grandparents, and other significant people. It can be difficult for him to reveal his true emotions as he is expected to be always cheerful and joyful.
So what can you do to support the children and yourself when crying?
When your child is upset, take a moment to stay with him. If you don’t know what to say, let him know you’re just there. Hug, pat his back, hold his hand. It doesn’t matter why the baby cries. It needs your attention and support. If you feel that the child’s reaction was exaggerated or inadequate to the situation, help your child calm down first, then talk about what happened and how to act next time. It is also worth remembering that in strong emotions, not everyone likes physical contact. It’s perfectly fine. If your child prefers to be alone in the room, allow him to do so. Give him space and time. At the same time, ensure that you are there for him, whenever he needs you.
Accompanying a child in emotions does not mean that it will calm down and start smiling in no time, just like touching a magic wand. In this way, you build a bond with him and show that he can trust you at any time and that you love him whether he is happy or sad. You let your child know that you are ready to be with him also in these more difficult times, for better or worse, and that he does not have to deserve your love and attention.
Instead of a dry “stop crying” you have the unique opportunity to be your child’s teacher in dealing with sadness, anger and anxiety. These emotionally challenging situations give you the chance to show how to calm down – breathing deeply, hugging someone, talking about a difficult event, looking for a solution, or some other way. Show your child that emotions don’t last forever. That they come and go like the waves in the sea – as they appear, they will pass away. And the more support you give your child in this process, the faster it will recover from emotional storms.
In summary, the elements that support your baby when he cries include:
– the caregiver’s peace of mind,
– emotional and / or physical closeness,
– acceptance of feelings,
Sources of knowledge and inspiration thanks to which this article was created:
Bushman B. et.al. (2005), Chewing on it Can Chew You Up: Effects of Rumination on Displaced Aggression, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Hawley P. H. (2015) The Duality of Human Nature: Coercion and Pro-sociality in Youths’ Hierarchy Ascension and Social Success, Current Directions in Psychological Science