Ten Reasons to Respond to a Crying
|by Jan Hunt
|1. A baby's first attempts to communicate
cannot be in words, but can only be nonverbal. She cannot put happy
feelings into words, but she can smile. She cannot put sad or angry
feelings into words, but she can cry. If her smiles receive a
response, but crying is ignored, she can receive the harmful message
that she is loved and cared for only when she is happy.
Children who continue to get this message through the years cannot
feel truly loved and fully accepted.
2. If a child's attempts to communicate sadness or anger are
routinely ignored, he cannot learn how to express those feelings in
words. Crying must receive an appropriate and positive response so
that the child sees that all of his feelings are accepted. If
his feelings are not accepted, and crying is ignored or punished, he
receives the message that sadness and anger are unacceptable, no
matter how they are expressed. It is impossible for a child to
understand that expression of sadness or anger might be accepted in
appropriate words once he is older and able to use those words. A
child can only communicate in ways available to him at a given time; a
child can only accomplish what he has had a chance to learn. Every
child is doing his best, according to his age, experience, and present
circumstances. It is surely unfair to punish a child for not doing
more than he can do!
3. A child who has been given the message that her parents
will only respond to her when she is "good" will begin to
hide "bad" behavior and "bad" feelings from
others, and even from herself. She may become an adult who submerges
"bad" emotions and is unable to communicate the full range
of human feelings. Indeed, there are many adults who find it difficult
to express anger, sadness, or other "bad" feelings in an
|4. Anger that cannot be expressed in early
childhood does not simply disappear. It becomes repressed and builds
up over the years, until the child is unable to contain it any longer,
and is old enough to have lost his fear of physical punishment. When
this container of anger is finally thrown open, the parents can be
shocked and perplexed. They have forgotten the hundreds or thousands
of moments of frustration which have been filling this container over
the years. The psychological principle that "frustration leads to
aggression" is never more clearly seen than in the final
rebellion of a teenager. Parents should be helped to understand how
frustrating it can be for a child to feel "invisible" when
crying is ignored, or to feel helpless and discouraged when his
attempts to express his needs and feelings are ignored or punished.
5. We are all born knowing that each and every feeling we
have is legitimate. We gradually lose that belief if only our
"good" side brings a positive response. This is a tragedy,
because it is only when we fully accept ourselves and others, regardless
of mistakes, that we can have truly loving relationships. If we
are not fully loved and accepted in childhood, we may never learn how
that feels or how to communicate that acceptance to others, no matter
how much therapy or reading or thinking we may do. How much easier our
lives would be if we had simply received unconditional love from
|6. Parents wondering whether to
respond to crying might give some thought to their own responses in
similar situations. Parents may consider it appropriate to ignore a
child's cries, yet feel intensely angry if their partner ignores
attempts to have a conversation. Many in our society seem to believe
that a person must be a certain age before he has the right to be
heard. Yet what age would that be? Infants and children are not any
less a person just because they are small and helpless. If anything,
the more helpless someone is, the more they deserve to have our
compassion. attention, and assistance.
7. If children are taught by example that helpless persons
deserve to be ignored, they can lose the compassion for others that
all humans are born with. If, as helpless infants, their cries are
ignored, they begin to believe that this is the appropriate response
to those who are weaker than themselves, and that "might makes
right". Without compassion, the stage is set for later
difficulties or even violence. Those who wonder why a violent criminal
had no compassion for his victims need to consider where and when he
lost that compassion. Compassion is there at birth, and does not
disappear overnight. It is stolen, through unresponsive or punitive
treatment, drop by drop, until it is gone. Loss of compassion is the
greatest tragedy that can befall a child.
|8. When a child learns by her parents'
example that it is appropriate to ignore a child's cries, she will
naturally treat her own child the same way, unless there is some
intervention from others. Inadequate parenting continues through the
generations until new experiences come about to change this pattern.
How much easier it is for a parent to have learned in childhood how to
treat his or her own child! Perhaps the cycle of inadequate parenting
can begin to change when bystanders no longer walk past an anguished
child without stopping to help. This may be the first time the child
has been given the message that her feelings are legitimate and
important, and this critical message may be remembered later when she
herself has a child.
|9. Crying is a signal provided by
nature that is meant to disturb the parents so that the child's needs
will be met. Ignoring a child's cries is like ignoring the warning
signal of a smoke detector because we find it disturbing. This signal
is meant to disturb us so that we can attend to an important matter.
Only a deaf person would ignore a smoke detector, yet many parents
turn a deaf ear to a child's cries. Crying, like the loud detector
sound, is meant to capture our attention so that we can attend to the
important needs of the child. It just makes no sense to think that
nature would have provided all children with a routinely used signal
that serves no good purpose.
10. Parents who respond only to "good" behavior
may believe they are training the child to behave "better".
Yet they themselves feel most like cooperating with those who treat
them with kindness. It is as though children are seen as a different
species, operating on different principles of behavior. This makes no
sense, because it would be impossible to identify a moment when the
child suddenly changes to "adult" operating principles. The
truth is much simpler: children are human beings who behave on the
same principles as all other human beings. Like the rest of us, they
respond best to kindness, patience and understanding. Parents
wondering why a child is "misbehaving" might stop and ask
themselves this question: "Do I feel like cooperating when
someone treats me well, or when someone treats me the way I have just
treated my child?"
Jan Hunt, M.Sc., offers phone counseling
worldwide, with a focus on parenting, unschooling, and personal matters.
She is the Director of The Natural
Child Project and author of The Natural Child:
Parenting from the Heart and A
Gift for Baby.
articles by Jan Hunt