A crying baby or toddler – It’s enough to evoke feelings of stress, guilt, frustration or sadness in any person within range of tiny tears rolling down those puffy little cheeks.
A crying baby or toddler is hands down one of the most stressful parts of being a parent. Stop to have a think about how you feel when your baby or toddler starts to cry: what feelings does it evoke in you?
Whatever emotion comes up for you when your baby or toddler cries is probably going to be what dictates how you respond. We’re usually pretty quick to react to crying because it tends to make US feel yucky, and when we feel uncomfortable, we instinctively want to do whatever it takes to make ourselves feel better. That usually means stopping the crying, whatever it takes!
We need to start challenging ourselves on this though, and here’s why: Your baby or toddler’s crying is their form of communication before they have words.
What this means is, we need to learn to listen before we react.
To get you started on this new way of responding to crying, I want you to practice this every time your baby or toddler cries:
Step One: Stop and listen
This means you don’t have to instantly react. Getting in the habit of considering HOW you’ll respond before you react is going to start to get you listening and thinking.
Step Two: Ask yourself what this cry means
Did your baby just wake up after a long nap and they’re likely hungry? Did you just tell your toddler they couldn’t climb on the chair and now they’re crying?
Step Three: Respond based on the cry
If your baby is hungry, offer them a feed. If your toddler is tantruming because he hasn’t been allowed to climb on the chair, validate the way he feels and offer him a new (safer!) activity.
And here’s a major truth bomb for you: Crying isn’t bad for your baby or toddler!
So many parents worry that if their baby cries, it’s going to damage their emotional and mental health. To clarify this, if you leave your baby or toddler to cry without responding, this can absolutely make your baby or toddler feel unheard. But if you’re responding to your baby or toddler’s cry, it is NOT harmful to let them cry.
But let me make this clear: responding to your baby or toddler’s cry doesn’t mean doing whatever it takes to STOP the crying. Sometimes it’s necessary to let your baby or toddler cry in the arms of a loving parent to help them let out all their big emotions.
It’s normal for babies and toddlers to experience the whole range of emotions: happiness, shame, sadness, anger, frustration, embarrassment. There is no such thing as “good” or “bad” emotions, all are feelings we need to experience and learn to sit with to develop into emotionally intelligent children, and later, adults.
Teaching a child to understand the big emotions they’re feeling, put a name to it (e.g. “you feel sad!”, “you feel frustrated!” “you seem really angry!”) and let them feel all their feels is hands down THE BEST way to teach your babe to be emotionally intelligent and resilient as they grow up – winning!
And remember Mama, when our babes have big emotions, it’s natural for these emotions to make US feel big things too. Sometimes it’s necessary for you to take a break from your baby or toddler to deal with your own emotions before you try and help organise your baby or toddler’s feelings. Staying with big emotions when it’s making you feel angry, frustrated, sad or guilty gets in the way of you being able to calm your little one. Take the breather you need to calm yourself before you help your babe.
It’s not always easy, and you won’t always get it right, and that’s okay! Start to think about changing the way your approach crying, and in no time, it will become second nature for you.
Let us know in the comments if this approach has helped you and your little one.
Expert author: Jen Butler
Jen Butler is a Midwife, Maternal and Child Health Nurse, Certified Lactation and Sleep consultant, and Circle of Security Facilitator, dedicated to supporting new parents to get to know, understand and support their baby and toddler so they can love being parents.