A baby’s cry is one of the most stressful noises most of us will encounter. Couple a screaming child with a busy day, a bad job, or the usual emotional exhaustion of typical life, and you almost can’t help but have headaches, frustration, and unshakable tension.
So what’s a mom or dad to do? For years, the conventional wisdom is that you should routinely ignore a baby’s cry — so they don’t get in the habit of doing so. But is that really healthy for a child? Probably not.
It turns out that many experts now agree that it can be quite harmful to a child’s emotional development. Here’s why:
Crying is one of your baby’s only ways to communicate
Babies are born without verbal communication. Their only way to express themselves is with smiling or crying. When they’re happy, they smile. When they’re unhappy, they cry. Both emotions are completely legitimate and well within the norm of human feelings. So both responses need to be accepted for what they are – the need communicate.
Ignoring cries can impair verbal expression
When parents ignore their child’s cries, the child is taught that he or she is powerless to communicate unhappiness. And this impairment can transfer into the child’s verbal skills. If parents don’t respond to their unhappiness, they can have difficulty understanding their emotions, and therefore have problems putting it into words. After all, children learn far more complicated dynamics at these formative first years.
Your child may suppress emotions too much
If you ignore a child’s cries, it sends them a message that you don’t want to hear about their unhappiness. It says that as a parent – the most important person in their whole life – you don’t really care about what’s troubling them. This is shaky territory for parent to be, particularly as the relationship evolves from this foundation into their teenage years.
Children may undervalue their emotions
By ignoring crying, you signal that emotions are something to be ignored. And this can lead to a lifetime of suppressing the internal signals that all human beings need for guiding decisions and shaping expectations.
It teaches children to ignore people who are helpless
Much like hitting children teaches kids violence, ignoring crying sets an example of being compassionless. As children try to make sense of the complex world they’ve been thrust into, they often generalize the things they observe. And one such thing is the ignoring of people in need that occurs when kids see their parents turning away when a sibling shows clearly that something is wrong for them.
Crying is natural
Nature doesn’t care about being inconvenient. And there are almost always negative consequences for ignoring or suppressing our most powerful natural urges. Crying is just one such need for children. Granted, not every cry from a child is a matter of life or death. Sometimes it’s a plea for attention. But that’s a legitimate need too. Are you giving your child enough love? See what your child is lacking, before you dismiss its cries.
The Evolution of Childhood : Relationships, Emotion, Mind, by Melvin Konner. Copyright 2010 Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart, by Jan Heart. Copyright 2001, New Society Publishers