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"When their baby cries, mothers feel exasperated, afraid, anxious, unloving, resentful and confused."  According to Dr. Aletha Solter in her book, “Tears and Tantrums”: “Children’s tears and tantrums elicit strong feelings in adults.  A survey in the US asked new mothers to describe their feelings when they were unable to quiet their crying infants.  The mothers mentioned feeling exasperated, afraid, anxious, unloving, resentful and confused.  Many had low self-confidence.  Some even felt extreme hostility toward their infants.  Similar results were found in a survey of mothers in England and Australia.  In this study, 80 % of mothers whose babies cried extensively mentioned feeling depressed, and 50% of them felt a strong urge to hit their babies.

“Not surprisingly, crying has been linked to child abuse.  In a survey of  battered infants (in the USA), 80% of the parents reported that excessive crying by their infant had triggered the abuse .”

How were you responded to when you cried as a baby and young child? The truth is that most parents weren't lovingly listened to and supported when upset as children. Parents have tended to see the crying as the problem itself rather than the child's way of communicating their valid needs. The majority of parents were themselves pressured to “toughen up” as children. Perhaps they felt their parent's anxiety, anger or embarrassment when they, as a child, showed their big feelings.  If unresolved, these parents can find their child’s strong expression of emotion will trigger uncomfortable unresolved feelings.

If I sympathize with my child, am I encouraging them to be too emotional? Many parents feel torn between being there for their child when they are clearly very upset, but have another conflicting voice that urges them to just make their child "stop making a fuss!" There is often the urge to respond in a similar way to how their own parent responded to them. The same words their own parents used can intrude on their thinking, words such as "don't be such a cry baby" or "I'll give you something to cry about".

Becoming aware of our own childhood patterns that become triggered is the key! It’s so empowering when parents become aware of this process of triggering, when they start to recognize their feelings as originating from their childhood. When a parent honestly explores their reactions to their baby, young child or even teenager's emotional outbursts, they become aware of the emotions that they bring to the situation when their child begins to get upset. With this awareness, they begin to be able to choose to respond (as opposed to react) differently from their own parents.

Were you rejected or shamed for crying? Parents often reject or shame their child for crying then regret it. Many parents share that they often feel embarrassment when their child cries. It's helpful for parents when they become aware that these feelings are often evoked because they still carry inside unresolved feelings relating to being rejected or shamed for crying when they were young. This awareness can help a parent move past their embarrassment and gain a broader and much more positive understanding of the healing power of their child’s expression of the big feelings they carry in their young bodies.

The healing power of crying and emotional expression. The understanding of the therapeutic and healing value of adult's attending therapy, counseling and other feeling focused therapies is now widely understood and accepted in our society in general. I believe that the next evolutionary step is to apply the understanding of the value of emotional validation and expression to our children.  Teachers and caregivers can also benefit from this understanding. Our children are in desperate need of this understanding becoming integrated into our society in general.

Good quality listening brings healing and resolution. Like the adult in counselling, when a child is given loving attention and listening when they are upset, they can much more easily move through their frustrations, grief, disappointments, anger, rage and literally move on. It's only when the emotional charge relating to difficult experiences is released, can children, or any of us, really gleam the gems of insight and learning from the situation and move forward stronger and wiser.

We literally release stress hormones through our tears. In Aletha Solter's book "Tears and Tantrums", she says; "Researchers have measured physiological changes in adults following therapy sessions in which they cried hard. The results showed lower blood pressure and body temperature, slower heart rate, and more synchronized brain-wave patterns. This state of physiological relaxation was greater following crying than following physical exercise for an equivalent period of time! Biochemical studies have discovered greater concentrations of stress hormones in emotionally induced tears than in irritant-induced tears, leading to the theory that one purpose of crying is to rid the body of excessive amounts of these hormones."

Peaceful communication skills reduces aggression towards children. There is still a shocking prevalence of child abuse in our society. This more empathic and supportive approach to children's emotional expression greatly improves the parent-child bond and reduces child abuse. Parents need effective information, reassurance, and constructive ways of handling their own and their children’s emotions without resorting to violent communication or actions.  The big difference is the acceptance of the child's feelings.

Gaining more peaceful communication skills to better respond to behaviour issues with their child, generally empowers parents and teachers with more confidence, clarity and empathy, effectively preventing serious problems from building in the first place.  As the model of parenting without punishment becomes more widely accepted and practiced, this will contribute greatly to a reduction in child abuse and to a more peaceful society in general. Every response to a child is modeling. If we respond with empathy, support and acceptance, our children will grow up in a culture where peaceful conflict resolution and compassion for others is their norm.

Supporting cries builds emotional resilience. The reality is that children can bounce back to balance no matter what life throws at them if they are allowed and supported to heal in the most natural way, through their releasing cries. When children are discouraged from crying, they lose the freedom to cry when they need to cry, to seek support and empathy when they feel scared, hurt or insecure. Allowing children to cry, allows a child to stay more in balance more of the time. The more a child is allowed and supported to cry, the less the child will need to cry, the less stress they will carry in their nervous system and their muscles. The more a child is allowed to cry when they need to cry, the less stressed, anxious, hyperactive or withdrawn the child will be. Supporting cries fosters strength, emotional resilience and generally increased wellbeing in a child.

Written by Genevieve Simperingham
First published in The Natural Parent Magazine.

You might also like to read:
What should I do when my baby cries?
"children and babies can heal through their cries"

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