Why Do Many Parents Struggle to Cope With Their Child’s Cries?

Photography: Serina Crinis Photography

By Genevieve Simperingham

“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 per cent of mothers whose babies cried extensively mentioned feeling depressed, and 50 per cent 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 per cent 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”.

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.

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 reacting) 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.

Babies and children can heal through their cries.

As long as someone who loves them can care for them, accept their expression and give them messages of holding and support, children literally can offload stress, frustrations, shock and even trauma from their nervous system through releasing cries.

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