Imagine you were stuck alone in a closed room. You couldn’t get out. You didn’t have a phone. All you had was a buzzer to push. Someone would hear the buzzer. Then maybe someone would come. Would you push the buzzer? Would you push it a lot? Would you push it hard?
That buzzer is like crying for a baby. A baby doesn’t have words. A baby can’t walk around and take care of itself. Crying is the only way to get someone’s attention at first. Babies push the crying button a lot when they need something.
How do you feel about children and crying? How do you feel when you hear a child cry? It is not a pleasant sound. It is not meant to be pleasant. Crying for young children is like a siren for a firetruck. Or it is like a buzzer for someone who is stuck alone in a room. It should get people’s attention. The child is sending a message. Crying should let adults know something is wrong. Adults should try to do something to help the child and stop the crying.
But parents cannot always stop children’s crying. It can be stressful. It can be hard for children and adults.
Parents and other adults have questions.
- How do I know what babies need?
- Is it OK to just let babies cry?
- What will help babies cry less?
- Does it spoil children to pick them up when they cry?
- What can I do when they won’t stop crying?
Studies show that…
Crying is one of the first ways that babies communicate.
- Babies use crying to let adults know what they need.
- Crying makes adults want to do something to stop the crying.
- In a way, crying helps babies survive.
- The type of cry tells what the child needs.
- Parents learn to understand the cries over time.
- Crying helps to manage the relationship between the baby and the parent.
Adults tend to look at crying in two ways.
- One way — Crying is the child’s fault. The adult blames the child. The adult focuses on the adult’s problems.
- Another way — Crying is the child asking for help. Crying shows that the child has some needs. The adult focuses on the child’s problems.
An adult who looks at crying the first way might get angry when a child cries. This adult is thinking about his or her own needs. This can be dangerous. The child might get hurt. It can lead to child abuse.
An adult who looks at crying the second way will probably care about the child. This adult is thinking about the child’s needs. This is a safer way to think. The child will probably feel loved. This is healthy for the child and the parent-child relationship.
Responding to Crying Babies
Studies show that it is important for adults to respond to babies when they cry.
- Adults should pay attention to their children. They should know what babies need.
- Parents should respond to babies’ needs. Adults should give babies the things that they need.
- Adults should be a secure base for their children. Children should be able to count on their parents. They should be able to explore and then come back to the parents for support.
- These are the basic steps in attachment. These steps help them feel like they belong together.
Responding to Crying Babies and Spoiling
Some people worry that picking up crying babies is a problem. They think it will reward the baby for the crying. They think it will spoil the baby.
- Studies have looked at this question.
- They looked at babies that were picked up quickly and those that were left to cry.
- Babies that are picked up quickly cry LESS as time goes on. Those babies learn they can depend on their parents.
- Experts say that parents cannot spoil a baby less then six months old. Young babies should get lots of care and attention.
There are many ideas about helping children sleep through the night. Nighttime is when crying can be a problem.
- Some people suggest “sleep training.” It is also called “graduated extinction” or crying it out.
- This is related to Western culture. It is used mostly in the United States.
- It is related to the idea of children sleeping alone and being independent. It is also related to feeding children at certain times. Parents who do one of those things tend to do all of them.
- Sleep training means putting the child to bed alone. They let the child cry for longer and longer times each night. The goal is that the child will stop crying and learn to go to sleep alone.
- Many parents try this method and then give up. They think it is too hard on the child. It is also hard for the parent to listen to the child cry.
- Some experts say it is not a natural method for the child. They say it is not the best thing for the child. They say is not good for the parent-child relationship.
- This approach might work for some parents and children, though.
- Other parents let the children sleep in the same bed with them.
- Some people say that is dangerous.
- Other people say it is very natural.
- Parents need to think about their own sleeping and the children’s sleeping.
- Some people let the children sleep next to the parents’ bed. That meets the child’s needs and the parents’ needs.
- Parents need to be aware of choices that work for them and their children.
Next steps for parents…
Don’t Be Lost and Helpless
It can be hard to deal with a crying baby. You might not know what to do. Crying is not pleasant. It is not meant to be pleasant. You want the crying to stop. Sometimes it doesn’t stop.
Parents can make bad choices when they feel lost and helpless. They can get angry. They might hurt the child. It is important to have good choices.
There are some things that help:
- A plan.
Different Types of Cries
One of the first things parents can do is to get to know different kinds of cries. You can learn information about cries. You can learn skills about your baby’s voice. And you will learn these things with time.
- Not all cries are the same.
- A cry for pain sounds different from a hunger cry. And both of those sound different from a sleepy cry. Parents can find some examples on the Internet. Here is one example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oyur-q0gGAs
- Some babies with special needs will have different cries. Babies with colic will cry a lot every evening. But babies with colic will grow out of it. Some babies do not calm down like other babies. But you can get to know your baby. You will learn what to expect. A doctor or nurse might give some ideas.
- Parents can do different things to help their children when they know the cries. They can help their children better. They can help to meet the baby’s needs.
How to Soothe a Child
Parents can help babies calm down. Sometimes babies can calm down on their own. There are some things that work for many children. And there are some things that you will learn will work for your child.
- Telling a baby to stop crying will not work. Babies cannot really control their crying.
- The first step is to try to figure out what the baby needs. Is something hurting the baby? Is it time for the baby to eat? Is the baby too hot or cold? Is something hurting he baby?
- Many babies like to be held and rocked. Many liked to be held where they can hear your heart beating.
- Some babies like their skin next to your skin.
- Some babies like a pacifier. Some babies suck their thumbs or fingers.
- It helps to wrap up or swaddle some young babies. You can learn how to do that online.
- There is a special way to hold babies that can help.
- Hold the baby next to your chest and hum. That can help some babies. Speak softly.
- Sometimes you might be upset. The baby can tell. You might need to put the baby down for a while. Or you could give the baby to someone else. Then you can both calm down.
Have a plan.
- Think about what you can do when crying is too much.
- Have a safe place to put the baby. Maybe someone else can take the baby for you.
- Think of someone you can call. Talk about your feelings.
- Practice ways to calm down. Breathe. Take a walk. Listen to music. Use a cool washcloth.
- Then maybe you can come back and care for the baby.
Next steps for parents…
- Learn your children’s cries.
- Maybe you don’t understand your child. Ask people around you. Maybe someone else can help you understand. Or together you can figure it out. With time it will make sense.
- When your child cries, think about what each cry means. Then think about what your child might need. Try to do what that child needs.
- Learn different ways to calm babies down and soothe them.
- Try different ways to hold the child.
- Try rocking or singing or walking around.
- Try a pacifier or rubbing the baby’s back or tummy.
- Take care of yourself.
- Sometimes babies keep crying. You can’t figure it out.
- Have a plan to take care of the baby and you.
- Notice if you start to feel angry.
- Put the baby in a safe place or give the baby to someone else.
- Get help.
Remember, if you are sensitive to your children now, they will cry less later. Babies do grow up! Think about the times they smile at you. Remember how much you love them. That will give you strength when they cry.
Clarici, L., Travan, A., Accardo, U., VonDerWeid, D. L., & Bava, A. (2002). Crying of a newborn child: Alarm signal or protocommunication? Perceptrrof and Mofor Skills, 95(3),752-754. DOI: 10.2466/pms.2002.95.3.752.
Haute, M., & Perren, S. (2018). Ignoring children’s bedtime crying: The power of western-oriented beliefs. Infant Mental Health Journal, 39(2), 220-230.
Hechler, C., Beijers, R., & de Weerth, C. (2015). Young adults’ reactions to infant crying. Infant Behavior and Development, Volume 38, 41-48.
Ozturka, Y., Bizzegob, A., Espositoe, G., Furlanellob, C., & Venutig, P. (2018). Physiological and self-report responses of parents of children with autism spectrum disorder to children crying. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 73, 31-39