You know the scene: mother in a toy store with her flailing child on the floor, mid-meltdown.  Before I had children, I used to think, ”get it together, lady! Now I wonder, ”what’s going on for that child?  Is he tired, hungry, frustrated?” May the force be with with you, Mama!

Rather than feeling the impulse to judge the mother or shy away from the crying, or distract the child, is there another way that we can think about crying?

With twins, I’ve experienced A LOT of crying; sometimes two wailing infants at once and not an end in sight because both needs can’t be answered simultaneously.  Someone must wait.  I’ve had to learn to steel my nerves and focus on the task at hand.  At the same time, I am a very empathetic and sensitive person; my heart would go out to them and I yearned to understand what could be happening.

Luckily, I was exposed to RIE when the children were quite young.  In RIE classes I learned to WAIT.  To OBSERVE.  To SLOW DOWN.  In other words, TO CONTROL MY OWN IMPULSES, rather than try to fix whatever was wrong.  These ideas have changed me radically as a human being, not just as a parent.

Practicing this can be difficult; it goes against the grain of society and everything we have been told by others’ reactions to our own crying.  What it requires is a total reframing of our ideas about crying and how to deal with it.  Here’s a bit of what I have learned:

  • Crying is communication.
  • Crying is an opportunity to learn something about the child.
  • It’s not our job to stop the crying, but to look for the need beneath it.
  • The  first priority is the child, not others who may be judging you.
  • Empathy  and  acknowledgment works miracles.  “I hear you” “You really want that”
  • Observation is a form of acknowledgment.  “I saw that.  You bumped your head.”
  • Sometimes the best solution is to just hold space for the child.  No words needed.  Just loving arms and acceptance of what is happening, with no need to analyze.  In fact, sometimes not imposing our own ideas about what the child is feeling allows him to hear himself and know himself more clearly.
  • Crying is a biological form of release.  We all need to let go of pent up disappointments, fears, frustrations.  A tantrum can often be the result of “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.  Being a child is not easy.  Think about that from their perspective.  They fall, are misunderstood, can’t fully express themselves, have to accept “No” and other boundaries constantly.  Large people loom over them and often treat them as incompetent.  It could feel disempowering.
  • The crying WILL end.  Eventually.  Listen for the deep breaths and sputtering cries.  The wave may be passing.  If you have been empathetic and stayed present, you probably will have learned something new about your child and the trust he will feel to be completely himself will be greatly strengthened.  Isn’t that what true love is about?

For a wonderful article and breakdown of the ideas behind this practice, click  here on Janet Lansbury’s blog

Here is a link to a video showing these ideas in action as demonstrated in Janet’s RIE class.  Notice the father’s neutral, yet empathetic response to his baby getting bumped.  There is no gasp of surprise or trying to “rescue” this very young baby; just a sense of calm and well being that allowed the child to work out the feelings on his own.  Beautiful!  This is what RIE  is all about!

** The absolute BEST book I have read on this topic is “Tears and Tantrums” by Dr. Aletha Solter.  Here is a link to her  site, which has many wonderful and useful ideas about children. xxx, Leah

Photo by Ziv Sade.

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