Crying Does Not Equal Manipulation

July 27th, 2012 by Dionna | 48 Comments
Posted in Consensual Living, Ensure Safe Sleep, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

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I recently shared this someecard (created by Jennifer of Our Muddy Boots) on my Facebook page.1 I got into an interesting conversation with a reader about whether babies cry to “manipulate” us. The idea that babies cry to manipulate their parents is a pretty widespread belief, and I wanted to share a few thoughts on an alternative way to think about babies (or toddlers, or older children) crying.

Let me preface this by saying that the word “manipulative” makes me uncomfortable in this context. One of the Merriam Webster definitions of the word manipulative is “to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage,” and it makes me nervous to attribute any of those negative intentions to our babies (or toddlers on up, for that matter).

Babies cry to communicate – not manipulate.

Here’s the thing. Of course babies learn that when they cry, we meet their needs – that is called “communication.” It would be sad if they did not learn that simple fact. But to say a baby cries to “manipulate,” to me, sounds like we are attributing some kind of negative intent to the baby. As if somewhere in baby’s brain she is thinking, “muhahaha, if only I cry, I can get mama to give me all of the lollipops.”

The reader in this particular conversation distinguished between “wants” and “needs,” and said that it is unrealistic to expect parents to meet every want a child has. And I agree! Yes, babies have wants and needs. Heck, every single day my eight month old wants to chew on electrical cords, pour water out from my cup onto my computer, climb on my nightstand, and do a myriad of other things that I choose to stop her from doing. Sometimes she cries.

But here is where I see the difference: I do not need to let my baby (or toddler, etc.) sob forlornly while I ignore her feelings. I can still be a gentle, loving, but firm presence in the midst of her sadness. I can be someone who is not afraid to set boundaries or to allow her to grieve.

When we slip into the frame of mind that babies cry to manipulate us, we are more likely to react in a way that is less than empathetic to those cries.

A parent does not need to turn into some stern, harsh presence when a baby cries out of a want that we cannot fulfill. Parents are not expected to meet every want a child has.

It is ok to say no. It is ok to set boundaries. And it is ok for the child to mourn – with tears!

Tears are healthy, and I do not believe parents should do every possible thing to turn tears off. But a child crying because a want is not being fulfilled does not need to be seen as manipulative or negative. Grief simply gives us an opportunity to connect with the child in another way, to help the child find a different way to meet her needs (because at the bottom of every “want” is usually a “need” that is not being met).2

I have wants, and sometimes I cry when my wants are not fulfilled. I am not being manipulative when I cry – I’m just grieving. I hope my healthy tears (and other strategies for meeting needs) are a model for my children. And I hope my gentle responses to their tears also provide a model of how I would like to be treated.

More Resources

The Con of Controlled Crying at Pinky McKay

Crying for Comfort: Distressed Babies Need to be Held at Aware Parenting Institute

Do Children Manipulate Their Parents? at Hand in Hand Parenting

Ensure Safe Sleep, a list of resources at Natural Parents Network

“I Want It Now!”—Children’s Wants and Needs at Hand in Hand Parenting

Letting Baby “Cry-it-out” Yes, No! at Dr. Sears

My Child Is Not OK at Janet Lansbury

Parents: Become Wise on Babywise at Peaceful Parenting

Responding with Sensitivity, a list of resources at Natural Parents Network

The Science of Attachment: Biological Roots of Love at Peaceful Parenting

Understanding Tears and Tantrums at Aware Parenting Institute

Segmented Sleep at Wikipedia

Thoughts On Crying (and Crying It Out) at KellyNaturally.com

What to Do When Your Baby Cries at Aware Parenting Institute

Why High Need Instead of Fussy? at KellyNaturally.com

  1. Check out Jennifer’s Facebook page!
  2. For more on the concept of “wants” as strategies to meet “needs,” check out Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. You can read an introduction to NVC at Celebrate Empathy.

48 Responses to:
"Crying Does Not Equal Manipulation"

  1. kelly @kellynaturally   kellynaturally

    “When we slip into the frame of mind that babies cry to manipulate us, we are more likely to react in a way that is less than empathetic to those cries.” <– this is such an important statement. If you can think of a baby crying simply because she can't yet talk, it's much easier to hear & respond to that cry with interest, curiosity, compassion — and without judgment.

    Thanks for this article, and for linking to me, Dionna.

  2. Charise@I Thought I Knew Mama   ithoughtiknewma

    Well said! I needed this reminder right now with respect to my two year old. Thank you!

  3. Kym

    This is one of those blogs that the link is being copied and going straight into my ever-growing resource document I keep on desktop for specific topics! :)

    The term manipulative makes me uncomfortable too. It implies a baby is knowingly choosing to do something “wrong”. Considering a baby doesn’t have the ability to talk, I’m not sure how crying can be manipulative in anyway.

  4. Momma Jorje   MommaJorje

    So well said, as usual. I can’t think of anything to add right now. Just kudos.

  5. Amy Willa   Amy_willa

    Amen. Well written, Dionna! It’s important to realize that tears are appropriate reactions to grief . . . for adults and children alike.

    I sometimes struggle with the acceptance of Abbey’s (almost 4, for those who aren’t familiar with my family) tears when she will yell “You’re mean! I don’t like you anymore! You’re hurting my heart! I’m mad!” when I set firm and consistent boundaries for her. But when I remember to speak to her with a comforting voice in these times of grief, the whole dramatic situation works itself out much more efficiently and healthfully than when I yell at her or otherwise or disconnect myself from her.

    I may ask her to go to her room to have a tantrum, but I try so hard not to yell “GO TO YOUR ROOM” as if it is a punishment. I’ll try to say “Abbey, you may cry if you like and you may scream if you have to, but please take this to your room and let me know when you’re ready to let me help you.”

    I have a couple friends (and some former-friends) that would say that I’m “letting Abbey get away” with being disrespectful, or that I’m “not stepping up to discipline” her. In other words, they think that I’m letting her manipulate me. But I know that I’m teaching her to deal with her grief and her anger in a way that is respectful of herself and of her friends and family, and that’s important to me.

    What a wise and well-worded post, Dionna, love. Major kudos!!!!

  6. I love that you pointed out that babies cry to communicate. It’s the only way they have! It’s the earliest form of navigating complex human relationships, learning about give and take. Sure, they are the takers at first, but that’s okay!

    This idea of manipulation was discussed in a child psychology class I took. In it, we learned that manipulation requires the capability of abstract thought, which children don’t have until at least age 7-9. The conclusion is that before then, children (and babies) are not capable of manipulation.

    I visited a family member once with a 4 week old baby girl. Her baby started crying, and when she didn’t immediately respond, I got up to hold her, and this family member (the babies mother) said, “Don’t pick her up. She needs to learn that she can’t make me jump whenever she says so. I’m not raising any spoiled brats.” It made me so sad! I picked her up anyway and said, “Well, I cannot sit and listen to a baby cry. It’s not good for them. And it is completely impossible to ‘spoil’ a newborn. They cry ’cause they need you.” I don’t make a habit of telling people how to parent, but I am not able to sit around listening to a baby cry and ignore it!

  7. Have just discovered you through a facebook link. I love this post. Thank you for making it so clear. Of course babies don’t cry to manipulate us — crying is their only way of alerting us to the fact that they need something. I also love it that you point out that when we have to set boundaries, and stop toddlers from doing something, they will be upset, and that that is the time to let them cry out their disappointment in our loving arms. My experience is that toddlers get over these disappointment very easily if we hold them while they cry, and reflect back their feelings that we understand.

  8. Michelle

    Interesting post. Whilst I am unusually surprised (I must have mistaken my cynical/jaded glasses for my rose-tinted ones this morning lol) that people do not know that infant crying is not a manipulative act, I do not believe that crying (of any type or duration) is healthy. Of course your tear ducts’ ability to produce tears due to an emotional response is biologically appropriate but I do not associate crying with optimal health in regards to infants, older children, teens or adults.

    A disturbing (anecdotal) trend today is that increasing numbers of children do cry all the time, uncontrollably and this should not(IMHO)be regarded as healthy. The responsible adults involved need to be reminded that though culturally common, crying (really at any age/duration/context/frequency etc) is not a biological norm and help needs to be sort. I believe it is why we have the instinct to do all that we can to prevent or STOP a person (of any age)crying when we hear it.

    Many wise parents/care givers know that crying is one of the last methods of communication that we have as a species, so perhaps we need to be focusing on highlighting communication before crying so that we could virtually eliminate this damaging crying = manipulation/negativity paradigm.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Hi Michelle – thanks for responding! I’d encourage you to read some of the links from Aware Parenting Institute. Aletha Solter, particularly this one: http://www.awareparenting.com/tantrums.htm
      The whole article is interesting, but here’s a quote:
      These different areas of research all indicate that crying is a healing mechanism that allows people to cope with stress and trauma. Crying can be considered a natural repair kit with which every child is born. People of all ages cry because they need to, not because they are “spoiled” or immature. . . .
      Parents naturally want their children to be happy, and feel it is their job to make their children happy, often failing to realize that happiness will return spontaneously after the crying outburst has run its course. Many parents quickly lose confidence and feel they are incompetent when their children cry. It helps to remember that when children cry, the hurt has usually already happened. Crying is not the hurt, but the process of becoming unhurt. A child’s tears or tantrums are not an indication of an incompetent parent. On the contrary, crying indicates that the child feels safe enough to bring up painful feelings, and is not afraid of being rejected.

      • Michelle

        Hi Dionna,
        Whilst I appreciate your encouragement and direction to the work of Aletha Solter, it is unnecessary as I am aware of her theories in regards to infant/childhood crying and parent/care giver response. In short, I simply disagree with the thesis put forward by Solter, as it does not ring true in either my familial or post Bachelors (MSc Cross Culture Psychology) academic experience.

        In reference to the quote that you selected, I do not believe that crying is “healing”. In my opinion it is an expression of stress response felt or an alarm signal to those close that the individual is in a state of distress or grief etc. Therefore in daily life when someone cries I don not expected them to as “everyone does naturally so that they can heal”. I either already know why they are (generally speaking a need has not or could not be met); or the reason can be discovered quickly and easily and thus soothed, ultimately resolved and avoided in the future. This is also the rational of why I (and many many others) find it difficult to be in the presence of someone whose tears can not be soothed, as I often find these tears are accompanied with some form of unrelenting injustice that would cause anyone to cry and be unable to find simple and fast solace.

        Whilst I agree that there is a biological imperative that human beings can cry when they need to, I just do not believe that this is an expression of optimal health. If tears are so “healing” then I could see why it could be (and IS in some circles) theorised that a crying individual could be (or more worryingly should be) left alone, “to heal” in peace or even more disturbingly, that it would be beneficial in some why to encourage them to have opportunities to cry and experience their abilities to cry and “heal themselves”. Also the crying = healing theory implies that there is a problem for those who prevent or stop crying as is causes them distress (or ironically to cry) as they could be seen as being opposed to “healing”?!

        Are you aware of the Motherwear Breastfeeding podcast? Recently Ann Sinnot discussed full term breastfeeding, crying and stress response. Towards the end of the recording she discussed a point of view that I fully support and may more clearly express my view than I have here.

        Thank you for raising this point of discussion. It really is important that we keep talking about these issues as it reminds me how easy it is to be unaware of unexpected differences of opinion on universally experienced topics.

      • Melissa Vose   WhiteNoiseWoman

        I have to agree Dionna; although I can see where Michelle is coming from in that we should not brush off crying and tend to our children’s communicated needs–as often before crying begins as is possible, and if not, afterwards– but my experience tells me that crying is not always ‘fixable.’ Crying isn’t something we can ignore, but it is also not something we need to eliminate. Crying IS a healing process and an expression that either something IS wrong or WAS wrong, and that our children need to either express how they feel or process what happened to them. Either of these can include tears. And, indeed, do.

        We adopted our second child when he was 16 months old. He obviously went through a tremendous amount of transition that included a lot of crying. A LOT. I almost went out of my MIND because I believed that if children were spending much of their day crying, the parent was doing something wrong and needed to change their parenting in order to minimize the tears. Every time he cried, I failed. You see? But someone I trust pointed out to me that sometimes, my son just needed to cry in order to grieve his loss and express his confusion and sadness. This allowed me the space to sit next to him and not try to “fix” his sadness, but simply to be with him as he expressed it. This was so much better for our relationship and for his (and my) emotional health.

        I can also attest that having had four children, and done attachment focused parenting with all of them, some children simply cry more often. They are more intense or emotional personalities. This doesn’t mean that I should ignore them or their tears (though sometimes they do, in fact, exasperate me), of course! But it does free me from feeling the need to prevent or stop all crying, all the time. Allowing my more emotional children the space to cry seems to me more authentic. I was an emotionally intense child myself, and I know from that experience that people who tried to make me stop, only made it worse. And then I would cry HARDER because I was trying so hard NOT TO, in order to please that person. The best way to calm my tears was always simply to sit with me while they played themselves out.

        In our house, tears are allowed. Although rarely will I walk away when they show up, they are allowed. I’m not sure this is what Michelle meant~I’m sure she allows authentic emotional expression in her house! But it is good to remember that parents are not responsible for preventing or eliminating ALL crying. =)

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        Yes, Melissa – to all of that!

    • michael phoenix

      So do you suggest suppression of emotions for the purpose of, and to the point of, abating crying?

      Which is more distressing, crying for a moment to fully process emotions? Or, suppressing emotions for the purpose of abating crying?

      What is the purpose behind the motive to stop a person from crying?

      • Michelle

        I neither suggest or support suppression of expressing emotion in the form of crying or any other verbal or physical expression. However I do question the amount of distress that we should expect to experience in our life span, especially during our earliest years. Should someone cry just so that they can fully ‘test’ or ‘practice’ (?) their possible range of emotional expressions when we know how to avoid them having to use this method of distress alert at all? What about shouting? Or screaming? Or fighting etc etc? We know that a human being can cry and most (if not all the reasons) they do cry. All I am asking is, if we know this then should they cry when other methods of communication as just as (if not more) effective?

        I believe if we only cried as a true last resort of communication or expression it would not be thought of as healthy or manipulative at all. Crying should not be a discussed ‘problem’. I simply do not think shedding tears should be part of our daily life experience or a prominent memory of our past. Similarly I do not think crying should be expected or tolerated (especially with our young) as it goes against all of our biological instincts to provide important evolutionary protective and survival/thriven behaviors.

    • Momma Jorje   MommaJorje

      While crying all the time could certainly be a sign of a problem, humans have a physiological need to cry.

      “researchers have measured physiological changes during crying in adults and have found that crying lowers the blood pressure, pulse rate, and body temperature, and results in more synchronized brain-wave patterns”

      read more and find more resources here

      • Michelle

        Hi Momma Jorje,
        Thank you for the links and further resources, even though I am aware of the physiological response our bodies have to crying I am sure they would be useful to other comment readers who are not. Bodily respond does not imply a need. For example just because our bodies create scar tissue does not imply that we have a physiological need to experience physical trauma.

        All I am trying to state is that in my opinion crying is not “healthy”. It is our last response alarm to those around us. It signified a problem that has been ignored or misunderstood in every other form of expression previous to the cry. The protective response that crying has on the body should be respected for it’d function not relied upon or perceived as beneficial. What about infants who never/ rarely cry, are they deficient in the human physiological need to cry? This line of thinking reminds me of obstetricians who believed that newborns needed to cry at birth to clear their lungs (crying = healthy), however ask anyone who has witnessed a healthy unhindered birth and they can attest that the babies they see neither cry at birth or have congested lungs.

        I hope I am expressing myself clearly as so much opportunity for understanding is lost in a written discussion.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Michelle – I think I’m hearing you say that you are worried that people who see tears as “healing” would then feel encouraged to let babies/children cry *more* – is that right? And are you worried that unattended crying may lead to even more stress on the part of the child?

      I’d like to distinguish between a time when a parent has investigated the cause of the crying, has tried to address any needs, and who then lovingly supports a child through tears.
      From what I’ve read, when a child’s needs are met, the tears and tantrums are likely going to be farther and fewer between. But I do not feel that means that any tears that do occur are unhealthy.
      I’ve also read that – yes, crying is a stress response – but emotional tears actually shed stress hormones, helping them exit the body. That seems pretty phenomenal to me!

      • Michelle

        I think that both our personal opinions and shared believed scientific facts are heavily influenced by the culture we live in. In this culture we are severely hindered in our ability to follow our basic instincts to prevent or rapidly cease any and all crying in anyone. Fascinatingly, rather than ask why this is the case, we question the motive of the tears (manipulation); theorise their benefits (healing) and infer physiological need from a scientifically revealed response (crying lowers stress therefore we have a need to cry). I just wonder why a optimally healthy child whose primal needs were met would cry? Happy tears? I have never cried “happy” tears or witnessed a baby crying them either. Like I said I am all for hearing people’s ideas, it is just impossible to agree with them when they are not true in my experience, iykwim? :)

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        Ahh, but is it an instinct, or is it learned from our own experience of others trying to hush our cries? ;)

        And I have definitely cried happy tears!!

        Thanks for making me think, Michelle, and for responding to everyone so respectfully. I appreciate the dialogue, even when opinions differ.

    • kelly @kellynaturally   kellynaturally

      “Similarly I do not think crying should be expected or tolerated”

      Not tolerated? I can’t imagine how an adult would act on “not tolerating” a baby crying. Will them not to cry? Instruct them not to cry? Punish them for crying? I shudder at the thought of a parent deciding what to tolerate with regards to their pre-verbal child’s expression!

      A baby is a separate individual from her parent – she may cry for reasons unknown to anyone but her. She has the right to do so, regardless of what anyone around her thinks or expects or tolerates – it is her expression, alone.

      Parents aren’t here to decide what to/not to tolerate from their children. We are here to guide, help, empathize, comfort, show the way, share our experience.

      What we choose to “tolerate” of a new human should have absolutely no bearing on how that child will express her emotions.

      • Michelle

        I do not think that parents or babies should have to tolerate crying when there are ways that they can be avoided or ceased quickly. I have what I can only call an basic instinctual reaction to crying with is to (in the moment) stop it and (in the future) prevent it. I genuinely believe that this is protective not just for me but also for the child. Are children who never/rarely cry a cultural myth? I just can not accept that babies cry even though their primal needs are met and they are optimally healthy. I simply do not believe that people cry for not reason at all or as an expression of their personality. Yes you might not know for certain the reason for the tears in the moment but those close will have an idea and will also want to continue to search until they get a answer.

      • Melissa Vose   WhiteNoiseWoman

        Well said, Kelly, I agree with you! I would also like to point out that I have had three births; one cesarean, and two VBACs. My first VBAC ended in a flurry of activity as my son needed resuscitation. Once that was over (a matter of minutes), he looked around and settled in peacefully without crying. About 15 minutes later, he nursed. He rarely cried as a baby as his innate personality is very laid back and peaceful, much like his father.

        My second VBAC was WAY more peaceful, Leboyer-like, with quiet and low lighting. My daughter was born into my own arms and stayed uninterrupted, skin to skin with me for two hours after she was born as per my request. The SECOND she was born she started crying LOUDLY. Of course I responded and comforted her. As a baby, she cried a TON! She is sensitive, high strung, and SO easily emotionally dysregulated. This is her innate personality and while I wish it were more peaceful, I believe my responsibility as her parent is to get to know her well and celebrate who she is, allowing her to be herself.

        Yes, she is baby #4 in our family and sometimes it means I’m distracted or unavailable when she is communicating. But she also naturally goes from 0-60 mph in a matter of nanoseconds because that is who she is! I’m fairly intuitive and I am good at figuring out what she wants/might want/might get upset by, and anticipating it and heading it off, but she still is just a sensitive person. She cries. This is not my failure, nor is it a fault in her; she’s great! Simply high strung and extremely energetic and sensitive. Blaming myself for the time she does spend crying would get me nowhere. Sure, I teach her communication tools OTHER than crying but she’s preverbal and honestly much of the time doesn’t really know why she feels off, herself. It is me who knows why, and helps her through whatever upsets her. I point out what she is feeling, and why. And I tend to her. This will help her regulate her emotions as she grows but it is a skill she will need to learn.

        This is all personal experience as opposed to scholarly or academic, so perhaps it has no weight. But I thought I’d add it just as my point of view. =)

    • michael phoenix

      Michelle, if I understand you correctly, this line captures the essence of what you are communicating, “It (Crying) signified a problem that has been ignored or misunderstood in every other form of expression previous to the cry.”

      And I agree. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen my younger children ask for something, then ask again even louder, then perhaps again before resulting to crying. I have made it a motive in my parenting style to listen intently to what the child is interested in the first time they attempt to ask for something. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes not. In any case, a disposition of investigating their interests has proven to be beneficial all the way around.

      Maybe the word “healthy” isn’t the most accurate descriptive here, what if, instead of using “healthy” the term “cathartic” was used. Also know that I’m changing the word, not to persuade you away from your beliefs and opinions and agree to mine, but to take out a word that may have a certain context for all of us and replace it with a different word that is less ambiguous that, I believe, speaks to the same sort of thing that Dionna is talking about. Now I also understand that catharsis may NOT be another descriptive that points to what Dionna is talking about, but let’s just see how it works itself out.

      Catharsis is defined as, “The process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.” In this definition, I think the key phrase is, “providing relief from”. Now, if the point of a “healthy” approach to life is twofold, one to *prevent* situations that can disrupt one’s health, and the other to *provide relief from*, than I think that crying fits the second fold.

      In out culture, our entire medical system is built on the foundation of the idea of “providing relief”. And, I also think, that much more benefit can come in the way of “health” if would looked to embrace an attitude of “prevention”, which is where I think you, Michelle, are pointing to with your argument about crying, the prevention of it. If I’m incorrect, please say so.

      What I’m getting at here is, I think we all want the best for our children, and we each have our own styles, and viewpoints and what-not. And I also think that we agree on more here than we disagree on, and OUR communication is not fully bringing out those nuances.

      Michelle, you seem to be the lone voice in the croud, but I don’t think you really are. I also believe, and I’m sure others here also do (correct me if I’m wrong), that crying can be prevented, and will do things to prevent it, BUT, if it is underway, we do not stop it unnecessarily. We may further investigate needs so that they are met, and if so and the child stops crying, awesome, if not, I think an attitude of continuing to listen to what the child is attempting to communicate is the only way to most effectively stop the crying, I personally use empathy.

      I myself have personal history of people trying to stop my crying, of being made fun of by my peers for crying, and having suppressed A LOT of emotions in that way. Now that I’m older and undoing all that, I find myself crying a lot, and it feels good, it feels healthy to me, and I’m defining healthy in the context of this paragraph as, “a general disposition in the body that brings about ease.” I take on the view that emotions are emotions, they are neither right nor wrong, they just are. And crying is an expression of an emotional state. Is crying right or wrong, I don’t know, it simply is a method of expressing. This degree of neutrality helps me to resist my child’s emotions less and embrace my child’s experience more, because in the end, it is my child’s experience that matters to me most, not my ideas about their experience.

      • Michelle

        Michael & Melissa –
        Thank you for the thoughtful and honest discussion, I hope Dionna can forgive us from hijacking her comments section :).
        We seem to looking at two different sides of the same {crying) coin. I guess I am focusing on questioning the need for crying more than the meaning of it, be they beneficial (cathartic) or even negative (manipulative). If it is healthy to cry as an expression of frustration to the ignorance of prior queues or as a response to stress or pain, then what about those whose needs are met and are of optimal health and thus do not really cry? Are they missing a part of the complete human experience? Have they been spoilt?

        When I am crying (and boy have I cried in my life!) or witness someone else cry I am not really comforted by the idea that this is a form of catharsis, I really question if life has to be this way. Are non crying babies and predominately content adults utopian myths? Or is this a state of being that we could all achieve if we embraced the possibility? Prevention and suppression are two different things. It is a very poor commentary on our shared experience of modern day life that we all cry to the point that becomes a topic of discussion and we feel the need to ascribe multiple meanings to it. Think about the top 3 reasons you or your children cry. Could they be resolved and avoided? Thus meaning you had 3 less things to cry about? Would this be a suppression of your complete expression emotions? Should these things and the tears they cause be tolerated as being a part of life? Would you find 3 other things to cry about as the body has a physiological need for seeking catharsis?

        Melissa – Interestingly, Marcy Axness argues that one benefit adopted children and their parents have over others is that there is a lack of surprise aka conscious awareness when they are confronted with the baby/child’s primal wound. Many adoptive parents and caregivers have prior knowledge and education with has been shown to dramatically soothe the transition of the new family formation, something that other families birthing new members only become aware of as the child grows older.

        Shelly – I resonate with your comments and used to share a lot of them. I guess they just do not no longer satisfy my “quest for the truth” as it were ha ha. Becoming holistically educated about biological norms such as full term breastfeeding or elimination communication as well as ancient concepts such as exploration of the primal wound, touch/baby wearing and non violent communication to a minute few, all of which when implemented near eradicate much of the crying that we view nowadays as normal emotional expression, I find that the crying as manipulation or catharsis or healthy expression does not really “add up”.

    • michael phoenix

      Michelle, I’ve been thinking about it a bit more, specifically of your use of the word “tolerate”. Are you using it from a sense of, “I don’t want my child to feel an unnecessary stress and I’m going to do whatever I have to to ensure that my child does not experience any undue stress. I will not tolerate my child being stressed!” OR, is your use of the word more akin to, “I will not tolerate my child crying BECAUSE crying does not help my child and crying is not a good thing.”

      Obviously those are generalizations. I’m just trying to get a sense of how you are using the word “tolerate.”

      Thanks again for the dialogue…

      • Michelle

        I guess I can best describe my use of the word tolerate with a car or house alarm analogy. If you had home and/or vehicle alarms that you not only expected to go off but also did go off to a severity or frequency that caused them to become a problem for you, would you tolerate them as perhaps society’s emotional expression of social unrest, inequality or any other crime/disturbance causing issue? Or would you start to as why this was occurring, if there was a possibility to avoid it and what your role could be in that prevention? Some people’s solution might be to disable the alarm, buy ear plugs or maybe if beauty in the sound of the alarm. I would call these types of suppression or tolerance and this is what I am against when it comes to crying.

        We must also remember that the Someecard and this very post would not have been written if crying was not a real problem in our culture, I am simply questioning the role that each of our personal and then collective beliefs play in it.

    • michael phoenix

      I agree, Michelle, that prevention and suppression are two separate things.

      My sense of your posts is that crying is not supposed to be part of the human experience, meaning, it can be avoided. Essentially, what is the need for it if there are no variables that play into that form of expression?

      Are humans who don’t cry a Utopian myth? I don’t really spend my time conjecturing such anecdotes. The fact is, in our society, people do cry. Do we *need* to? I would suggest that we do IF we have repressed emotions; and this is a form of catharsis.

      Why go to crying as a form of release? Because it is quick, effective and deep, so long as the one crying does not go into pity. IF an individual can open up to the wounds held in the body and let that energy come up and be fully processed for the sake of processing it, than crying is an effective tool in that processing.

      I look at crying, not from a perspective of whether it needs to be, but from a perspective of, it is a technique, tool, or function that allows for certain and specific processes to take place, one of which is to fully emote certain energies that have been stored up. I also believe that crying to fully process is not necessary, it is merely a form of expression, and placing a subjective analysis as to whether it works or not does not allow me to fully embrace the process.

      Is the process right? Is the process wrong? I do not look at it from such duality. If it occurs, I embrace it. If it can be prevented, than I prevent it. And for me, it IS healthy insofar as it allows for the release of emotions that have otherwise been unprocessed. And, if, it works for someone else to cry in order to gain a more clear and conscious perspective on the situation, then so be it. It is not for me to judge that process as valid or not.

      Is crying necessary in the absolute sense, I don’t think so. Relatively speaking, however, it can be beneficial.

      • Michelle

        Michael, Michael, Michael… It seems we can infinitely go round and round (and round again) on this topic ha ha :). I guess at this point the only thing I could ask of you would be to humour me and actually consider the possibility of temporarily putting to one side the ‘crying IS’ focus to allow you to ponder the philosophical aspect of crying that I am actually talking about. The reason why I ask this is because then you might be able to better understand why I disagree and maybe even provide me with perspective that actually challenges my opinion, rather than our current pattern of talking at cross purposes. Anyway, ultimately I have enjoyed this discussion and actually found (yet another) topic I believe in passionately, so thank you for the engaging conversation/discovery and to Dionna again for sharing her platform :)

    • Heather   xakana

      I actually agree. That was the only thing that struck me in this article as not 100% spot on. Personally, I think the “crying is healthy” theory stems from the damage that so many of us suffer from being allowed to simply cry as babies/toddlers/whathaveyou while our emotions are not validated. This leads to an adult who needs to cry to relieve stress, because no other mechanism is available to them or who responds positively to comforted crying because it’s an old need finally being fulfilled.

      I DO believe in distraction, cheering up, etc. Of course, all that said, when you have a 3 year old whose response to every form of communication and empathy is to scream for an hour and a half straight, that can be incredibly daunting. But the act of crying only leads her to feel worse and worse until she has difficulty shutting it off.

      I do agree that it’s healthy to mourn–to cry when you really need to. And some babies cry more than others, REGARDLESS of how you parent (I have three very diverse little girls), which makes it stressful to think that their crying is simply damaging.

      I’ve always disliked that particular work of Aletha Solter as well. It goes against everything I know about the brain chemistry of the infant brain and what little we know about infant/toddler psychology (not to mention all of my instincts as a mother, which I consider the highest ‘parenting advice’ there is, lol).

      But truly, this was a well-written article and one I appreciated and am sharing. Thank you, Dionna!

      • Michelle

        Hi Heather, I am so glad that someone agrees with (at least some of) my opinions and hypothesises :). I often question whether I am articulating my view in a clear enough way but your comment confirms that clarity is not the issue here; it is one more of looking at different aspects of a topic at the same time vs. the same ones separately or just plain ol’ disagreement both of which I understand, expect, welcome, appreciate, etc, etc :).

        I find it interesting, actually on reflection incredibly disturbing, that we deal with parental stress of the implication of the increasing epidemic of crying by pathologising children’s personalities and blaming their individual parents (particularly their mothers). This line of inquiry is divisive, alienating and ultimately does not provide practical or sustainable answers to the problem. Reassessing our collective ingrained beliefs as well as shining a large community sized spot light on our family/child/mother/father/wellness UNFRIENDLY culture/ society are really the only ways I believe we can hope to resolve these issues long-term. However, sadly it seems we are all too busy theorising the meaning of crying to realise and embrace this… Sigh! Anyway thanks for the discussion :).

    • michael phoenix

      So let me see if I understand what you’re asking of me… to consider that a society without crying is possible while still be emotionally responsible. Meaning, consider that it is possible for a society to exist in a state of wholeness such that the individuals that composed the society are emotionally intelligent and responsible, and crying is not used in the processes of that emotional intelligence and responsibility. Is this correct?

      If so, what processes do you suggest as a viable means to arrive at the emotional intelligence?

      If not, could you again rephrase exactly what you are asking me to consider?

      • Michelle

        I think that emotional intelligence is a different subject to crying. Culturally and psychologically agreed positive emotions are not associated with crying (for example feeling of inspiration, wonder, serenity and love); I believe that when these are mixed with negative emotions (e.g. fear, shame, guilt and hate)that we can interpret crying in a positive light when actually it was caused by the negative emotion. From the emotional intelligence perceptive I don’t think that crying should the predominate expression of our experienced emotions, talking/body language and listening/attunement should be our most perfected and expected communication tools.

        Crying is communication that I view in the same way as an alarm ringing. If I had to choose whether it was for a “good” reason or a “bad” one, I’d pick “bad” and would expect that 90% or more of the population would too. I guess I am asking exactly what your philosophical beliefs about crying are? Whilst I could accept the argument that they are on the good/bad continuum I would sway towards the bad whereas I am assuming you would sway towards the good?

    • michael phoenix

      From a philosophical standpoint, I view life as innately good, and that which detracts from that innate goodness as bad. I make it a point to not see specific things as either good or bad. In one situation, say the birth of my child, and an overwhelming sense of joy comes of my body and tears flow, crying is good. In another situation, when I dwell in the misery of my past and feel someone has unjustly trespassed my right and I cry out in indignation to the trees around me, crying is bad.

      My philosophical view of crying is that it is a process the body engages in based on certain and specific emotional triggers. I’m more concerned with those emotional triggers and what underlies them than I am with the form of expression (thus my previous remarks on emotional intelligence). The crying is the effect, the triggers and the underlying belief structures that underlay them are the cause. For me, to speak of crying as innately bad or innately good is to speak of a bandage as innately good or innately bad. And for me, a bandage is a tool, something to be used in the assistance of keeping a wound clean so that it can heal. If a bandage is left on a wound for too long and bacteria begins to grow uncontrollably, a staff infection is a possible effect; and in such a situation, the bandage could necessarily be considered bad but with good intentions. Such philosophical quandaries are easily eliminated by assessing each situation as it is. When a wound is bleeding and could benefit from a bandage, put one on. And when the bandage is blood soaked and starts to emit a funky smell, take it off, clean the wound and give it some air. I view such the same point-of-view for crying. If, in a situation, the emotions present within oneself are such that processing them induces crying, than so be it. And if the crying lingers into self-pity, take a deep breath and smell a flower, listen to the birds sing, and notice the beauty of life.

      Thus, my philosophical view is that crying is not inherently good or bad, it is merely a physical process for the processing of emotions. How that “tool” is used derives its goodness or badness. Thus, it is a journey that each individual must make and orient their own understanding towards; meaning, they must come to understand the tool of crying and when, where, and how it is beneficial and detrimental. In such ways, crying is extracted from the conversation that it is good or bad, and into a place of neutrality where it can be non-judgmentally assessed for its true relevance.

  9. Perfectly put, Dionna.

    As regards crying, I think it can have cathartic value. I’ve never let my children cry themselves to sleep, but I have sometimes left them to cry for a few minutes before going back to nurse them down. When before they were too wriggly and keyed up to relax, the crying has seemed to help them to let go and then they were able to fall asleep easily and quickly.

  10. Michael Phoenix

    Crying is communication… are we willing to listen?

  11. “Manipulate” has such a negative connotation, using other words helps so much! I like to tell new mamas who are worried about their babies being “manipulative” that the baby is simply orchestrating her environment. She’s letting you know she needs something in the only way she knows how. Everyone does it, just in different ways.

    Great post, thank you!

  12. Shelly   awakeshelly

    Wow Dionna, I LOVED this post SO MUCH!!! Thank you for another beautiful reminder that children are just trying to get their needs met and that they’re not trying to make our lives difficult. It can be easy to get wrapped up in our own experience and it can sometimes be really hard to listen to a child cry, especially if we feel like crying ourselves!

    But I think that by giving our children the compassion you describe above, we are helping them in ways we may not even fully comprehend. Don’t we all wish we had had a loving parent who was willing to listen to us cry? Let’s all give this gift to our children!

  13. I think you hit on a key part of the “typical” mentality when you mentioned responsibility. I feel that parents tend to take on far more responsibility than is necessary or even logical. If their child is upset, they feel they are to blame and that it’s their job to fix it. If they can’t, they can only disallow their responsibility by blaming the baby for their feelings, or rather, justifying their decision to not give the baby what it’s asking for. If more parents would realize that their job is not to make life perfect for their child, they wouldn’t be so defensive when they can’t.

  14. Ida Mae   treeswillbend

    Well said, Momma. I’ve been feeling the same way since I read something similar on FB. It’s been eating at me since. Love your response.

  15. Michelle

    Dionna – I would believe instinctual in my case as I most definitely grew up with the attitude that “sometime you just have to cry” and with accusation of spoiling a child with too much affection. However I have since come to view these opinions and fact as those shared by a generation and a culture. I also am comforted by the fact that I am not the first to disagree and most definitely will not be the last. Thank you for the discussion, I think it is am important issue to talk about.

    Melissa – I have no experience personally with adoption but I do resonate strongly with what Dr. Marcy Axness has to say about Adoption Colic or crying. Are you aware of her work? One thing I do know is that crying is incredibly difficult to endure for both the adult and child. I do think that it can be avoided and should be however we live in a world where this is increasingly impossible to achieve. I am not blaming parents or children, truly we are all to blame but I think that we can only improve the way things are by not accepting them, iykwim? :)

    • Melissa Vose   WhiteNoiseWoman

      Yes, Michelle, you have a point that crying is distressing for the child and the parent. It is my belief that my son’s crying was a cathartic part of his grief process and even provided opportunities for bonding with me, as after a grief spell he would relax and accept comfort from me, which was atypical of him in other situations at that point. Do you believe crying to be a natural part of grieving a death, for instance? I cried when my friend died last week, despite being an adult and having the support of others and the language skills to process his death. The loss involved in toddler adoption is as profound as the death of a parent (and in essence, is a death, if the child’s primary caregiver lives overseas as in our case). I’m not sure what tools I should have given a sixteen month old to navigate his grief, and grief is not something you can do for another person. I’m not familiar with Axness but will look into her, thanks for the link.

      • Melissa Vose   WhiteNoiseWoman

        Michelle, in fact I have heard of Axness’ ‘Primal Wound’ theory! I had not known who the author of that term was. It looks as though her theory is closely aligned with mine, and includes this paragraph which appears closer to my paradigm than yours when it comes to crying. Axness writes;

        “But all is not lost. Parents needn’t feel hopeless in the face of these revelations, for one of the most powerful healing forces is available to every parent, free of charge-EMPATHY. Empathy allows a person, even a tiny baby, to feel his feelings, rather than repress them, so they can be released. Babies who have lost their original mothers-permanently or just temporarily-or have suffered other painful or traumatic experiences, need to express their feelings of grief and rage.”

        I am guessing my interpretation of “express” includes crying, and yours does not? Or perhaps your hope is that empathy will intercede before crying is necessary?

        I just remember that sometimes, being held released a flood of tears for him, and he would burrow into me as it all came out. As if my empathy allowed his tears. This seemed intuitive, natural, and healthy.

        Perhaps this intuition came from social conditioning? perhaps. But to me it seemed natural.

  16. Vidya Sury   vidyasury

    You know, for me the words “manipulate” and “baby” just don’t match. :-) I remember a lot of people used to say that we should allow the baby to cry. I am guilty of not doing much of that. The max I’ve let Vidur cry (he rarely did) as a baby is about half a minute – and only because my hands were busy and had to be washed. But I’d start cooing to him right away. And cuddle him crazy whenever I could.

    I’ve heard that some people think babies should cry – to clear their lungs. I don’t like that theory. I think gurgling and chuckling and their practice sounds like “aaaah” are all good enough. I actually had neighbors complaining they never heard Vidur cry.

    Oh yes, he was not at all pleased when we prevented him from plugging the electrical socket with his little fingers or paddle in the water after he triumphantly overturned a jug on the table. In spite of this he managed to pull out the stuffing from under an old sofa and was very upset we didn’t let him continue. :D I can’t stop laughing when I think of all those things a 6 month old can get up to! The power of mobility (even if it was swimming on the tummy, knees and palms!)We were certainly firm (in a gentle way) when what he was doing was not safe.

    And I swear I always understood the nuance of his tone – recognizing when he needed soothing and when he needed to be steered away from his unhappy place.

    Anyway, today I am rewarded – blessed -with an affectionate and very compassionate child.

    By the way – I love your “hand in hand Parenting” posts :-)

  17. Michelle

    Melissa – I really appreciate you sharing your experience, really I am just sharing my ideas and the things I question due to my upbringing and education. I guess I am more of a philosopher than a scientist. Hopefully my passionately rushed, typo and grammatical error filled responses show my enjoyment of this discussion rather than any hostility or judgement. Who knew there was such different fundamental beliefs about crying? Not this girl :) In regards to Dr. Axness my understanding has been that whilst all is not lost if everything goes “wrong” as we have the opportunity to increase our empathy and our bodies can activate their protective mechanisms for healing; we also have the awareness that this is not the “goal or inherent design” of the ultimate life that can we live. We all have the capability to strive for optimal health and peaceful children, however I would imagine that first we would have to agree that it was a possibility. I guess I’d ask if you ever felt that any of your children have cried for no reason other than to show that they can?

    Vidya Sury – I agree with so much of what you have shared. Ironically, not because I have experienced it personally but because I believe that it is inherently possible to for us all to achieve.

    • Melissa Vose   WhiteNoiseWoman

      Michelle, thanks for replying! I don’t think your responses sounded rushed or filled with typos; rather I thought your comments and responses were thoughtful and measured, and considerate.

      Thank you for that!

      I would definitely agree that the goal of parenting is optimal health and peaceful children. The ‘catharsis’ of crying that I referred to was a step on a journey to resolved grief and transferring of primary attachment,and hence, peace. Staying in a grief state would be unhealthy and definitely not the long term goal. It is my understanding of Axness that she wants to counter the social belief that adopted babies do not notice WHO is caring for them, so long as SOMEONE is, and will attach accordingly without grief. Babies of all ages DO notice, and newborn stress levels can be measured when they are separated from their mothers, even while they are sleeping and appear peaceful.
      I would agree that self actualization [what I would call ‘the ultimate life we can live’ that you referred to] is a realizable goal, and would guess that those who achieve this peaceful state of psychological well being, crying is minimalized. Is self actualization achievable in childhood? I haven’t ever thought of that before. Equilibrium, yes. But self actualization? I don’t know! I have to think about that one =)
      I have to agree with Michael Phoenix that we agree more than we disagree, especially as we talk more. I think that most of us would not consider frustration to be a ‘healthy’ state to be in, and thus tears as a result of frustration are not in and of themselves healthy. But the distinction I see is that when we DO feel a strong emotion, sometimes crying is the most authentic and appropriate response for us. In the case of unavoidable strong emotion, like birth, death, intense pain (mental or physical), or a sense of grave injustice, avoiding crying in and of itself can result in unexpressed emotions, and thus, UNhealth. The goal is a return to peaceful equilibrium, and the path to that goal is expression of emotion and acknowledgment of it. If the path back to peaceful equilibrium can be traversed through other means, yes! Wonderful. We do not HAVE to cry, no matter how strong our feelings, in order to achieve peace, but we must express them somehow, and acknowledge them in order to return to a peaceful state. Perhaps you would encourage that expression to nearly always be verbal, etc, and the return to equilibrium and peace to be rapid and well supported. I can totally respect that.
      I would caution that as parents we allow our children to cry if they feel strong emotions, without feeling ambiguity about crying. I’m just remembering how horrible it felt to want to please an adult by ceasing crying, and to not be able to.
      I would also say that I’ve noticed in myself that I take longer than average to process emotional experiences and return to a peaceful state. However, when I DO return to it, the process is complete and does not need revisiting. I’ve noticed other adults in my life have shorter emotional processing periods than I do. I tend to think this is innate. It simply takes me longer, and that is okay.
      This only relates to crying inasmuch as I would spend longer than your average adult in a non peaceful state~with or without crying. =) Does that make sense? It seems to me that with innate human variablity that some of us find equilibrium more quickly than others. So our childrearing should respect that variability and ‘allow’ more disequilibrium if it seems a part of their personality. The goal is to help them achieve peace, and the path is varied.
      Just don’t drive yourself insane feeling inadequate if your high strung child cries lots, yes? It’s not a nice place to live (been there)! =)

  18. Shelly   awakeshelly

    What a beautiful discussion!

    I feel compelled to share that I’ve had some extremely beautiful moments of peace and love being with a crying child (and also with adults). I feel honored to be trusted with my loved one’s vulnerable expression. And these moments have been some of the deepest and most loving emotional connections I’ve experienced.

    And I really appreciate it when others hold space for me to fully express my pent up emotions. Sure, I would love to experience even more peace, but my life is pretty awesome and I still occasionally need to cry.

    Accepting that fact and loving myself through the process means that my sadness, upset, and tears don’t necessarily have to disrupt my overall peace. And somehow, ever since I’ve come to terms with my own need to cry and release, I’ve been MUCH more at ease, supporting others to do the same. So I guess I’m in the “tears are healing” camp. But I also have a rule that I laugh more than I cry or else I make some MAJOR changes in my life. Hooray for balance!

  19. Megan @ the boho mama   megankimmelshue

    Thank you for putting into words WHY a “manipulative” baby just did not sit right with me, yet I couldn’t quite clarify why. I know now it’s the word itself – manipulate – and the negative connotation that goes with it. Definitely sharing this one on my FB page! :)

  20. I love this post because it so eloquently captures *exactly* how I feel when anyone refers to a baby or toddler as “manipulative.” I read this in Alfie Cohen’s “Unconditional Parenting,” how sad it is that in our culture we so often assume the worst of children. Thank you for writing so precisely what is upsetting about that kind of attitude and hopefully helping people see there is another way to view tears, as an expression of emotion.
    -Dana

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