Child development: Crying

When my first child was born, I was surprised at how strong she was: She cried so loud, it MADE me know what to do and go and do it.
As an infant, it was simple, totally hormonal: I fed her. I also held her, changed her, talked to her, cuddled with her.

This new experience of knowing what this baby is saying when she cries overrode all other experiences. Her crying did not annoy me, it did not frustrate me, it actually empowered me: I felt I understood my baby. She “talked” to me, I knew what she said, and I knew what she needed and what I needed to do.

As she grew, she started to use other forms of communication: She smiled, she made cooing sounds, she closed her eyes and lips when she did not welcome a new food. I expected that as her vocabulary grew, I would be able to understand in more detail, to get more information about what she wants. I expected everything to become much easier.

But what happened instead is that she learned how to say “NO.. And she cried really loud when she did not get what she wanted. As you can see, this too was crying, but it was different.
The difference between the crying of the infant and the crying of the toddler is its urgency and its purpose. The child does not know the difference. For a toddler to get what s/he wants is as important as food for the infant. It is the adult’s judgement call to decide when “urgent” is urgent, and how to let the child experience delay without losing trust in us.
This is part of what we mean by “child development”–but we rarely consider the “parent development” part. The parent needs to be ready to make this change, to realize that the child can wait, that not to fulfill his or her need right now is ok.

The child trusts the confidence of the parent that s/he will be ok. S/he does not know it, yet. That is what needs to change in the next stage of development.

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