A few months ago I wrote about Ingrid’s crying and tantrums, about how strongly they affect me, and how I cannot ignore them. The more I think about it, the more I think that is a good thing, and I shouldn’t try to ignore her crying.
A commenter said she is immune to her child’s wailing if it’s not because he is sick or hurt. But then I thought about what would make me sad, and I can think of many things that would upset me more than plain physical pain. Disappointment, frustration, loneliness, anxiety, loss, fear… I am sure these all are as upsetting for a child as for an adult, if not more. Frustration and disappointment in particular must be a big part of a toddler’s life. They are just starting to understand the world and want to do more with it, but still have very limited power to express their wishes and to affect the world around them.
Sometimes the root cause of the unhappiness is something that can be solved. Lonely and tired and don’t want to sit in the pushchair? OK, we’ve got a baby carrier for that (a whole stash of them in fact). Other times I either cannot or will not solve the problem. Upset because I don’t allow her to stab the kitchen table with her fork? Too bad, I still won’t allow it. Disappointed because the playroom we were going to visit is closed? Well, so am I, but there’s not much I can do about it.
But even if I cannot fix the problem, I don’t want to ignore Ingrid’s crying. She has no other way of expressing these emotions, after all – I can hardly expect her to sigh and say “I’m really disappointed”. She has had so little experience of disappointment in her short life, of course she’s going to be bad at dealing with these feelings! Over time she will learn to recognise these feelings, understand, express and control them. At the moment, however, she needs adult help. So I do it for her: I talk to her, and say the things I think she might want to say if only she knew how.
Of course she would eventually stop crying if I ignored her as well. But I believe it is more productive in the long run if I help her handle the situation.
PS: Things may change when Ingrid grows older and we get to real attention-seeking tantrums, exaggerating the unhappiness because of the reaction it provokes, making noise because it might get you things. But that’s not what’s happening now.