Ten Reasons to Respond to a
|by Jan Hunt
|1. A baby's first attempts to communicate
cannot be in words, but can only be nonverbal. She cannot put
happy feelings into words, but she can smile. She cannot put sad
or angry feelings into words, but she can cry. If her smiles
receive a response, but crying is ignored, she can receive the
harmful message that she is loved and cared for only when she
is happy. Children who continue to get this message through
the years cannot feel truly loved and fully accepted.
2. If a child's attempts to communicate sadness or anger
are routinely ignored, he cannot learn how to express those
feelings in words. Crying must receive an appropriate and positive
response so that the child sees that all of his feelings
are accepted. If his feelings are not accepted, and crying is
ignored or punished, he receives the message that sadness and
anger are unacceptable, no matter how they are expressed. It is
impossible for a child to understand that expression of sadness or
anger might be accepted in appropriate words once he is older and
able to use those words. A child can only communicate in ways
available to him at a given time; a child can only accomplish what
he has had a chance to learn. Every child is doing his best,
according to his age, experience, and present circumstances. It is
surely unfair to punish a child for not doing more than he can do!
3. A child who has been given the message that her
parents will only respond to her when she is "good" will
begin to hide "bad" behavior and "bad"
feelings from others, and even from herself. She may become an
adult who submerges "bad" emotions and is unable to
communicate the full range of human feelings. Indeed, there are
many adults who find it difficult to express anger, sadness, or
other "bad" feelings in an appropriate way.
|4. Anger that cannot be expressed in
early childhood does not simply disappear. It becomes repressed
and builds up over the years, until the child is unable to contain
it any longer, and is old enough to have lost his fear of physical
punishment. When this container of anger is finally thrown open,
the parents can be shocked and perplexed. They have forgotten the
hundreds or thousands of moments of frustration which have been
filling this container over the years. The psychological principle
that "frustration leads to aggression" is never more
clearly seen than in the final rebellion of a teenager. Parents
should be helped to understand how frustrating it can be for a
child to feel "invisible" when crying is ignored, or to
feel helpless and discouraged when his attempts to express his
needs and feelings are ignored or punished.
5. We are all born knowing that each and every feeling
we have is legitimate. We gradually lose that belief if only our
"good" side brings a positive response. This is a
tragedy, because it is only when we fully accept ourselves and
others, regardless of mistakes, that we can have truly
loving relationships. If we are not fully loved and accepted in
childhood, we may never learn how that feels or how to communicate
that acceptance to others, no matter how much therapy or reading
or thinking we may do. How much easier our lives would be if we
had simply received unconditional love from birth!
|6. Parents wondering whether to
respond to crying might give some thought to their own responses
in similar situations. Parents may consider it appropriate to
ignore a child's cries, yet feel intensely angry if their partner
ignores attempts to have a conversation. Many in our society seem
to believe that a person must be a certain age before he has the
right to be heard. Yet what age would that be? Infants and
children are not any less a person just because they are small and
helpless. If anything, the more helpless someone is, the more they
deserve to have our compassion. attention, and assistance.
7. If children are taught by example that helpless
persons deserve to be ignored, they can lose the compassion for
others that all humans are born with. If, as helpless infants,
their cries are ignored, they begin to believe that this is the
appropriate response to those who are weaker than themselves, and
that "might makes right". Without compassion, the stage
is set for later difficulties or even violence. Those who wonder
why a violent criminal had no compassion for his victims need to
consider where and when he lost that compassion. Compassion is
there at birth, and does not disappear overnight. It is stolen,
through unresponsive or punitive treatment, drop by drop, until it
is gone. Loss of compassion is the greatest tragedy that can
befall a child.
|8. When a child learns by her parents'
example that it is appropriate to ignore a child's cries, she will
naturally treat her own child the same way, unless there is some
intervention from others. Inadequate parenting continues through
the generations until new experiences come about to change this
pattern. How much easier it is for a parent to have learned in
childhood how to treat his or her own child! Perhaps the cycle of
inadequate parenting can begin to change when bystanders no longer
walk past an anguished child without stopping to help. This may be
the first time the child has been given the message that her
feelings are legitimate and important, and this critical message
may be remembered later when she herself has a child.
|9. Crying is a signal provided
by nature that is meant to disturb the parents so that the child's
needs will be met. Ignoring a child's cries is like ignoring the
warning signal of a smoke detector because we find it disturbing.
This signal is meant to disturb us so that we can attend to an
important matter. Only a deaf person would ignore a smoke
detector, yet many parents turn a deaf ear to a child's cries.
Crying, like the loud detector sound, is meant to capture our
attention so that we can attend to the important needs of the
child. It just makes no sense to think that nature would have
provided all children with a routinely used signal that serves no
10. Parents who respond only to "good"
behavior may believe they are training the child to behave
"better". Yet they themselves feel most like cooperating
with those who treat them with kindness. It is as though children
are seen as a different species, operating on different principles
of behavior. This makes no sense, because it would be impossible
to identify a moment when the child suddenly changes to
"adult" operating principles. The truth is much simpler:
children are human beings who behave on the same principles as all
other human beings. Like the rest of us, they respond best to
kindness, patience and understanding. Parents wondering why a
child is "misbehaving" might stop and ask themselves
this question: "Do I feel like cooperating when someone
treats me well, or when someone treats me the way I have just
treated my child?"
Jan Hunt, M.Sc., offers email counseling
worldwide, with a focus on parenting, unschooling, and personal
matters. She is the Director of The
Natural Child Project and author of The
Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart and A
Gift for Baby.
articles by Jan Hunt