So this meme was shared today in an early childhood education group and it started a huge debate among educators. Some saw this as parent shaming and others as defending that infants NEED to be allowed to cry it out to learn how to self regulate and understand the concept of delayed gratification.
In my experience this is the challenge when we read something and assume the two extremes around what it’s meaning in the actual middle of the spectrum.
IMO this meme isn’t saying NEVER let a child cry because you’re gonna break their fragile mental health and cause trauma if you do.
Yes infants are gonna NEED to cry from time to time because that’s how they communicate when they are frustrated/bored as well as all the other reasons like pain/hunger/scared, etc. There is a HUGE difference between allowing an infant a moment or two of delayed gratification during which they may cry and not dropping everything and meeting their needs for them immediately IF while they are in that state the adult is being responsive to the cry by verbally reassuring them “I hear you. You sound upset but my hands are busy changing a diaper/making dinner/going pee (whatever is delaying you from attending to them immediately). I will be there in just a minute to help you” and trying to help them corevulare through verbal and body language cues or if seeing them struggle a minute to reach for a toy or change positions themselves and they are crying in frustration and you are giving them a minute of frustration to see if they can use that to propel themselves forward and meet the need themselves and using body language are to cheerlead them on. Then when you are done with your task or you’ve given them that moment and can see that they are gonna need assistance than you are in fact attending to their need that made them cry so the need it’s actually met just delayed - that approach is what is called responsive caregiving and most definitely teaches them that yes my need WILL be met if I am just patient or persistent.
Verses the other far end of the spectrum here, that research like this is talking about IMO, where infants are left for LONG periods of time to cry it out with no support at all from a responsive adult in their life’s and their need that started them off crying is often NEVER met either entirely or it’s left for so long they given up trying to have it met - aka they are left up to hour or more to cry in their beds to learn to “self regulate”, they are left for hours in distress because they are feeling insecure in their environment but are not picked up and soothed cause ‘that will reinforce their crying behaviour’ and they need to learn to ‘self regulate’ or “don’t pick them up you’ll spoil them” or they are in pain and cry out and left to cry it out to “toughen em up”, or they are left to cry when hungry cause “the clock says it’s not been 4 hours yet” and “they need to follow their schedule” at all costs and the array of other old school approaches to caregiving around infants and toddlers and the behaviour of crying and why it should be ignored and not reinforced that were used in infancy/toddlerhood not only by parents but by ECE in childcare settings too. Approaches that, yes with the research done today when we know more about the brain and how it works and longer term studies have been done on various approaches has shown, it can in fact create attachment trauma and other trauma responses in the brain as the infant grows into other stages of development that for some children can result in increased aggression and lack of impulse control. It can affect the ability to form healthy attachments in adult relationships and an array of other mental health barriers around trusting one’s needs will be met.
This new information is not to lay BLAME on those who’ve fallen into that old parenting advice - every generation of parents does their best with the tools and resources they have at the time but as we learn as a society what might work better than we should be having these discussions around our practices so we can DO better moving forward with the new information we have.
It’s the same with the old school “corporal punishment” argument where there are those who still say “I was spanked and hit as a child and I turned out fine” … but how might we have turned out if we HAD NOT had that form of discipline and instead had a gentler more positive approach to what occurred when we were making mistakes ? Is it possible it would have been better and healthier for our attachments, relationships and view of authority and trying other things in the world where we don’t know the success of them for fear of being punished if we do try them? And why are we settling for “turning out fine” when we could be reaching for “turning out exceptional”?
Also to touch base on a couple other points that came up in the thread on Facebook that prompted this blog post.
On the topic of these memes “shaming” parents who let their children cry. I totally agree with the advocating for the importance of a caregiver, be it a parent or third party, to know their own limits for dealing with adversity in caregiving such as the stress of listening to a baby crying and nothing working to sooth them and that it is totally better to tell baby “I need a break for a minute” and set them somewhere safe and walk away for a couple minutes to collect oneself, grab some coffee, wash their face whatever they need to do to ground themselves before coming back to try to help baby again - that IMO is still totally within the realm of responsive caregiving. Or to even know their threshold of when they need to reach out for back up from family/friend/neighbour/coworker to tag on so they can take over for to give them a longer break to take care of themselves and their own mental health. Raising tiny humans is HARD and we definitely need to to do a better job to support and not shame or judge people for needing to ask for HELP with the task!
The two things do not need to be mutually exclusive - we can ensure we have the support system in place so that both the infants need to feel heard/secure/supported in their distress AND the caregivers need to protect their own mental health in face of that distress and not feeling like they can help their tiny human in that moment because to own cups running on empty.
There is also the reality that due to the fight or flight response humans have that even in the most responsive healthy attachment based modes of caregiving situations you are still gonna have the exception where young children still show “aggression” because it’s a) the nature verses nurture of human beings occurring and b) the fact that it is developmentally appropriate in early childhood to learn by trial and error as they figure out their world around them … so some personalities are just going to be more engrained with the ‘fight’ response when they are faced with an adversity/stressor. The trick to avoiding growing up into ADULTHOOD with STILL leaning impulsively towards aggressive solutions to adversity and solving one’s problems is how RESPONSIVE we are to supporting young children to develop better empathy, conflict resolution, and anger management techniques so that they have the tools they need in adulthood to cope with what nature engrained in their brain pathways.
There is so much that is newly discovered every year about how amazing the human brain is and the connections between the nature and nurture outcomes in life affecting the brain and what our role as educators of the early years is in helping to advocate for the “when we know better we DO better” in a way that is not judgemental of the ways that came before us!
It took me a lot of years of therapy to get to the place where I can look on my own trauma filled childhood with authoritative emotional and physically abusive parents and accept without blame that my parents did the best they could with the knowledge, resources and skill set they had at the time … I don’t hold blame or judgement for them! They loved me in the only way they knew how.
As an adult I now know better because I looked outside my family circle for information, I have access to the Internet and so have better resources and tools in my toolbox so I can do better than those before me and I can do the hard work end the cycle of parenting style that I had and do better for my children and grandchildren - and hopefully they will know even better and have better tools that I did and continue working towards helping ensure that all children can do more than the benchmark of ‘fine’ and instead have the benchmark be ‘exceptional’ building blocks from their childhood experiences 💗
Ultimately we need to remember that when we KNOW BETTER we strive to DO BETTER … no shame, no blame, no punishing ourselves for what came before because we lacked the tools we needed to do better!
Be the change we want to see in the world!
Live, Laugh, Love