M is now 2 years old and I continue to respond (almost) immediately to his cries. In the middle of the night, if he cries, I’m there. If he is cranky and crying for cuddles, I’m there. He bumps his head and cries, I’m there.
Some of these may seem like no brainers:
Child is hurt —> Comfort child;
Child asks for a hug —> Give child a hug.
These seem pretty innocuous and most parents would probably respond the same way.
The crying in the middle of the night though? Some parents have chosen to take a different approach to help teach their child to self-soothe, sleep through the night, etc. This is truly a personal decision and what is going to work best for your family and your situation.
I am simply sharing my perspective. My opinion.
When I was pregnant with M, I read all the baby books. I read that the first year of a baby’s life, you cannot spoil them with your attention. It is best to respond to their cries to begin building that secure attachment.
This absolutely made sense to me. I had spent the last year of my graduate school career studying a lot about brain development in the early years (birth to 3 years specifically, my thesis was dependent on this information!). So when I read about responding to a baby’s cries, it made sense to me as to why it would be beneficial for a baby’s brain development and parent attachment.
Those recommendations that I read about though were for the first year of life.
I’ll admit, when M turned a year, I wondered if I would feel okay to let him cry it out more, self-soothe, etc. And to be fully honest, there were times around a year that I was so at my wits end with his lack of napping that I would lay him down, go take a shower, and then check on him. If he was crying, I’d attend to him, if he wasn’t I’d enjoy my 45 minutes of peace. A lot of the time he’d be crying when I laid him down. It broke my heart, but I knew I wasn’t calm and my tension and stress was not helping him. I did what I needed to for my own sanity in those days.
But all in all, even after he was a year, I still didn’t feel comfortable letting him cry. Even when he’s having a tantrum, I still struggle with not providing him some comfort in his emotional time. But why?
Did you know that from birth to 3 years of age the brain goes through some of the biggest changes brain development can go through in a person’s lifespan? Birth to 3 years are kind of pivotal in a child’s ability to develop secure attachments, with anyone. Children who are severely neglected or abused, those neural connectors get pruned (e.g., they go away) and once they are pruned, they’re gone for good.
Now, don’t get me wrong, please do not misunderstand me. I am absolutely not saying that letting a baby cry or a toddler cry equals neglect or abuse. No, not at all. Read above, I also let my child cry for my own sanity at times. As parents we do what we feel is best in the moment. There is also a big difference between responding to whining and responding to crying (we don’t do whining, we ask he uses his words in those moments).
However, a toddler is still learning how the world works, they are still learning about how to respond during certain situations. Their brain is still making a lot of neural connections. We are their model, they do what we do. I want to raise a son that is kind, sweet, gentle, and caring. I want him to see someone in pain or in trouble and want to help them. I feel that by responding to his emotional cues, I’m starting him on this path to being a gentle adult.
I personally don’t see why there is so much controversy around responding to a child’s cries. I do know that we are very lucky with M. At 2 years, he wakes up at night, maybe a couple nights a week. Many other parents are dealing with several times a night. I feel for you, I really do. I’m sure if I was in that situation, I may be thinking differently.
But society looks at a waking toddler differently than they do at a waking 8 year old. When an 8 year old wakes in the middle of the night because of a bad dream or because they are scared, no one bats an eye at a parent comforting that child. We think of nothing for a mother to comfort her 13 year old daughter when she gets in a fight with her best friend. Or a parent to comfort their 20 year old when they break up with a significant other.
When I’m feeling sad, lonely, scared, I want to be comforted, I want my husband, my son, my parents, in-laws, friends, etc. to be there for me when I need them. Sometimes as adults we cry and need a comforting person nearby.
So why not a toddler? When M cries, he needs something. Even if he just needs a quick cuddle, he needs something. And why would I deny him that comfort? Why would I tell him “no, you need to self-soothe” when no one tells me to self-soothe when I’m upset? I learned to comfort myself because of how my parents responded to me when I was a child. They showed me how to self-soothe by comforting me, talking to me. This is how children learn.
As an adult, if I was crying and needing comfort and my husband walked away or told me no. I’d be heartbroken! I wouldn’t understand why. And if this happened over and over again, I’d probably shut down my emotions altogether. This is not what I want for M. I want him to know that, no matter what, we will be there for him. When he’s hurt, when he’s sad, when he’s angry, I’m there for him, I’ll help him get through that difficult moment. Because if it were me, that’s what I would want.
What do you think? Do you still respond to your toddler’s cries?
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