can make the false assumption that the child is deliberately attempting
to take advantage of the parent.
If a child were really "manipulating"
a parent through his or her behavior, that behavior would continue or even
increase over time. However, studies clearly show that the more quickly,
compassionately, and consistently a child's cry is answered, the less often
they cry and the shorter the duration each time they do cry. The reason
for this is that compassionate responding helps the child to mature, by
meeting an important need at the right time. Needs do not disappear on
their own, but only by being met as they arise. As an old proverb says,
"It is the hungry man who steals bread."
As Dr. William Sears wrote
in Creative Parenting, children "do not cry to annoy, to maliciously manipulate,
or to take advantage of their parents in an unfair way. They cry because
they have a need. To ignore the cry is to ignore the need."
If a parent decides to comfort
her child whenever he cries, has he "trained" her? Yes, he has. But this
is proper training - training she should have gotten from her parents when
she was in distress. The best training is by the example of our behavior,
and the best behavior we can show by example is that of compassion for
the suffering of others. If a child does not learn compassion by his parents'
example, how will he learn it?
mistakenly assume that the child's need for comfort is somehow less important
or less urgent than an adult's need for emotional comfort.
If a woman asks her partner
for a hug, she hopes that he will respond in a compassionate way, without
stopping to determine if she has had too many hugs already, or is trying
to "manipulate" or "train" him. If he ignores her request or responds with
annoyance, the relationship suffers. If he continues to respond in this
way, the relationship may well end. Yet this same woman may not see the
parallel when she ignores her crying toddler.
A child should not be seen
as "manipulating" the parent to meet important emotional needs. No one
would feel that a child was "manipulating" the parent if he were crying
due to illness, hunger pains, or the need for warmer clothing or a dry
diaper. Yet many would label the cry "manipulation" if a child is crying
for comfort or to be held (understandable needs in a medical office), though
these needs are just as important as any others, probably more so. In The
Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, the writers explain that "a child's need
to be lovingly held when he is upset is as strong and important as his
need to be fed and kept warm and dry." A compassionate response to a crying
child does not "spoil" him; it simply tells him loud and clear that he
is loved and cherished. No human being of any age can be "overcherished".
In How to Really Love Your
Child, Dr. Ross Campbell states that "We cannot start too early in giving
a child continuous, warm, consistent affection. He simply must have this
unconditional love to cope most effectively in today's world."
assume that by forcing a child to "handle" whatever needs led to his crying,
we are helping him to mature.
When we make this assumption,
we have things backwards. A parent's love, support, and reassurance are
necessary conditions for the child's growth. We do not expect a garden
to grow without sunshine, nor should we expect a child to mature without
unconditional love and trust. The truth is that the more love and compassion
the child receives, the more independent he is able to become, because
his needs have been met at each stage of his development. We have all met
adults who are still attempting, unsuccessfully, to meet needs that should
have been met in early childhood.
Dr. Lee Salk, Pediatric Psychologist
and Director of New York Hospital - Cornell Medical Center, assures us
that "The baby whose cries are answered now will later be the child confident
enough to show his independence and curiosity. But the baby who is left
to cry it out may develop a sense of isolation and distrust, and may turn
inward by tuning out the world that will not answer its cry. And later
on in life, this child may continue to cope with stress by trying to shut
Babies and children who learn
through experience to trust that their parents will take their needs seriously
and will always "be there for them," have the greatest chance for retaining
the love and trust present in every child at birth. The best proof of this
is sociological. In those cultures where infants and young children are
carried 24 hours per day, crying is almost unknown, and the children grow
to be compassionate, resilient and independent adults. A fascinating book
describing such a culture is Jean Liedloff's The Continuum Concept. This
way of raising children was in fact universal until a relatively short
time ago. Despite our technological advances, we have lost much.
As Psychotherapist Alice Miller
observes in several of her books, our readiness to see crying as "manipulation"
may primarily reflect our own painful feelings as we watch a child receiving
more love and support than we remember receiving in our childhood. This
recognition, though it may not be at a conscious level, can trigger a deep
sadness within us. Surely the best way to cope with this painful emotion
is to resolve that we will do all we can to help other children receive
more than we ourselves received. Only in this way can the human species