Creative Child

The Trouble with Ignoring Cries

by Rebecca Eanes

I very often see others advising mothers to ignore their childrens’ cries. I see it in comment sections of friends’ posts and in articles written by numerous “experts.” I see it in books and blogs and I hear it in waiting rooms and at the playground, and each time I do, my heart sinks and all I can think is “where is the empathy?

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Empathy is lacking in American culture all over the board, but there is a pronounced lack of empathy in dealing with the emotions of children from infancy through teenhood. We are bombarded with advice to ignore them almost as soon as they exit the womb in a sad and misguided attempt to “train them.” It is common to allow babies to cry to teach “self-soothing” and to ignore the screams of a distressed toddler so as not to “reinforce negative behavior.” (I’m not villainizing parents here, either. Stick with me!) We are told to ignore the cries of preschoolers so as not to spoil them and boys so as not to feminize them. We are asked to ignore the distress in our teens so we don’t “feed the drama queen or king” or to teach some twisted form of resilience. It’s all perfectly normal.

Our friends tell us they do it. The internet tells us its fine. Some parenting experts even advise it. However, the fact that everyone else is doing something doesn’t automatically make it right or best, and while I could cite study after study of the negative effects on children’s brains and emotional development when they are ignored, left to cry without the comfort of a parent’s loving arms, the question that I want to propose is this: How does it make you feel?

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You see, I believe we often sacrifice our own internal compass when the voices and opinions of others crowd out our own inner voice. In our states of exhaustion or distress, we feel we have lost our way and even perhaps that we have no choice than to give in and give ignoring a try - for our own sanity at least! But never does it feel good or right to the parent when she ignores the cries of her little one, and often doing so causes even more distress, but being told that we must stick to our guns, we force ourselves to walk away. 

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