Creative Child

The Trouble with Ignoring Cries

by Rebecca Eanes


There are valid reasons for wanting the crying to end, to be sure. Children can’t always have their own way, and this produces a fair amount of tantrums and tears. I’m definitely not suggesting that we give in to every whim. Nor am I suggesting that parents who have allowed their children to cry or ignored a tantrum is bad (as I admit to having done so myself in desperate times). We are only human, after all. No, what I want instead is to offer you encouragement to listen to your heart and perhaps a bit of positive parenting insight to arm yourself with. 

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Crying is communication, and yes even the whining of a preschooler or a teenager, as grating as it may be on the nerves, is a desperate attempt to communicate some kind of emotional discomfort, and so what should we do when our children try to communicate? Listen, of course. Listen with as much patience and empathy as you can muster because it is in the “being heard” not in the “giving in to” that children build resilience and closer connection to parents. 

Unfortunately, we sometimes get caught in the thinking trap that there are only two alternatives - giving in or ignoring/isolating, but there is a third option that works much better, and that is holding boundaries with empathy. Let’s say, for example, that your toddler is tired and cranky. The slightest thing sends him over the edge into a crying fit. He isn’t trying to manipulate you or make your life difficult. He is overwhelmed, and giving him comfort will no more make him want to have another meltdown than your friend giving you a shoulder to lean on will make you want to have to lean on her more. In instances of emotional overwhelm, ignoring only aggravates the nervous system and compounds the issue, alarming the brain even more. Little ones don’t yet have the cognitive ability to form a master plan of manipulation, even though it can certainly seem so! Loving arms and an empathetic ear will make everything alright again.

For the preschooler who is demanding a cookie for breakfast and your denial of that cookie is bringing on a tantrum, you don’t have to give her the cookie or ignore her cries. The empathy option allows you to say, “I see that you are upset over the cookie. You really want it, but that isn’t a healthy breakfast, and I want you to be healthy because I love you very much.” Understand her view and validate her feelings. She needs that more than the cookie, anyway.

The same is true for a pretten who is pouting and whining because you won’t buy him a new video game. Sending him to his room won’t resolve his feelings, as tempting as it is to send away the whining. You, yourself, know what it’s like to want things and not be able to get them, so you are in a good position to teach him how to cope with life’s little disappointments. “You’re upset about the game. I know what that feels like. I’m sorry you’re upset. I just cannot afford it right now. Why don’t you add it to your wish list and then see if the neighbor would like his lawn mowed? You could earn money for the game that way.” 

I realize it is difficult to hold boundaries with patience and empathy. I still struggle at times to do so, but as the mature brains in the family, it’s our duty and privilege to model how to handle these issues. Sure, it may be easier to ignore their cries, but remember…”You’re not managing an inconvenience, you’re raising a human being.” - Kittie Frantz

Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of multiple books including Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother. She is the grateful mom of two boys. 


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