Why is she crying… I hear you cry!? Babies and young children want different things, let’s understand the difference.
Crying is completely natural, babies cry to communicate and young children cry to express thier emotions. As parents, we instinctively protect and provide for our children and when a baby cries we work hard to figure out which need she wants us to meet. Sometimes we simply cannot figure it out, especially when we have gone through the general check list; yet the crying continues. It’s late at night, you’re tired, you’re frazzled, so what should you do next? Now is the time when we should consider if they are no longer crying due to need, and perhaps because they are expressing an emotion or annoyance. If all the obvious needs are met but the crying continues, it is often a frustration of wanting to get back to sleep but not knowing how to. This cry is simply your baby saying ‘I’ve found myself awake and I don’t know how to go back to sleep, please come and do whatever you did before to get me to sleep’.
Your baby has skills
In the early weeks and months, babies need a lot of help to get to sleep. After all, sleep is a learned skill and not something we do subconsciously like breathing. We adopt all kinds of instinctive soothing techniques to help our babies to sleep and some take to it more easily than others. Usually the easy going, adaptable types have little difficulty conforming to the parents sleep plan but the more alert ones like to challenge things, they tend to have their own ideas and don’t often go with the flow. These are the ones who often cry out of frustration and find it harder to catch on to a sleep routine.
Why has my super sleeper suddenly stopped sleeping?
Around the age of four to five months, a lot of development takes place. Sometimes the great little sleepers come unstuck and those that were already a challenge get even trickier! This is your baby’s way of telling you that she is ready for your help to learn the skill of settling herself to sleep so that she can maintain a sleep cycle and snooze sweetly through the night. Crying is something you will experience throughout your child’s life and whilst we do not enjoy hearing them cry, we are more able to cope with crying depending on the meaning we place upon it. For example: If you believe your child is crying due to pain, you will comfort him and try to take away the pain; If you believe your baby is crying due to hunger, you will feed your baby; If you believe your child is crying because you said ‘no’ to that packet of sweets, you might ignore the crying and offer an alternative to the sweets, you might reprimand the crying, or you might give in to the crying!
My personal experience
So what do you do when your toddler is crying because she wants something that she cannot have? When our daughter was around 20 months old, I remember being out for lunch and I had a glass of wine. Our daughter pointed and asked if she could have some of mummy’s drink and, of course the answer was ‘no’. She cried. She was upset. She did not understand why I was denying her a sip of mummy’s drink when she had previously been allowed some of my drink (when it was water or juice). She had no understanding of my reasoning but no amount of crying would make me give in because what she wanted would be harmful to her. I knew better. So I comforted her, offered her her own drink as an alternative and tried to lovingly distract her from the situation.
We often find it easier to accept our children’s cries when we know the thing they are crying for is 100% out of the question and not good for them. Why? Because our duty to protect them is stronger than our duty to make them happy about every decision we make for them. We cannot stop every tear or turn every sad emotion into a happy one but we can lovingly support our children as they learn to process these emotions and as they develop new skills through this learning.
It is important for us to recognise our children’s emotions and help them learn to deal with them and process these emotions in a healthy way. If we dismiss them, tell them to stop it and fail to address them, it suggests that these feelings are not important or valid.
Sometimes a toddler or young child may be crying or making a fuss about what is seemingly ‘nothing’ and we, as adults, may recognise this as attention-seeking, or an attempt to manipulate a particular result and this will be reinforced if we give in! However, even when the crying is about ‘nothing’ it is important to recognise that it is ‘something’ to the child. By allowing the child the opportunity to calm down and explain what the emotion is, you will help to teach him how to handle his emotions. Some questions that might help are, ‘Why are you upset? ‘How did that make you feel?’ ‘What have you learned from this?’ I believe that finding a balance is key. We mustn’t ignore cries, dismiss or trivialise them but it is also important not to rush in straight away, as this prevents our children from learning their own coping strategies.
As you can see, as a child gets older it becomes easier to discuss and address the reasons behind their tears. With babies, it is a little harder and we must rely on our parent instincts to problem-solve and identify for ourselves what the problem might be. I know how hard it is, so please don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss your own situation, and together we can find a way to get your super-sleepers sleeping soundly again!