What to do when your baby cries?
“Crying is your child’s language. It is her way of communicating her needs to her parents. Every average, healthy child cries.”
— Magda Gerber, Your Self Confident Baby
How to do it:
- Let the baby know that you are there and you care.
- We don’t always know what is making a baby cry exactly or often what to do about it. For many of this knowing what to do isn’t instinctual. It takes time, patience, observation, and practice.
- We can begin with simply talking, quietly to the baby.
- Acknowledge what you see and what you are feeling: “I see you are uncomfortable. And hearing you cry really upsets me. I want to find out what you need. Tell me. I will try to understand your cues and in time, you will learn to give them to me.” Madga Gerber, Dear Parent
- Notice what you are feeling when your baby cries. Do you feel anxious, helpless, empathy, frustration, or even anger? Our reactions are important to examine and explore.
- Try thinking out loud about the possible explanations, “Is your diaper wet? I don’t think you’re hungry because you just ate…” Magda Gerber, Dear Parent
- Observe, notice, consider before reflexively feeding, changing, or picking up.
- Why are they needing to cry? Rather than see your role as one who needs to stop the crying begin to see your role is to understand why they are crying.
- “Respect, the child’s right to express his feelings, or moods.” ; “All babies cry. We would worry if they didn’t.” Magda Gerber, Dear Parent
- Allow yourselves time to begin this life long relationship. Your baby will eventually come to anticipate and respond to your relaxed, calm response to their communication.
Why we do it:
- Many babies cry a lot during the first weeks, and even the first three months, of life, as they adjust to a world that is totally new to them.
- Crying is the baby’s mode of self-expression. It is the only way the baby can express feelings or discomfort. It is also a way to discharge energy.
- Your responsiveness is the key factor in helping your baby feel secure. We MUST respond. It is HOW we respond that deserves more consideration.
- We want to learn to read and then respond to the baby’s real need. Taking our time allows us to learn our baby’s different cries and what they mean.
- Sometimes talking calmly and directly to the baby soothes the baby. If we observe carefully, we may see that simple acknowledgement, “You don’t seem comfortable…” and looking at your face is enough. No need for extra efforts or tricks to calm.
- The way we respond also “conditions” the baby to expect specific responses (feeding, covering, rocking, patting). We are mindful about how we respond, making it a dialogue with the baby, so that we don’t create a need where one didn’t exist.
- When you talk quietly to your crying baby, you begin a practice of lifelong, honest communication that will benefit both of you.
Ties to Principles:
- Trust in the infant’s competence
- Sensitive observation of the child
- A safe, challenging, predictable environment
- Caregiving times: Involving the child
What parents and carers say:
“With Ethan’s colic, I followed every suggestion and piece of advice I received. Four months…of RIE classes provided us with a gentle, calm, relaxed alternative to the chaotic and frenetic “solutions” offered by well-meaning friends and relatives.” (Dear Parent, p.43)
Bell, S., & Mary D. Salter Ainsworth. (1972). Infant Crying and Maternal Responsiveness. Child Development, 43(4), 1171-1190. doi:10.2307/1127506
Gerber, M. (2002) Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect (pp. 40-41)
Gerber, M. (1998) Your Self Confident Baby (pp. 45)
Tal-Chen Rabinowitch, Pnina Klein, Gila Atira & Ruhama Ben-Eliezer (2020) Caregiver-versus mother-infant interactions in relation to cognitive, social and emotional measures at 11 years of age, Early Child Development and Care.