Write me: rebecca@positive-parents.org

Would you ignore her cries?



What about hers?

Mormor  Of course not?

Then why on Earth would you ignore hers?

Big Tears Are OK

I am, at times, taken aback by the practices we, culturally, will accept and perform without question.

A friend recently asked for advice on her Facebook page because she said her child’s (a preschooler) reaction to anything was to cry.  As I set there reading her friends’ recommendations, my heart sank. Most all of them told her to ignore him when he cries. Some said to punish him or send him away, and my thought was my goodness, where is the empathy?

Empathy is lacking in American culture all over the board, but a severe lack of empathy in dealing with children’s emotions is disturbingly prevalent.  We are given the advice to ignore them almost as soon as they come out of the womb in a sad and misguided attempt to “train” them, from allowing them to helplessly cry in their crib so that they learn to “self-soothe” to ignoring the screams of a distressed toddler so she doesn’t “continue throwing fits for attention” to ignoring the cries of preschoolers and older children so as not to spoil them, and, for boys, feminize them. (Yes, sadly that is still a problem).

Our friends tells us they do it. The internet tells us it is okay. Some parenting experts advise it. Perhaps even your pediatrician may recommend it. However, the fact that everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right, neither does the fact that it is socially acceptable. I could bore you with study after study of the negative effects on children’s brains and emotional development when they are ignored, left to cry alone without the comfort a parent’s loving arms, but for goodness’ sake, I shouldn’t have to. Where is our moral compass?

How did we come to accept and believe it is okay to ignore our children when they are upset? Is it the lack of empathy shown to us when we were children that makes it so easy for us to be apathetic to it?

What a child doesn’t receive, he can seldom later give. – P.D. James

It seems we have come to the conclusion that there are only 2 options. Give in to their cries, thereby spoiling them and turning them into dreadful brats, or ignoring them to keep that from happening.

But there is a wonderful third option! One that doesn’t give in to the child, nor isolate the child.

EMPATHY.  It doesn’t come easily to many of us, especially if we were deprived of it as children ourselves, but it can, and should be, learned and passed down generation to generation. I will not, for the sake of post length, get into allowing infants to cry-it-out as I will certainly go off on a tangent, but for toddlers, preschoolers, and the older child, it looks something like this.

Your toddler is tired and cranky.  The slightest thing sends him over the edge into a huge crying fit. I can tell you with certainty that he is not breaking down for his benefit. He is not manipulating you or trying to make your life difficult. He is overwhelmed, and giving him comfort will no more make him want to have more meltdowns than your friend giving you a shoulder to lean on will make you want to have to lean on her more. Don’t withhold affection or attention during his time of distress. He needs you.


If your preschooler wants a cookie for breakfast, and you deny her the cookie causing her to cry, there is no need to ignore her OR give her the cookie. The third 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.” Understand her view. Validate her feelings. She is a human being.

If your older child pouts or cries because you won’t buy him a new video game, sending him to his room isn’t going to resolve his feelings, but only cause more negative feelings to build. You know what it is like to want things and not be able to get them. You probably experience that feeling every payday! I do! Empathize. “You’re upset about the video game. I know what that feels like. I’m sorry you’re feeling this way. I just cannot get it right now.” Sure, it may require a whole lot more patience from you than sending him away or blocking him out, but remember…

You’re not managing an inconvenience, you’re raising a human being. – Kittie Frantz


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  • MyClothLove Posted 20 July 2012 12:12

    Oh how much I wish I could have known better sooner. I'm still tempted to tell them to quit it, but I'm learning. It's not easy with your family and spouse telling you to stop coddling the boys.

  • Reality Mama Posted 20 July 2012 17:40

    I agree with this so much, but it is so hard with a three year that will beg and plead for junk food until I have used up all patience and explanation. Eventually I yell and send him away 🙁

  • KnikkaP Posted 21 July 2012 7:26

    I just read a book called "The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog" and it basically was saying how all of our children's behavior problems can be traced back to not having their needs met during the years 0-3… your child isn't doing things specifically to piss you off or irritate you, they obviously need things… this quote really resonated with me:
    "We tend to see children who are whiny and demanding and aggressive as 'spoiled' and 'indulged,' rather than recognizing that these qualities usually arise from unmet needs and unexplored potential, not from having too much or feeling too good. In order for a child to become kind, giving and empathetic, he needs to be treated that way. Punishment can't create or model those qualities. Although we do need to set limits, if we want our children to behave well, we have to treat them well. A child raised with love wants to make those around him happy because he sees that his happiness makes them happy, too; he doesn't simply comply to avoid punishment." – Dr. Bruce D. Perry

  • Touch The Earth Posted 5 February 2013 9:06

    Loving it!! Thank you for your thoughtful words 🙂

  • Jonathan Posted 5 February 2013 12:39

    I agree with much of what this article says…however, @KnikkaP stated "your child isn't doing things specifically to piss you off or irritate you, they obviously need things" if you believe that, you've never had a difficult child to deal with. I was a difficult child and I had siblings that were extremely difficult. We did things JUST to piss off our parents and took advantage of them when we got away with it. We needed firm discipline and spankings to correct our selfish, self-centered nature that every child is born with.

    Now there are children who want to please their parents and other but that is not always the case as a lot of people believe. A child is not basically good, they are selfish/self-centered and need to be taught how to do good, both by positive and negative reinforcement and always with a loving attitude!

  • Lisa Posted 6 February 2013 8:56

    Jonathan, I encourage you to read more of Neufeld has to say on this topic. Yes, it is true that some of the things children do are designed to push people away. This behaviour can have a protective effect for children if they are well attached to their family because they push away strangers and 'strange ideas', which helps them find a safe place to identify in the years 12 and under.

    However, when children under 12 are persistently pushing their parents, and other adult attachment figures away, this is NOT normal development (although it may be becoming disturbingly common in our culture). It does not happen in all cultures, and therefore, is not an unavoidable aspect of childhood.

    A child that grows up with harsh discipline and corporal punishment is automatically put into an adversarial relationship with the parent. Like all roles, they will rise to play on the stage that they are set. If you received the message as a child that all children are selfish and self-centered, it is not shocking that you played that out.

    Please don't misunderstand. I don't believe children are inherently good. But I don't believe ANYONE is inherently good, and I don't believe that harsh discipline and punishments has ever made a person 'better'. Scared to 'misbehave', possibly, but that is a far cry from acting out of goodness. Goodness, kindness, patience… These things are a byproduct of love, not punishment.

  • Empty Nester, Not! Posted 6 February 2013 8:56

    I would venture to say that your needs were not being met by your parents if you felt the need to do things specifically to piss them off.

    Children are born inherently good, and are not capable of malice or manipulation until they are taught these things. Not to mention the countless studies showing that negative reinforcement does more harm than good.

    In short, I disagree with you completely.

  • Danuta Posted 4 May 2013 8:30

    I slept with my children in my bed, cuddled them all the time. I held them, and now they hold me. I listened to their tears and torments, discussed what they wanted to discuss, danced with them to their pre-school and infant songs, and watched far more anime than I ever wanted. Now, when I am sad, or sick, or in need, they come to me. They are my strength when I am weak, my comfort when I mourn, and my joy when I succeed. It is never about discipline and punishment, it is about hope, desire, love and the diversity of being human. That is positive parenting, and I tell you that at the other end of things, it goes both ways. 😀

  • Becky Posted 4 May 2013 8:31

    Danuta., that is beautiful. May I quote your wisdom on out facebook page?

  • Jeremy Posted 8 October 2013 6:11

    I'm curious as to what you would call "harsh discipline". Is ALL spanking harsh? Is there really NO way to "discipline in love"? We spank in our household, but if the PARENT is angry or upset, then no spanking is allowed. Parents need rules, too!

    I guess the thing I really disagree with is that spanking automatically creates an "adversarial relationship with the parent". It's one of those absolute statements that is just as bad as "every child needs to be spanked". Would you really condemn every instance of spanking?

  • Squirrel Posted 8 October 2013 6:11

    I also cried when reading your comment. I had the chance to go on a Parenting Course when my first child was very very small because we had signed up to become respite foster carers. Really my boy was too young for the intentions of the course but it was useful to think through many aspect of parenting in advance. In one of the first session we were asked about what we wanted for our children and I expressed how some of the Scouts I had known (moody, adolescent, mostly boys) seemed to enjoy spending time with their families, have a pleasant joking repartee with humour and mutual respect as well as the temper tantrums, grumbles and challenges of the teenage years. I said 'I want my children to choose to spend time with us as they grow up, even when they don't need us so much, and to enjoy their company.' That seemed to be a strange but well-received, 'alternative' wish to have … but I can't think of any better reason for raising my children as well as I can. Your comment has expressed that way of parenting in a wonderful way, thank you.

  • Sijmen den Hartog Posted 9 February 2014 11:41

    I think that most parents are able to distinguish between a cry for help and comfort and a cry to get things done the way you want it and not the parents way. I don't think you can say so easily, don't ignore or you should ignore. It totally depends on the situation.
    Empathy is realy important but it does Always stop your child from crying. So what if you show empathy and the crying goes on for a simple cookie? may be it is time for a nap, maybe you child is being stubborne, maybe it jusy wants a hug, or maybe it has seen that crying persuades you in doing his or her will. It's not as black and white as to ignore and also not to never ignore.

  • Jodie Greenaway Posted 9 February 2014 11:41

    I kind of agree with this article as I don't believe you should ignore the cries of a baby as they mostly function on basic human needs. However, as they start to get to the toddler age, I believe things change. What this article fails to mention is that everyone is born with a personality. That's why there never is only one answer and why one baby or toddler may rarely cry and another screams and throws tantrums on a daily basis. Like adults, some babies and children and just more easygoing and some have bad tempers and struggle to cope if they don't get what they want. I completely disagree with the comment about the cookie situation. If a 2 year old has lost the plot over not getting a cookie, telling them you understand how they feel and they can't have it because it's not a healthy breakfast etc. is unlikely to work. You either ignore them or deal with it by putting them in time out etc. so they learn that they can't always get what they want – like in life. Listening to them and comforting if they're crying because they've hurt themselves or another child is taunting is very different. I'm sure most parents would listen to their cries then. Even in adulthood some people whine constantly for attention for good reasons or otherwise you just need to learn when to ignore and when to listen

  • Tammy Posted 9 February 2014 11:42

    The fact is to many parents spank in anger. If a parent is in control of emotions and the reason for the spanking is do the child doesn't suffer another consequence that will hurt them (such as exclusion from family time, losing a comfort/self soothing item and lets face it t.v, phone, computers have become those items, they conact them to the world.) Than spanking is fine, giving them options between disclipines is good as long as you can live with it, if you can't live with the choice they make don't make it an option

  • Tammy Posted 9 February 2014 11:42

    I thank you, and will pass this along. I wish that all parents would really think about how the would treat their friend if they were crying. We are all human and I know.at times frustration sets in even with our friends. How about being honest when we can't stand it anymore: "I love you and care about your feelings, we will talk about this but right now I am feeling overwhelmed and need to have sometime alone or quite time to organize my priorities, handle my emotions, and find my center (think, introspect, renew)"

  • Donkey Mob Softball Posted 9 February 2014 11:42

    This is wonderful. Thanks for posting.

  • Anonymous Posted 9 February 2014 11:42

    Jeremy, from the reading I have done, most studies suggest that there truly is NOT a way to "discipline in love". Spanking has been shown time and again to have negative effects on children. In fact, punishment may only cause children/people to be more manipulative and to hide "bad" behavior so as not to get caught. It doesn't inherently help them to learn to "want" to behave. Also, what I find sad and depressing is that we think nothing of spanking kids when we would never, ever hit a spouse, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, etc. In fact if we did, it would be against the law. So why would it be okay to hit someone who is SO defenseless against us and who in fact looks up to us and needs us to protect them from harm? It makes no sense to me.

    I would dare you to ask yourself honestly… if someone were to hit you because you did something they didn't like… would it make you want to stop doing what you were doing? What if you really felt what you were doing was warranted? I know for me, if someone hit me, my responses would be:

    1. I didn't deserve to be hit just because you don't like what I'm doing.
    2. I was acting this way because I thought it was the right thing, or at least, it was what I wanted to do. If you wanted me NOT to do it, you could just explain to me your reasoning. You could also have empathy for MY feelings. How on earth would hitting change my mind in ANY manner? Simply put, it wouldn't.
    3. Next time I want to do what I want to do… knowing that you will hit me if I do… I will find a way to do it anyway but when you are not around, or not looking, etc. so that I don't continue to get hit.

    I would not hear your reasons why. I would feel on the defense rather than willing to hear what you have to say.

    Now I know children do not have the same logic or reasoning skills we do but I can honestly say that I DO believe strongly in the goodness of people. Yes, people can do crappy things. But people who are supported by love, surrounded by love and trust and empathy and support? Those people, by and large, try to "do the right thing". Children, especially, want to do the right thing to please us… but only when they feel connected to us.

    Anyway, that is my opinion, but there are plenty of studies to back up the fact that spanking does far more harm than good, and that there is, in fact, no way to "discipline in love" from a child's perspective. It kind of hurts my heart that so many people believe they can do this without negative impact to children. They cannot rationalize our behaviour.

    And remember… the ORIGINAL meaning of the word discipline was "to TEACH" not to "punish". Wouldn't teaching be SO much better for everyone?

  • Anonymous Posted 9 February 2014 11:42

    I had a longer reply that got eaten by this blog. But, in short, no I do not believe that it is possible to "discipline in love" from a child's perspective. Plenty of studies have shown that spanking has negative consequences for children. We, as a society, have deemed it not okay to hit our spouses, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and yet… some feel it is okay to hit children… some of the most vulnerable people in our society. It boggles my mind.

    If someone were to hit you because you didn't do what they wanted you to… what would your response be? I know my thoughts would be:

    1. Why did you hit me? I didn't deserve it no matter WHAT I did.
    2. You must not like me very much if you are willing and able to hit me.
    3. If you didn't like what I was doing, why could you not have simply explained to me WHY so that I might reconsider my choices.
    4. I might ALSO reconsider if you were to at least show some empathy for MY feelings in the matter. Your feelings are not the ONLY feelings that matter.
    5. Because you hit me when I did this, in future if I want to do this, I am just going to hide when I want to do it so that you don't catch me and hit me again. Why should I listen to you if you hurt me and don't listen to or at least empathize with me?

    I don't think anything can be solved by hitting that connecting, discussing and TEACHING (which is the original meaning of "discipline") cannot do withOUT hitting.

    Children's feelings are real and big. And I do think that people are by and large good by nature. Children and adults. When they "misbehave" it is often a sign or symptom of the fact that they have needs not being met and they haven't been properly supported. Think of the times when we, ourselves, do not "behave" the best way possible. Usually, it is because we feel we are missing something or not supported, correct? I believe same goes for kids.

    Anyway, I agree wholeheartedly with the Empty Nester, Not!

  • Anonymous Posted 9 June 2015 9:57

    I don't like spanking, but I do believe there is a rare time when it is okay. When what the child is doing is putting them in danger, like heading toward a hot oven or a fire when you're telling them to stay back and they don't listen, I think a light spank helps shock them into realizing they should stay away. A small "injury" is better than a serious burn (even though the injury is more emotional than physical). Afterwards or if the child gets upset, once they calm down, it's important to reconnect with them and explain what happened and why the situation was dangerous and even apologize for spanking them. I don't agree with it as a daily discipline technique and it's definitely not okay to do out of anger or frustration with the child. When they are too young to really understand how much touching a hot oven would hurt, explaining it to them won't always get through and sometimes you only have a second to stop them. Spanking lets them know that it's serious, but if you spank all the time, it loses that message and I can see how it would create hurt feelings and resentment. Maybe it's not the best way to handle it, but sometimes it's the fastest thing you can come up with to stop them quickly and prevent something worse from happening. That being said, I completely agree with the original post and pretty much all aspects of positive parenting even though it's something I struggle following through with daily. I see the benefits and how much better my daughter responds to it and the positive impact on our relationship.

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