Crying is the primary way an infant communicates. Many adults are comfortable writing and talking about this statement. Yet, when it comes to supporting a crying child, many react instead of respond. What is the difference between reacting versus responding to crying? The goal when reacting to crying is to hastily stop the crying by distracting the child. Whereas, the goal of responding to crying is to calmly approach the child and together take care of the unmet need.
According to Faris and McCarroll (2010) before the age of 8-10 months infants only understand at a primitive level that when they cry someone in the environment will take care of them. Furthermore, Faris and McCarroll (2010) state that during the first year of life, the caregiver’s response to crying will impact the development of trust in others, themselves and their environment. This is why it is important to respond instead of react to crying.
As mentioned in Faris and McCarroll (2010) cries have a predictable sequence of behaviors. Phase one, protest, involves loud cries and restlessness. Phase two, despair, involves monotonous cries along with inactivity and withdrawal. Phase three, detachment, involves infant showing a withdrawn interest as infant has lost hope that the caregiver will provide comfort. Therefore, it is important to read the infant's cues accurately and respond when infants begin to protest.
According to Elliot and Gonzalez-Mena (2011) infants need partners to learn and develop self-regulation. According to Thompson (2009) self-regulation is defined as "the ability to monitor and manage one's thinking, attention, feelings, and behavior." Being able to regulate one's own feelings is an invaluable skill that lasts a lifetime. This is why it is important not to hastily stop crying by distracting the child as it hinders the ability to calm their bodies down when they are ready. They have to be allowed to trust their own bodies. It is appropriate to engage and together take care of unmet needs in a calm manner.
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For further reading:
Elliot, E., & Gonzalez-Mena, J. (2011). Babies' self-regulation: Taking a broad perspective.
YC Young Children, 66(1), 28-32.
Faris, M., & McCarroll, E. (2010). Crying babies: Answering the call of infant cries. Retrieved
Thompson, R. A. 2009. Doing what doesn't come naturally: The development of self-regulation.
Zero to Three 30 (2): 33
Written by Abhirami Gunasingam