Parenting In Focus: Communicating by crying

Your baby needs to cry. Actually, maybe we all need to at times.

For a baby, however, crying is his way of communicating. It is one of the most used ways to get parents’ attention. Babies cry because they can’t talk.

For you, your baby crying may be stressful, unnerving and totally exhausting. In reality, it is a critical building block in your relationship.

When your baby cries, he expects you to respond. The fact that you do respond teaches him you can be trusted.

You can solve the problem with most babies who cry by picking them up, talking with them, entertaining them, changing them or feeding them.

A technique that many times works is wrapping your new baby tightly and jiggling her on your knees. Others try going for a walk or dancing to soothing music.

There is crying that is tougher to solve. It comes when your baby is tired, feeling frustrated or too stimulated. Most of this kind of crying just has to run its course. One frequently chosen method in these difficult situations is handing your baby off to a less tired pair of arms. The arms of a stranger may make things worse, however.

If you are asking someone to take over comforting your little one, it needs to be someone she knows. Some writers refer to this as stranger anxiety (“Why Babies Do That,” Jennifer Margulis).

Some new parents are amazed that their newborn baby cries without tears. By the time they figure out that this just happens, your baby is older — about 4 months older — and more likely to include tears with her crying.

At times your older baby still cries without tears. This usually means she is still in distress but it is not bad enough to make tears fall. Maybe she is just calling for you to get her up or she has lost a toy that fell off her bed. Your baby is using her crying, even without tears, to talk to you about something that she feels is wrong but is not a dire problem.

No matter what is causing your baby to cry, it is not something you can ignore. First you try everything you can think of and then you worry about what to do next. For this kind of crying, you may just have to tell your unhappy child that you will be there and that you know things are tough.

Though these times are difficult, know that you are not alone; all parents go through this. Words will be starting soon, and your baby will have a new way to let you know you are needed.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which published newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents.