Why Saying “Don’t Cry” to Your Baby is Harmful

I made a decision when I first had my baby not to say “don’t cry.” It is a rather instinctual statement when she is upset and we have all said it to our kids, and perhaps others as well. Babies cry and we sshh them, hold them, and more often than not repeat the words “don’t cry” until they stop. I am far from perfect and the words do slip out. Yet, I still strive not to say it.

Even though she doesn’t understand my words, the statements I make now could have far-reaching effects. I am establishing habits that will carry over into toddlerhood, childhood and even beyond. The kind of mom I want to be starts now – with the kind of mom I am. So what I do and don’t say matters.

It’s important to me that this tiny human being, whom my husband and I are raising, feels comfortable expressing her emotions. Whether she feels angry, sad, vulnerable or anything else. Many of us feel the need to hide these emotions, ultimately creating a false version of ourselves that we show the public. Because this differs from the true feelings we experience inside, a sort of dissonance occurs and we feel confused, chaotic and often times alone because no one knows who we really are. We may not even know.

While kids receive messages from a variety of settings, their most defining relationships are with their parents. So it starts with us. What messages do we want our kids to receive? How do we want them to interpret our words?

“Don’t cry” sounds harmless, especially when spoken to a baby who doesn’t understand its meaning anyway. But if we say “don’t cry” now, will we say it later as well when our kids do understand the meaning? While we may not mean anything by it, we are sending a message that the emotions our children are experiencing are not okay. That the situation that brought them to tears is not worthy of such deep emotion. This leads to shame.

In working with youth for several years and counseling college students, I was continually reminded of the fact that situations feel much more dramatic a) when you’re young and b) when you’re in the midst of them. (I am guilty of the latter point as an adult as well). Once you grow up and out of the difficult situation, a new perspective emerges. We often laugh afterwards about what a big deal things seemed to be at the time.

What’s important however is that we each discover this perspective in our own way and in our own time. No one can do that for us. Sure it may help to hear someone older and wiser say that things really do get better after middle school graduation. But the drama we all go through feels huge at the time as do the emotions that accompany it. While we don’t want to teach our kids that emotions rule us, we don’t want to belittle them either. They are real, worthy of experiencing, working through and ultimately moving on.

So therefore, “don’t cry” will not be in my repertoire of comfort statements for my child.

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