In Defense of CryingA collaboration By: Abhirami Gunasingam, RIE® Practicum Graduate with RIE® Associate: Elizabeth Memel, Mentor
I used to think that crying was an attentionseeking behavior, after all the outcome of crying was that it got my attention. According to Bowlby, originator of the term “Attachment Theory,” crying by an infant is actually attachment-seeking behavior. Bowlby theorized being in proximity to an attachment figure is vital for our survival and furthermore describes crying as an instinctive behavior (Bowlby,1982). In my practice, I have come to realize the important role crying has played in developing attachment for me and the children I care for, by bringing me in close proximity to the crying child. This deeper understanding of crying was the missing link for me. Reflecting on this has helped me to understand that infants have no malicious intent when they cry – it is an inborn instinct for survival – and I have learned that by reframing crying as attachment-seeking rather than attention-seeking, we remove negative connotations associated with crying and are able to recognize it as a call for attention and connection. Infant cries can signal many things. When an infant has a need for food, a dry diaper and/or sleep, they cry to alert the primary attachment figure of their need. Infants may also cry because they are struggling. Struggling to learn to move their bodies in and out of different positions, struggling to make meaning of the stimulation they experience from the environment, struggling to regulate their feelings. They are struggling. The struggle is real and it’s a part of life. How do we best support an infant who is struggling? If the struggle is based on an unmet need, we may need to spend some time together meeting that need, a little “wants something” quality time (Gerber, 2013). “Wants something” time is when you have a goal to accomplish something together, such as dressing, bathing, feeding, etc.
By involving the child and inviting their cooperation, the child, the child gains skills and learns about themselves through engaging in an activity together. Although the adult has expectations during “wants something” time, ideally doing the activity together becomes enjoyable as it is fostered in relationship with a primary caregiver. The caregiver remains available, with some expectations. Wants something time is a time for beginning to introduce and reinforce discipline (ibid., p. 16-17). In contrast, struggle that is expressed during an infant’s independent time (“wants nothing” time), may be supported best by your presence and attention. Once the needs of the infant are met, it is appropriate to place the infant on his or her back on the floor. To further support this infant, the caregiver may place the child’s lovey and/or a simple toy nearby, within reach. You may be wondering why not hold the child in the adult’s arms? Gerber (2013) defined “wants nothing” quality time as a period “when the parent doesn’t want to do anything with the child, has no other plans other than wanting to simply be with the child. Just floorsitting, being available, being there with all the senses awakened to the child; watching, listening, thinking of only that child” (p. 16). Wants nothing time can be very challenging in a group care environment, when others may expect the caregiver to be doing something with the infant. Tardos writes:
During the period while the child progresses from turning onto his side to safely walking, the average length of time spent in the same position during his waking time is not more than 2 to 2.5 minutes. In the 30-minute observation period, an average of 56 changes of position were recorded, amounting to almost two changes per minute. (2013, p. 170)
Considering this observation, holding infants for any length of time inhibits their movement and deprives the infant of the opportunity to move their body freely. Gerber (2013) writes, “A baby can learn to spend time by himself. It is important for him to discover satisfaction and joy in his own independence” (p. 14). In a safe space, away from a supervising adult, the child is able to focus on his or her own body movements with little distraction from the outer world. Most importantly, this time alone will help the infant focus on their own internal struggle and find ways to self-regulate. Providing time alone for the infant helps the adult to accomplish other tasks around the environment. Many relationships are based on performance. We may stimulate children to encourage listening and learning. Sometimes demonstrating engagement and the inherent desire for the child to demonstrate her abilities takes time. Pause - don’t leave. It is very comforting to know that the caregiver is there, really there, without an expectation to perform, to prove themselves or to have to do something to keep the caregiver’s attention (ibid, p.16). Continued on page 9