Tantrums or Crying?

Hi Naomi! Maybe you can help define this for me: What is the difference between a tantrum and frustrated crying, and are either or both healthy for children? In your video on your website, “you are the leader”, you mentioned your children did not tantrum. But I imagine they must have been frustrated at times, and cried during their toddler years? My child sometimes has huge emotional moments where she is lost in crying which is not exactly angry but more sorrowful. Her crying was immediately responded to as a baby, but now I am less certain what to do. Do children just naturally need a release from her emotions, even when their lives are generally calm and self-directed? Is it healthy, especially considering what is known about crying and cortisol release in the brain? I would appreciate any illumination on this subject, thanks!


Dear mother,

As parents we love our children so much that we tend to develop anxieties based on a hint of truth and lots of distorting drama. Crying with a loving parent attention, affection, care and listening is healing and healthy. Cortisol as associated with stress and abandonment.

Here is a quote from Dr. Sears about babies crying and cortisol: “…when babies cry alone and unattended, they experience panic and anxiety. Their bodies and brains are flooded with adrenaline and cortisol stress hormones. …infants who endure many nights or weeks of crying-it-out alone are actually suffering harmful neurological effects …Research has shown that infants who are routinely separated from parents in a stressful way have abnormally high levels of the stress hormone cortisol.”

As you can see, it is not the crying but the separation and terror of abandonment that is the issue. Tears are a release that is helping us humans to get over our hurts and is most beneficial when is freely expressed with a loving and (when wanted) touching listener. Nature made no mistake giving us this chemical emotional release.

So, yes, children and adults need to release emotions through tears sometimes, even in the midst of a happy life. I see the difference between tantrums and frustrated crying as a matter of degree and circumstances. Tantrums are more likely to be the expression of anger about not getting what one wants. Frustrated crying can occur when a child is failing to accomplish what she wants or finding a task difficult. Both are healing as long as they are not caused by inflicting pain or abandoning the child which is obviously not what happens with your daughter.

When your daughter cries in frustration, she is clearing herself from the intensity of emotions and helping herself to make peace with reality. She needs you to be a listener. Your calm presence and sometimes touch (if she is willing) reassures her that going through emotions is fine. She will be done and move on powerfully.

My children cried, of course, but actually not much and, each time, not for long, because they could let it all out and be done. They were listened to and no one tried to stop them or deny their feelings. One of my musical sons who figured Bach and Mozart by ear at age 3, would sometimes cry in frustration at the piano. If I uttered one word, he would promptly remind my of my listening role by saying emphatically, “Don’t say anything!” Once I learned this simple lesson I noticed that just sitting there, saying nothing, was all he needed. 

Warmly, Naomi Alodrt www.AuthenticParent.com


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