A Question of Self-Worth

This isn’t what I’d planned to write today, but I’m learning that blogging isn’t always about what we want to write. Sometimes it’s about processing what’s making it impossible to concentrate on anything else.

My focus as a parenting teacher and coach, and the underlying theme of every post I’ve written, is respect for babies and toddlers. Everything I share on my blog is intended to evangelize one basic truth – all of us are born real and whole people. The sooner parents understand this, the better chance their children will have for emotional health, happiness and success. 

When respect is deeply understood, parenting is ridiculously simple. Even when the day-to-day is not so easy and fun, we can make sense of it, because we can always relate to our child’s needs on a human level. Respect is our beacon.

As I’ve expressed in other posts, I was once oblivious to the real meaning of respect. Of course, I thought I respected babies, but I really didn’t until the day I observed my infant lying on her back on the floor and for the first time saw her — a unique person deeply occupied with her own thoughts who deserved to be treated as I would expect to be treated.

Once respect is understood, we see our children through a new lens.

Respect is a sensitivity that some might be born with, or perhaps develop early on because parents treat us respectfully. Many will never quite get it, though, unless our cultural perception of infants and toddlers shifts dramatically.

The depressing truth I learned this week is that there is no point trying to explain respect to the in-the-dark majority. Like love or music or ice-cream – you can’t possibly understand if you’ve never experienced it.  So, I found myself in a quagmire of inane arguments over something as obvious (to me) as whether or not we should enjoy photos of a child in distress…

Toddler’s cry all the time for ridiculous reasons, don’t you know? It’s funny! Don’t you have a sense of humor? And it makes us so happy to see him upset over nothing because our children cry over stupid things, too. We feel less alone! The child should learn to laugh at himself. Why are you so uptight? Party Pooper!

Although it seems utterly futile and a little masochistic, I’m going to attempt (one more time) to explain my intense objection to these photos. Would we laugh at a senile granny in anguish for seemingly ridiculous reasons? Would photos posted without our permission of us in tears be hilarious? How about whimpering animals — is their misery disturbing or just plain funny?

Assuming the answer to those questions is, “well, no, but…” then consider this: Are pre-verbal children sub-human cartoon figures? Why is a crying baby funny?

We don’t suddenly become people when we start to toddle, speak recognizable words, respect our elders, vote or get married. We are all there from the beginning and waiting, hoping to connect with someone who can really see us, the person. We have a powerful instinctive need to understand and be understood, and we trust our parents to show us the way.

Psychologists have long known that in these formative first years (while our brains triple in size) the interactions we have with our loved ones, especially the manner in which our emotions are received and responded to, are internalized as “self”. Meaning, how we are treated is who we become, and psychotherapists know this deep sense of self is difficult, if not impossible to shake later on.

So the early years are the most dangerous and potentially damaging time to scoff at our children’s feelings. In fact, it is during this brief period that we have our very best shot at positively affecting our child’s future happiness, relationships and self-worth. The choices we make will matter for all the years to come. Kind of scary. Certainly the time to be extra careful.

For some reason, though, perhaps because they are accepting and can’t object, babies and toddlers are the people we’re most inclined to dismiss, manipulate, objectify, ridicule and generally disrespect. Could this compulsion to trivialize early childhood stem from core feelings of self-disdain we’ve internalized? I wonder…

“When we help a child to feel secure, feel appreciated, feel that “somebody is deeply, truly interested in me,” by the way we just look, the way we just listen, we influence that child’s whole personality, the way that child sees life.”                             – Magda Gerber

 

(Photo by jerryfergusonphotography on Flickr)

107 Comments

Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this! I am appalled everytime I see people making fun of a child’s tears, as though they’re not worthy of expressing their emotions or of the tears they shed. Imagine how different our society would be if the people responded affectionately to a child’s tears rather than laughing at them.

    1. avatar Sammy Greer says:

      Our society would be different- much for the better! I know someone who was discussing how to give medicine to her daughter, and I quote “You just push the syringe to the back of the throat, like you would a horse. plunge it quickly, so it all goes down.” There is absolutely no respect, or consideration in treating a baby “like a horse.” I don’t spend any time with that person, needless to say. How can parents be so callous? And how can people not understand that babies are aware and whole humans? I see this everyday, and try to show by example, even just by introducing someone to my daughter “Holly, this is Amelia. Amelia, this is Holly.” As if introductions are one-sided! So glad articles like this are being published. Spread the word!

  2. thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. a couple weeks ago when i came across the tumblr you mentioned above i was also disturbed by it. thank you for articulating some reasons why. i just learned about the rie concept and i’m a new parent. i’m so happy to have come across your important site and find it inspiring. thanks again.

  3. I love reading your columns, and as an attachment therapist and mother, I agree with it all. I read a column almost daily and this has really helped me change my perception of my now two year old toddler, who likes to “challenge rules” and explore his environment. I never excuse myself for my son or my behavior in stores, restaurants, ect, and only wish other parents would follow suit. It’s frustrating being a mother, but if you put yourself in your child’s shoes, you understand that the “little things” are huge to them. I don’t react in disgust or frustration anymore (ok, frustration at times lol) but it’s less, and I do empathize with his feelings even if it’s over spilt milk. He has become such a caring little boy, and will ask others including my self and husband, “are you okay?” genuinely concerned for our feelings, as we show genuine concern for his.

  4. I love this. It is especially frustrating to see people’s responses to your objections – along the lines of “we coddle children too much as it is”. If only they could see how little control children today have over their own lives. It will certainly be an uphill battle to change parenting and education for the better in this world, but I am determined to make some kind of difference.

  5. I’ve been hearing a lot about this tumblr, and I just checked it out. I commented on one of the facebook posts in solidarity with you, Janet: “Maybe this is a way for a parent of a toddler to blow off a little steam. I know most parents of “terrible” twos don’t have degrees in child development. But I do, and I can tell you that there are hard days, and lots of times when I want to cry with my child, but toddlerhood doesn’t have to just be endured, and it doesn’t really matter why he’s crying. It means a lot to him right then, so try to have a little more respect. It might just help.”
    But if that parent started empathizing with his child, there might be less tantrums, and then what would happen to the blog? 🙂

  6. YES! I seriously thought I was the only person who didn’t find that tumblr funny. You can see the pain and anguish on that poor kid’s face – why is that entertaining? I imagine you’d be able to hear it in his cry, too. Yes, he may be crying for some reason that probably wouldn’t be a big deal to other kids, but that doesn’t justify amusement. The kid needs help – he’s clearly trying to tell everyone that! It makes his photo-documenting parent seem, for lack of a better word, like an uncaring douchebag.

  7. This is perfect Janet. I too felt sad when I looked to see what everyone was talking about. I did not find it funny at all. You have perfectly explained why. Thank you.

  8. Thank you so much for writing this!! I’ve been frustrated by seeing those images. That poor kid.

  9. Thank you Janet for putting this out there. It is hard to stay sane in the face of the craziness that is deemed acceptable in the world today, so your blog is a breath of fresh air.
    Consciously parenting is a challenging task, and it seems many people are either too time pressured, tired, stressed to be able to focus on their children properly. It also means facing your own stuff, and being willing to accept we are not all knowing and all seeing, which can be hard to step away from. Yet, it is the most fulfiling, as only with hard work do we grow and learn.
    I hope that through people like you and others out there the message can slowly filter through, as it scares me to think of how this generation of children will parent their own children one day…

  10. Yes! Thank you, Janet. I agree completely, and you expressed yourself very well.

  11. Thank you Janet! I saw everyone sharing this blog in my feed, and I didn’t even click over because I didn’t even want to just check it out. Just the idea of it made me so uncomfortable.

  12. wow. thank you so much for this. I had not thought of it that way at all. I will be unfollowing that blog immediately, you are totally right.
    one of my biggest problems while growing up was having my emotions brushed aside, told they weren’t valid. I am still working through that. thank you for helping me make the connection, and helping me see that we need to break the cycle of downplaying the emotions and reactions of children.

  13. Thanks very much Janet. While reading this the word “ridicule” came to mind and how it seems acceptable to ridicule others. To go a step further to include the way in which we lack an understanding/empathy for all fellow beings on our planet, I’ve just started watching the documentary “earthlings” and wanted to share the link: http://vimeo.com/1753971.

  14. I hadn’t seen these photos until I read this post, and I really see your point. When I first saw it, it made me think of a giant “roast” of that person’s child. And then, I remembered how much I hate roasts. They’re mean and senseless. I guess in order to truly empathize with a toddler when he’s upset and put oneself in his shoes, we have ourselves to be able to hang with those strong emotions, and I find that a lot of people can’t. It requires work on ourselves, on our self-awareness, and I suppose it is easier to make fun and be cynical. You’re definitely in an uphill battle, but it is a worthwhile one, and I am deeply convinced you are in the right. I can imagine your frustration arguing back and forth with people who just don’t get it. Know there are plenty who do get it and stand on your side. Your work makes a difference in so many people’s lives.

  15. avatar Christina says:

    Hi. I saw those photos do the rounds on FB. I really didn’t see what was so funny about them. Why laugh or ridicule children when they are upset about something, thanks for all the posts you write, interesting reading them and thinking about how I can apply those ideas with situations with my own children.

  16. Hi Janet
    I find your blog really encouraging and a great grounding resource amongst so many opinions and approaches. I have been following Magda Gerber’s RIE approach to raising my now 13-month old daughter and have been really enjoying seeing her grow older and her personality shining through.
    Over the last month or so she has been showing her frustration by hitting her head on the floor or the wall or anything nearby. Just over little things which I do acknowledge and sympathise with her over, for example not being able to read a book when she wants to or not being picked up. She’s a happy girl in general and I am her fulltime carer so there have been no big upsetting events in her life as far as I can tell! She will just hit her head on the floor once (sometimes hard!) and then cry and look for sympathy. Do you have any advice on how I could respond and what might help this behaviour?

    1. I had a similar issue with my son between 18 months and 24 months. He’s only recently stopped doing it, though it would intensify and wane off now and then. I spoke to Janet about it via email, and she recommended responding a little less when he did the head banging. I was getting very upset about it and over-reacting. After getting Janet’s point of view, I relaxed, and if I saw him banging his head, I would walk over calmly, and tell him “You seem very upset. I am here to keep you safe.” I would put a pillow under his head and while being calm, sit next to him. I would say if he needed a hug, I was there. Little by little, he started doing it less and less. It’s a stage, and the less you react (while still acknowledging the feeling), the faster it will be over.

      1. Lilly, thanks so much for sharing your experience. I hadn’t had the chance to respond to Angela yet, but now you’ve done it for me. Again, thank you, and I’m glad to hear the stage passed.

  17. Janet, I agree completely with everything that you’ve said. But I did see those exact pictures and my first thought was that “my son is not the only one”… We are dealing with many of the same issues… And that is the challenge of toddlerhood… Obviously beautifully balanced with beautiful smiles, joyful discoveries, and so much more! On a tough day, it honestly can look and feel much this way though, if we are all honest, and the challenge is to allow our children to feel those strong feelings and know without a doubt we are right there with them… Hearing them, loving them, supporting them. I would not post pictures like this and I totally understand your strong objection, but that was not my first thought upon seeing them. Does this make me disrespectful of that child?

    1. Deb, I always appreciate your comments. You make me wish I’d made it clearer on this blog that it is normal for toddlers to express feelings in a seemingly exaggerated fashion, because of all the turmoil they feel inside. I’ve tried!

      I can’t answer “does this make me disrespectful…?”, but I think it’s admirable that you are pondering and examining your perceptions. The prevalent cultural attitude towards young children is that they are lesser humans and this view is admittedly difficult to get beyond. Replace these photos with the sad friend who lost her job or broke up with her boyfriend and I suppose there might be a an element of relief…not our finest hour, but I understand being relieved that others suffer as we do. But young children are so innocent and vulnerable that I can’t feel anything but compassion.

      1. To me, one reason so many parents find this funny is precisely this “not alone” issue — it’s easy to feel that you as a parent are doing something wrong when your baby or toddler is crying. When you “relax” and “have a sense of humor about it,” then this feeling of inadequacy is rechanneled as laughter: “Here I am feeling like I’m doing something wrong, when really he just wanted blue pants instead of red — silly boy!”

        Many of us are also just plain uncomfortable withemotions, so its easier to laugh than face that.

        I think a lot of this dissipates when we take to heart messages like Alerha Solter’s, and Janet’s posts about how to accept and support emotional expressions like crying: http://dev.janetlansbury.com/2011/09/7-reasons-to-calm-down-about-babies-crying/

        This was extremely difficult for me as a new mom but learning to be present with my baby and now toddler when she is upset, sad, or angry has been amazing, and so valuable for her. Without this, I think I too would have found this tumblr funny. Instead I felt sad for the boy, and, even, his parents.

  18. I took a look at the Tumblr page a while back. What sprung to mind right away was how the child might have felt when a parent grabbed a camera as he cried. It’s a strangely distancing yet attention-giving response to distress. I don’t know how that feels to the little boy in the photos, if it were me at that age I suspect it would feel very lonely and at the same time reinforce crying for the tacit approval that comes with each image capture.

    1. Astute comment, Laura (as usual). Yes, loneliness is what I sense, too — he’s alone in his thoughts, feelings and perception of his world.

  19. While I agree with you it’s not nice to make fun of people publicly, and I agree we should be respectful of our children, if you don’t approach parenting toddlers with a sense of humor, you’ll go insane. I think there is a balance to be struck between taking every tantrum seriously and being lighthearted about some of them.

    1. Laura, I find the “get a sense of humor” argument (and I’ve been hearing it a lot) one of the most absurd and ill-informed. This has nothing to do with having a sense of humor, it’s about what we find amusing. And it is not possible to both respect someone and laugh when they are upset. That just doesn’t compute. Laughing at the end of the day with a friend or partner about how inept and frustrated we felt when our toddler was having multiple meltdowns is one thing, being amused by a child’s crying is quite another…and this type of humor is an impossibility for those who understand respect.

    2. I agree. While this blog was so very well written and the advice is quite inspiring. Laura has a point and it is a point that many people reading this have. To call it absurd and ill-informed is rude.

      Finding a happy medium is mandatory. Invest your time into being respectful AND sharing your sense of humor — not everyone is professionally trained. Not everyone WILL BE professionally trained.

      You tell parents to serious face every temper tantrum that is produced, every situation that comes up and leave the humor to adults and you are going to find laughter quickly sucked dry from life.

      Malicious? nah. But we’ve all had those days were we don’t understand why our child is crying.. yet again, over the blanket that wont fold just right for them. Or the pants being.. blue instead of red like they wanted. We’ve all had those days were to save OURSELVES we fall back into laughing at the situation and reminding ourselves that these days go by fast and we will miss it. ALL Of it. So laugh. giggle. Love. hug. Find the balance because there is one to be found.

      Know what happens when it isn’t found? Abuse. When parents can’t find a happy place on those hard as heck days? SBS. Death. Abuse.

      1. Sheri, people hurt others because they dislike themselves. There’s no need to pass these feelings on to our children. A healthy sense of self-worth is vital and fostering it in our children is the key to a more peaceful world. This is something ALL parents can do if they put their minds to it. We have the power.

        1. Oh Janet, I feel for you. That people would take the time to write to tell you how it is ok and a “necessary” part of life to laugh at your child expressing painful/frustrated/anger emotions, over issues that are not understandable to the parent or seemingly unimportant to the parent (i.e. blue instead of red or whatever!) means that they really DO NOT get it! What are children SUPPOSED to get upset over? World peace? People, do you not understand that you are setting up your child’s emotional boundaries, how they will , or will not, be able to respond to others in the world when their brain development catches up. That you are not able to empathize, and think it is ok to EVER laugh at someone else’s distress, whatever their age or reason, tells me a lot more about the lack in their upbringing, and that the mechanism may just not be there for them to be emotionally engaged with their children as whole, emotional beings, and respecting their children’s boundaries, whatever the age.

      2. Sheri, I don’t see Janet saying that everything about parenting has to be serious—if it were, I’d lose my cool constantly. I took Janet to be saying that it’s disrespectful to take the kid’s picture and share it with the world when he what he really needs a hug, empathy, and maybe some time to read a book together.

    3. I think sometimes you laugh because it’s that or scream. Sometimes you can’t be an optimal perfect parent and model compassion in every breath.

      Which is totally different from documenting a tantrum (or whatever) on film and then sharing it for 15 minutes of fame. I haven’t seen these specific photos or videos, but I’ve seen similar. Sometimes a parent even eggs the kid on to get a film worthy reaction, which is pretty gross when you think about it.

  20. avatar Jamie Grace-Duff says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I have seen those images going around and they gave me a really odd feeling and I refused to look at them. Now I understand what my gut was trying to say. Thank you for the reminders.

  21. avatar Heather Noel says:

    ONce again, I stand here applauding you with tears in my eyes. Your words are perfect, profound.

  22. Thank you so much for this post. I could not put my finger on why I felt a little sick when I first saw this link. I was supposed to be laughing, but I could see real distress in that boy’s tears… and laughing at him felt so wrong.

    There is something to be said for having a sense of humor about parenting, and maybe once in a while I catch myself smirking at the ridiculousness of my son’s pre-tantrums (he’s only 1, so they last for about 30 seconds). But I could never imagine compiling the moments for the world to see, to publically laugh at an anguish that is just as real to him as my own tears about adult life woes like death or stress or world politics.

    Thank you so much for articulating this for me. I read your posts regularly and have learned so much from you.

  23. avatar Jenny Bartlett says:

    Janet,

    I came across these images on tumbler just last week and couldn’t understand why someone would take the time to document these moments in a child’s life. I am immensely saddened by the fact that our society’s reaction to these photos is that its just good fun because the issues that upset this child are seemingly trivial from an outsiders perspective. To me this is an example of a person in power manipulating circumstances for their own entertainment with no regard for the powerless person’s perspective. I understand this as bullying on a massive scale. I live in East Coast Canada where a young women’s ( Rehtaeh Parsons) life came to a tragic end a couple of weeks ago as a direct result of bullying. This bullying was exponentially amplified by the use of social media as a vehicle for spreading the hurtful and hateful messages about this particular teenager to others (not unlike the way the images you write about are being spread). Of course the public has become outraged by this teen’s experience and many of us are now asking questions about how this sort of thing can occur in our society today. It may be a bit of a stretch for some to understand my thought processes here, but I think that your post provides some insight into this question. From my point of view children bully as part of their development as they begin to gain an understanding of their own abilities to control and have agency over the people and things in their lives. Many young children experiment with it as they work these things out and I see nothing wrong with bullying in this form so long as we adults take note of it and take the time to have authentic conversations about power, empathy and relationships with the children in our lives. What worries me is when bullying behaviour extends beyond this initial experimentation into the later stages of development and persists even into adulthood. I have to wonder if the parent who is posting these anguished faces of his child considers his behaviour to be bullying. I also have to wonder about how children might experiment with power and relationships differently if society presented them with a more positive empathetic model through which to understand these concepts. The young boy in those images has started his life off as a victim of public shaming at the hands of one of the people whom he is supposed to trust most in his world. His feelings and emotions have been dismissed for the sake of entertainment just as Rehtaeh Parsons’s feelings and emotions were. Of course a toddler is unaware that others are seeking entertainment at his expense but for how long will he remain unaware? How long before he begins to internalize tis shaming? How long before he feels tormented to the point where he has no way out? I ask you, and anyone else who frequents your site, to think about how our children are supposed to learn that bullying is NOT okay when they are so surrounded by these forms of entertainment that are at the expense of other less powerful individuals and how we might begin to advocate for more empathy for individuals across the life span. Your followers are some of the most passionate commenters I have encountered in my online life so perhaps we can begin to make use of social media as a group to spread an elevated awareness that might someday replace the culture that currently exists on such sites.

    1. Thank you, Jenny, I couldn’t agree more with all you say. “To me this is an example of a person in power manipulating circumstances for their own entertainment with no regard for the powerless person’s perspective.” The sad thing is that this dad does not see himself as a bully, because he has a mob congratulating and thanking him for the joy he’s brought to their lives.

  24. that page is just so sad. on so many levels. i’d never even heard of it… sometimes ignorance really is bliss!

    um, mom, rather than taking my picture while i’m crying, could you be here with me?! and rather than posting it for other people’s amusement, could you try to understand that i have feelings too?!

    i mean, it’s really beyond any words i have… other than to say it makes me feel really, really sad.

    i remember that video that went around a few years ago of a little boy who’d just had dental work done and he was still a bit loopy from his medication and he was having a really rough time in that space between reality and his haze – i can’t even imagine how scary and uncertain that must have felt for him. and yet, his parent filmed it. and then posted it on youtube for the world to gawk at.

    it made my heart hurt in so many ways. and people thought it was absolutely hysterical. i can’t think of what’s worse: that it was filmed, that it was posted on youtube or that it was laughed at.

    i feel the same way photos of newborn babies posed in all sorts of silly positions with all sorts of silly props. it just seems so disrespectful – like they’re being treated like props or accessories instead of actual living, feeling humans.

    ugh. this stuff strikes a deep chord with me, too. thanks for the beautiful post…

    xx

    1. “i can’t think of what’s worse: that it was filmed, that it was posted on youtube or that it was laughed at.” Exactly how I feel, Sara. It’s disheartening. xx

  25. avatar Jess isles says:

    Gerber’s quote at the end of your blog sums up all my feelings about what was wrong the class we have just removed our six yr old son from. It didn’t do any of those things. the child was just a number and not a person to be respected. He was so sad at school and so lost emotionally and he couldn’t really voice why. Thankfully we listened to him (though we should have earlier) and he is now a changed boy at a new school. But so many teachers need to hear your message and see the children as people not just a group to be controlled and force fed a standardized tedious curriculum.

  26. Thank you. Really. Thank you.

    Someone sent me that link this week – and it was upsetting. Deeply upsetting. That poor child is all I could think. And I thought about the complexity of what was actually happening and how that child is going to view himself in the future.

    I think of all of the challenges we have in the world — could they be solved SIMPLY by just being respectful?

    1. “…all of the challenges we have in the world — could they be solved SIMPLY by just being respectful?” Brandi, I think most of the world’s problems could be solved with respect. If all children were raised with respect there would certainly be less angry, depressed people out there wreaking havoc…and many more loving problem-solvers. And the good news is that we all DO have the power to makes changes in this area. Respect is something EVERY parent, teacher and early childhood professional can offer children. It’s free. But the other side of the coin — disrespect and insensitivity — is enormously costly.

  27. Thank you for writing this post.

    Janet, *you* are showing more respect to the people who laugh at children’s tears than I think I could muster. I had not seen the images or video and I hope I never come across them.

    I often wonder what some children will think when they get older and see what their parents posted about them on the Internet.

    You use the counter example of an older senile person in a similar video. I worked for years with disabled adults and children and it should be clear to anyone that a human being in distress is not humorous, whether or not they can talk or vote.

    I’m starting to believe that children are the most oppressed members of our society today.

    Thanks again for all that you do. You are a refuge for tho of us who feel at times as misunderstood as you have been on the issue of respecting children.

    1. Thank you, Mary. You and the other wonderful, sensitive people who have commented give me great hope!

    2. avatar Katharine says:

      “I’m starting to believe that children are the most oppressed members of our society today.”

      YES.

  28. I COMPLETELY AGREE!!!! I find it heartbreaking when watching a movie or TV show and see a baby made to cry for the storyline of the script, and most of the time it’s supposed to be funny!! It drives me crazy that people do that to babies and kids.. They don’t understand the situation they are in! They wonder why they can’t go to their parents or do whatever it is they wanted or why all those bright lights are shining on them, etc. etc.. I find it such a failure of our society that we think it’s acceptable to use babies and kids as props in TV shows and for entertainment only.. So sad!

  29. Love this post! I have not seen these photos and am glad I haven’t. I have seen young children’s cries dismissed and/or laughed at and to be honest, I have probably been guilty of it in the past. I know better and really try to do better now. I have also seen parents get angry at their children for crying…no empathy…just annoyance. Heartbreaking to say the least.

    I love this part: “We don’t suddenly become people when we start to toddle, speak recognizable words, respect our elders, vote or get married. We are all there from the beginning and waiting, hoping to connect with someone who can really see us, the person. We have a powerful instinctive need to understand and be understood, and we trust our parents to show us the way.”

    Just last week a grandmother of an 11-month-old I care for said (after not seeing him in person since January): ” He’s a real person now”. I couldn’t help it and I blurted out (in a respectful manner): “He’s always been a real person.”. At which point she stated that he wasn’t a blob now…he crawls around and “chats”, etc. I had no response for that. Some people just don’t get it. I treat him as a whole person and his parents do as well…we just need to model it for others. BTW, the parents weren’t in the room when this exchange took place…not sure what they would have done/said.

    Thank you, thank you for this post!

  30. I cannot thank you enough for the words you have shared, for their meaning, and for the sense of hope I feel that I am not alone – that someone else feels strongly about the littlest ones in our world. Finding your blog has been incredibly empowering for me. For that, I thank you!

    I also thank you for being such a strong advocate for infants and toddlers. You are provoking thought through questions about “the way it is” – and your words are always stated so clearly, firmly, and yet, gracefully. I am learning how to combine these ideals in my own advocacy for young children in my life and work. Your bravery is inspiring – and your perspective is always so very refreshing!

    Please, please, keep up the amazing work. You are such an inspiration!

  31. Thank you for this timely piece. I also saw the original images go viral on my newsfeed and in groups. Although I sympathize, with 3 kids 4 and under and pregnant right now, I felt something was subtly off about the whole thing. It wasn’t so much that mothers were sharing in solidarity or acknowledging the difficulty of mothering toddlers. It was a little more than that, and I heard a volume of abuse.

    What concerned me the most when I perused through it, was the declaration that, “Toddlers are irrational!” That got under my skin the more I thought about it, b/c I’ve never found my children to be irrational. They might respond outside of our culture, being new to it. And they might be difficult to understand due to limited communication abilities. But their desires, needs and thinking process are quite ordered and rational, the same as most all humans. I found it troubling that a toddler was being mocked and called irrational, instead of the parents trying to discover what was needed to resolve the situation. (And sometimes we never find the answer, but we still try.)

  32. I was in high school when I read Stranger in a Strange Land… I don’t remember a lot of it, but one thing from it really resonated and I will never forget. The main character, a human raised on mars, is trying to understand why people laugh. It’s a reoccurring question, and he finally comes to the realization that people LAUGH WHEN SOMETHING IS WRONG. At first it seems ridiculous, but the more they explored it, and the more I tested it in my own mind, the more obvious it became that every joke, from basic slapstick, to complex satire, plays on the concept of wrongness.

    When people laugh at a baby crying, they aren’t laughing because the baby is miserable. They are laughing at the disconnect between their understanding and they baby’s. The people who laugh probably don’t even realize that’s why they’re laughing, but it is.

    Maybe that’s why it’s not at all funny to you. Because you share the baby’s understanding. I don’t find them particularly funny, but I don’t find them offensive either.

    It’s the disconnect in understanding that I find tragic… though I occasionally find it funny as well.

  33. Thank you Janet for writing this. My heart hurt over that blog, and I feel really badly for the child.

  34. Thanks for this. It is sooo true and really gets to the heart of things. It is something that touches me quite personally so I feel really quite emotional reading this.

  35. A post all prospective parents should read! I often wonder the same thing: do we sometimes have difficulty empathising because we’ve been deprived of empathy in a similar situation in our childhood?

    I had a sort of reverse-realisation, recently. My grandmother had to be moved into a higher-needs care facility. She is a pathologically shy person who *needs* plenty of interaction with people and values family above all else. But we live interstate and I feel awful that we can’t be closer and give her more company.

    My grandmother was someone’s baby once. I wondered how her mum (my great grandmother) would feel if she could see her beautiful baby daughter now, 88 and alone in her room.

    One of my goals as a parent is to instill respect for elders into my son, so that one day he will pass that to his children and grandchildren and they will respect and treasure him as he deserves to be treasured.

  36. Janet, first let me say I stumbled across your site when I was the sleepless parent of a newborn who loved to nurse at night, and I’m so glad I did. You have both influenced and inspired my parenting, and I firmly believe that I’m a much better mama because of you. So, thank-you.

    Like other commenters, I had come across the images on social media and something just felt wrong about it all, although I couldn’t really pinpoint it until I read your post. Sure, there are times my 23 month old daughter cries over something that seems trivial to me, but it certainly feels like a big deal to her and I try my best to respect that. I also remind myself that there are surely times that her tears may not be reflective of what’s happening at that moment, but may be built up and just waiting for an opportunity to come out.

    A while back, I had read another blog post that was titled something along the lines of “reasons my three year old might be crying”, and was simply a list – no photos, nothing identifying the child. I’m just wondering if you have the same objections to something like that as you do to the images that went viral.

  37. avatar TheHappyMamma says:

    This person can take a photo of their child crying every day, and my 26 mo. old, who I treat with 100% respect, cries….um….RARELY!

  38. Thank you for sharing this! Like so many others who have commented, this tumblr really disturbed me. I have 25-month-old twins and they cry over the silliest (to me) things. I relate to that parent’s attempts to turn a daily, frustrating experience into something light. But I couldn’t look at those pictures without feeling profoundly sad that this child’s distress was seen as a photo opportunity rather than a chance for the parent to connect and understand.

    I’m not perfect as a parent. My children cry over (seemingly) little things. And sometimes that really tests my patience. But I hope I never throw my hands up in the air and dismiss it as “something toddlers do” or “something my child is doing to annoy me” rather than an attempt at communicating something painful? confusing? distressing? overwhelming? or lacking?. And I wish people would stop sending me that link!!!

  39. I hadn’t seen these photos but they truly sadden me. It reminds me of the judgement I felt last Christmas when people asked why we weren’t having Santa photos, “You just have to embrace the crying and screaming. It’s funny. You’ll look back at them and laugh.” No. I don’t think it’s funny. No I don’t think putting my children in a situation where they are scared to the point of screaming is something I will look back on and laugh someday.

    I saw a book (a whole book!) in the book shop the other day called, “I Love Santa.” It was a photo book of page after page of screaming children on Santa’s knee. Why is this funny? I guess it is the thing as this FB page. Like you said, you would NEVER see this with an elderly person or a person with a disability. There would be riotous outrage. But children. For children it is ok to laugh. And not only laugh but make a book devoted to children’s anguish! It is wrong in every way.

  40. This message means so much to me, Janet. I began teaching children at age 18. From the beginning, I regarded children as people with wisdom, insight, humor, compassion, and value. My students always bonded with me, even severely behaviorally challenged students, and that was because I listened to them and regarded them as people. But when I became a mother, this awareness grew immeasurably. I have always listened to what my children have to say, even when they were babies and toddlers. And now they are 6 and 9, they talk to me and we have conversations. I learn from them as much as they learn from me. Your message nailed it: Respect. This particular line spoke to me: “… all of us are born real and whole people. The sooner parents understand this, the better chance their children will have for emotional health, happiness and success.” I celebrate your message today and thank you for being the voice for our beautiful children who have so much to offer the world.

    1. Thank you, Rachel! So glad to be in “partnership” with you…sharing this vitally important message.

  41. Every parenting book or blog says if you do things a certain way your kids will end up secure and happy….and there are horrible consequences if you do it the wrong way. There’s quite often a claim that If you do it a certain way your kids will be utterly content and peaceful

  42. I saw this father interviewed recently on an early morning talk show in Australia! I (once again) felt bewildered by everyone’s amusement as these young children struggle through their strong emotions and frustrations. While I can understand parents’ needs to identify with each other and perhaps support each other, I wish they could find a more constructive way to do it that doesn’t diminish or belittle their children. I’m so glad to read your post Janet and know that other people feel the same way.

  43. Oh how oversensitivity runs rampant. Thank god that tumblr site is getting more traffic and media attention than this blog post. A sense of humor will serve kids better in life than incessant coddling.

    1. Brie, do you honestly believe a sense of humor is developed when one is ridiculed…publicly…by one’s parent, no less? I understand how hard it is to recognize a pre-verbal child as a fellow human being, but that recognition is neither “oversensitivity” nor “coddling”. It’s the truth.

      1. Oversensitivity is mistaking things like “upset” or “unhappy” for “anguish”, and “humor” for “ridicule”. You’ll notice none of the captions on the site are anything like “he scraped his knee” or “he was picked on”. You may see harm in finding humor in life’s little meltdowns, but I see harm in teaching kids that it’s okay to cry every time you experience something undesirable. Children are absolutely human beings, but again let’s not mistake recognition for coddling.

        1. Do you really think it’s up to us to tell someone else what they should or shouldn’t cry about? And how deeply they should feel? Why don’t you just admit that you perceive children as inferior to you?

          1. “Do you really think it’s up to us to tell someone else what they should or shouldn’t cry about? And how deeply they should feel?”

            For the record I’ll just say that adults do that to each other ALL the time. A

  44. avatar monica ryan says:

    I’m very grateful for this inspiring post. Thank you Janet.

  45. avatar Elanne Kresseer says:

    Clearly Janet you are not alone! Perhaps it has been said already, but it seems to me that children are one of the last groups to gain status as humans. Most of the people posting these kinds of pictures would never think it would be ok to talk sarcastically or dismissively about women, or people of color, or LGBT people or as you point out animals or old people and yet somehow it’s ok to do this to children. I find it incredibly painful. How can people not realize that this kind of objectification is what paves the way for children to be abused? A child who doesn’t think they’re deserving of respect is far more likely to be treated badly by others and to accept it.

    Take heart though. I think your message is spreading. Sometimes people are defensive when they first hear a new idea (I often am!) And yet the seed is planted. There’s a good chance it will grow at some point.

  46. I have been spared seeing these photos (and refuse to go check them out now and drive any more traffic to the site). While many people may try to justify it as having a sense of humor, I’m glad that you are writing and expressing concern for this child, and for all children whose emotions would be laughed at, dismissed,etc. It’s a big deal. Please do not get discouraged by those who don’t get it. And even those of us who do know it still need these reminders. I’m glad to have found your blog.

  47. avatar Ashley Aguilar says:

    I also wouldn’t put my senile granny in the corner for time out, but would my toddler. Your comparisons are inaccurate.

  48. You always say EXACTLY how I feel and I find it so hard to express myself I’m so happy I found this group. Always keen on learning anything I possibly can from you as I feel there is only one way to the journey of good parenting; one in which the parent is constany scrutinising their behaviour as a parent, finding faults and striving to improve daily, whilst trying to see the world, hear every word said and feel every event from their child’s perspective empathetically with respect and a total giving of oneself.

  49. When I was a child and when I raised four children and help and are helping raise 11 grandchildren, we simply called that unconditional love. Love that comes from God which enables us to love our children just as God loves us. You can call that being secure appreciated and that someone is deeply interested im their child. But the final analogy is that if you are shown love you will in turn show that love.

  50. So well said, Janet. Aparent who posts images of their beloved child for any passing stranger to ridicule is an indicator that they are lacking in compassion and empathy. They are cut off from their own emotions and, as such, are unable to connect with the emotions of their children. And even reject and ridicule them to provide a safe distance from their own. This is common in our society due mostly to parenting methods and/or dysfunction that includes being punished/bullied/disregarded by their parents. How does a child internalize respect and love for themselves under those circumstances during those extremely formative years?

    I was also raised in that way and found that motherhood has been the path of question and change. When I was an adult and my Dad died, I remember watching a video of my sister’s wedding with my family of origin within a few months of his death. At first sight of his image in the father/daughter dance, I was overcome with feelings and a strange gutteral sound even escaped before I could leave the room. This was surprising even to me since none of us ever express feelings within the family. My family’s reaction was palpable and one of disapproval and mockery and almost total silence. But for the soothing sound of someone saying under their breath, ‘Oh,come on.’. I believe this is not atypical of the norm. Many of us came through childhood cut off from feelings as a survival mechanism. And it continues unless we become aware and look for help. I think becoming a parent and experiencing the emotions of your own child provides the single best opportunity for an adult to begin to grieve the loss of their own childhood and heal and move forward in a more healthy way with their children. Any insight or information you could provide along those lines would be very helpful. Thank you again for all you do.

    1. Diane, I couldn’t agree more: “I think becoming a parent and experiencing the emotions of your own child provides the single best opportunity for an adult to begin to grieve the loss of their own childhood and heal and move forward in a more healthy way with their children.”

      One of the most powerful tools the RIE Approach offers is observation. Through the practice of observation we learn a great deal about our children and even more about ourselves. We begin recognize our projections and triggers and learn not to let them hinder our children’s emotional health. By making conscious choices to react differently than our parents did, we are able to witness healthy emotional expression, begin to allow our own…and heal.

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