My baby won't cry with me - what shall I do?

Several parents have been talking to me recently about wanting to help their  babies feel comfortable to cry in their arms. 

Often, when a parent has unwitttingly stopped her baby from expressing his feelings, the baby learns also to stop his feelings from coming out (see more on this site about control patterns).

When that parent then realises that her baby's frequent night waking, or agitation, or hitting, is caused by the tension of the repressed feelings, she often wants to help her baby feel comfortable to cry again in her arms.

Sometimes this change takes some time.  Parents often feel frustrated, now that they are ready to be with their baby's feelings, and yet he won't cry easily with them.

I've been talking to parents lately about Aware Parenting - how it is about being present with the whole range of a baby or child's feelings - and this includes the feelings of reluctance, fear, or numbness that the baby might be feeling now that he is being invited to express his feelings.

If we as parents try to make our baby or child express his feelings, this often backfires, as he still does not experience the mirroring, acceptance and safety he needs to be who he is.

Instead, we need to cultivate a quality of acceptance and being-with those feelings that sit on top of his pain - the reluctance, fear and numbness that have entered along with our attempts to make him feel happy when he was feeling sad. 

When we are able to fully sit with all those feelings, and keep present, and keep connected with him, and then gently reassure him that we are here, and listening to all of his feelings, then he will slowly move through those outer layers, and into the pain and tears beneath.

It took me a long time in my own parenting to realise that if I got frustrated that my children weren't expressing my feelings with me, then it was even less likely that they'd sense the safety to do so. 

Also, that I needed to offer a combination of a quiet acceptance of where they were, as well as inviting them to step deeper into the feelings - in order for them to move through them.

As ever, Aware Parenting is about becoming more present and aware ourselves, and then giving that as a gift to our baby or child.  We cannot offer to them what we have not first given to ourselves.

Presence cultivates presence.

Other important things to explore if our baby or child has pent-up feelings that we want to help them express:

How we are feeling; if we are overwhelmed or in pain, our baby or child will sense this and will hold on to their feelings;

Our true relationship to feelings: even if we tell our baby or child that we want to listen, but underneath, we really feel scared or angry if they cry or rage, the underneath part is what they will really pick up on;

Our own relationship to our own feelings: we may want our child to feel comfortable to cry with us, but if we are not comfortable to cry with ourselves, then that is what our child will learn and intuit;

Exploring whether we are unwittingly distracting them from feelings with food, play, movement, and fixing everything;

Looking at our own internal dialogue, and whether we are being self-blaming or self-empathic.  Self-blame takes us away from being present with our baby or child;

Learning how to set loving limits with toddlers and older children so that they can express the feelings that drive uncomfortable behaviours;

Learning how to play laughter games so that feelings of fear and powerlessness can be offloaded;

Making sure that we have enough empathy and support in our lives; in order to give our child empathy, we need to be willing to receive it from others.

In order for our babies and children to freely express all aspects of themselves to us; we need to be willing to grow and express all aspects of ourselves.....