Why you should ALWAYS comfort a child – no matter why they’re crying

“Don’t stand unmoving outside the door of a crying baby whose only desire is to touch you. Go to your baby. Go to your baby a million times. Demonstrate that people can be trusted, that the environment can be trusted, that we live in a benign universe.”  ― Peggy O’Mara

Comfort is ALWAYS ok

There seems to be a perception out there that somehow comforting a child is a reward. Can we just talk about the bizarreness of this for a minute? The idea that love, support, a hug, is a reward. The definition of a reward is something “given in recognition of service, effort, or achievement”. Should comfort and love need to be earned by a child instead of given freely? I think we would all agree that should definitely not be the case. And yet, we are urged to withdraw our affection when children displease us. If they have a tantrum and we comfort them through it we’re told we are ‘rewarding bad behaviour’.

Well, I say no. That’s not how it works at all. Concentrating on only their behaviour in an attempt to train them to do as we please does them a disservice. People are far more complex than merely a set of observable behaviours, and children are people too. Behaviour is not a stand alone thing, there is ALWAYS a reason for it, even if you don’t know what it is. But more importantly than that, isn’t our children’s emotional well-being more important than their obedience? People are so scared to ‘give in’ to children or reinforce bad behaviour that we’ve lost sight of our goals. Don’t we want children who know how to deal with their emotions, who know they can come to us with anything, who trust us, who we have a great connection with? Withholding affection doesn’t seem like a sensible way to make that happen to me.

Comfort is ALWAYS ok

It makes me quite frustrated that people have been led to believe that too much affection can be a bad thing. That when a child is having a tantrum, comforting them would be the wrong thing to do as it would encourage more tantrums in the future. But that’s not true at all. Comforting is not ‘giving in’. You can actually hold your limit and help your child deal with their emotions surrounding that.

‘I can see you’re really upset. You would really like to jump on the bed. That seems like lots of fun.’

It’s possible to empathise with your child’s feelings without changing your mind on something that you have decided is non-negotiable. Empathising shows them that you can deal with any of their emotions, nothing is too big for you. They will know that they can rely on you and that they are safe. We all know children have BIG feelings. Imagine feeling that way and then also feeling alone, misunderstood, judged, punished, or shamed for that. It’s our job to guide them through those feelings, not to shut them down as quickly as possible. You can’t learn to process your emotions without being allowed to experience them.

Comfort is ALWAYS ok

So forget the ‘rules’, forget the comments and warnings. Go comfort your tantruming child! Ask them if you can help, acknowledge their feelings, empathise with them. See what happens when they feel heard and understood and supported. Experience how your connection grows stronger when you work through these things with them instead of punishing them for normal child behaviours.

Comforting does NOT reinforce bad behaviours.

Comfort is ALWAYS ok.

56 thoughts on “Why you should ALWAYS comfort a child – no matter why they’re crying

  1. Well said! I 100% agree with this. I will always comfort my child and she still knows when she has done wrong. She doesn’t need me to ignore her cries or tantrums to understand right from wrong.

  2. I understand your point. However a definition of “comfort” is in order. A parent has a right to feelings, too. If I am very angry with my tantrumming child, it would be disingenuous at best and sending very mixed messages to offer a lap, a hug and soothing words to the child.

    Parents and caregivers need permission to feel their own feelings and sometimes it is far more appropriate to say, “I need to calm down first. Then I will help you calm down if you need it.”

    • Anger is not ok. Suck it up. Your child comes first. Learn to deal with your emotions. Besides, hugging a child and making them smile can brighten even the darkest mood. Even if my child were to disobey, I’d rather make them smile. If you sit and talk instead of yell, it works better. When I was a kid, if an adult yelled at me for misbehavior, it prompted me to repeat. I’d never listen to an adults demands, but rather if they asked nicely and in a calming voice.

  3. My mother tells me all the time that my daughter is “playing” me when she wants a hug because she is upset, or that I shouldn’t comfort her at all when throwing a tantrum and that “I’m giving in” will have a “spoiled child who no one wants to be around” and that i’ll have “hell to pay later” and she’ll laugh at me. So thank you…thank you for this article. It reinforces what I believe. I needed to read this. I will continue to comfort my child.

    • Ugh. I’m so sorry. My parents tsk tsked my sister for the same reason. I love my parents, but they withheld affection sometimes as punishment so I could feel the wrath. I learned at a young age to hide from them if I did wrong. In my psyche I believed I was loved it I was good and not loved when I was bad.
      It’s just an andecdote, so take it for what it’s worth, but I decided to not do that with my child. She runs and tells on herself when she does something bad. 😂 Yes, she gets disciplined but we always hug and talk it out while she’s crying so she understand why she’s being disciplined and that we love her no matter what.

  4. Excellent article !
    It is tricky though to be able to comfort your child when you have been told that is not the way to do it, that you will spoil her and lose control.

    Also, how do you suggest comforting a 2year old with a tantrum if she’s is crying to loud?
    Is she actually listening to me ?
    What do you think about my situation?

    example: sometimes when she is tired she becomes very bossy about where to nurse (which chair, sofa or bed), but sometimes the place she wants is not always possible to use so she cries and screams and gets very frustrated while I am trying to explain to her the situation and the other options we have, at the same time she keeps asking to nurse (while she is crying )…. so what I do is let her feel what she is feeling and try to tell her that I am going to give her milk once she is done expressing her feelings… Try to stay calm myself (I also get frustrated when she doesn’t want to listen). I offer my arms but she rejects me and eventually she calms down, comes to my arms nurses in the place that is available and then once we are all calm down and nursing I try to explain as clear and concise as I can what I was trying to say before.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!
    I have been reading most of your articles, they are very useful and mind opening!

    • I’d recommend The Whole Brain Child by Dr. Dan Siegel. It helps us to understand what is going on in their brains with the big emotions and when they can/cannot “hear” us (and therefore what is/isn’t helpful to say/do at the age stages and stages of emotion)… understanding the why and how helps us to best support our kiddos and keep our sanity.

  5. As a Yiayia (Grandma) who has lived with her now 2 1/2 yo grandbaby since she was born, I can attest to this. She is so responsive to my loving care, even when she’s in the throes of a huge tantrum. I will pick her up and hold her like a baby, and she quiets right down and loves being in my arms. Love is easy to give, and it works!!

  6. You can comfort an upset child without condoning the behavoir. My mom used to scream at me to “stop crying this minute!” when there was no way in the world I could stop no matter how much I wanted to. I was usually crying because she wouldn’t listen to what I had to say; she didn’t have to agree or give in, just respect the fact that I was trying to communicate something, even if was stupid or unacceptable. You cannot reason with an hysterical child, or for that matter, a child who is not old enough to communicate logically. The next step was usually a long lonely time out when I would build up a giant case of self-pity. A calm “I’m sorry, you can’t do that” with a hug would have saved a relationship that did not improve with time. (Unfortunately, she passed away when I was 17, so we never had the opportunity to establish a good mature relationship.) I never put my own kids in timeout; I would grab them and hold them until they calmed down, without giving in to whatever they were doing that was unacceptable. They grew up to be good people, and their own kids are nice people as well.

  7. You can comfort an upset child without condoning the behavoir. My mom used to scream at me to “stop crying this minute!” when there was no way in the world I could stop no matter how much I wanted to. I was usually crying because she wouldn’t listen to what I had to say; she didn’t have to agree or give in, just respect the fact that I was trying to communicate something, even if was stupid or unacceptable. You cannot reason with an hysterical child, or for that matter, a child who is not old enough to communicate logically A calm “I’m sorry, you can’t do that” with a hug would have saved a relationship.

  8. What about a child who lashes out physically during a tantrum? I do not send the wrong message that hitting someone is ok and that is ok to abuse someone you love. And I also struggle with how to respond appropriately to these shows of force (4 year old child). We do not use corporal punishment, but I don’t know what a logical consequence to hitting during a tantrum should be. I usually walk away, sometimes closing a door because I do not want to allow the hitting.

      • A really good tip for 4 yo’s in the midst of a meltdown is to ask them a simple question like “Bobby, can you tell me 3 things that start with the letter M {or P or T or whatever}. It seems to engage the brain in a different spot and makes them stop and think about the answers instead of whatever had tipped the into the meltdown zone. I’ve tried it a few times with Miss 4 recently and it’s brilliant!

        • This made me chuckle. Not that it isn’t a good suggestion, but some kids just need to feel their feelings. My son is also a hitter when mad and the more you talk to him, the more mad he gets. If I tried to hold him I’d be getting slapped in the face. Not happening. So I let him feel his feelings and when he’s feeling better then we have a hug and talk.

          • My son is, too. I understand it, because that is how I feel. I am an adult, so I know how to control myself, but I respect that he needs to be left alone. I just say, “We’ll talk/cuddle when you are ready, buddy.” It works for him.

    • All of my kids used to do this as well!! I tried everything (even resorted to spanking after the hitting continued and it only made it worse) I was at the end of my rope when a friend gave me essential oils. My entire life changed. My children’s tantrums stopped. No joke. The screaming stopped, the hitting stopped. It was a miracle ! They also started sleeping at night . After much researching I have come to the conclusion that if normal training is not working on a child and they are having continued out of control tantrums it often is due to the brain misfiring or the way their brain is wired. Essential oils if diluted and put on the big toe help to reverse faulty DNA and work on a cellular level to improve brain function. One little bottle of oil lasts up to 6 months. Less is more so you literally are using way less than a drop. The secret is to use it regularly. My children’s problems we’re severe so at first I reapplied every 2 hours. Then as I saw improvements I moved to 3 hours. Then 4. As they steadily improve you apply less and less. After 2 years my children are like different kids. I apply oils once or twice a day now and even if I forget they still don’t have insane tantrums or melt downs. The only reason I still use the oils is I find it really makes my children happier and more imaginative during the day. I now have a 3rd child who is 1 and he has the same brain problems as my 4 and 7 yr old had. I recently started using oils for him and having the same results. If I remember to put oils on his toe he is a happy, good tempered child. If I forget the screaming is non stop. He hits, smashes his head on the floor and throws things. I couldn’t survive without oils! Seriously. Anyway, feel free to text me if you have questions. I know this was a rather out of the box reply, but I know exactly the struggle you have been facing and had to share. 864_505_4699. Contact me anytime and I will be glad to share more of my story! Btw, it sounds like your an amazing mom! I wish I had known to just walk out and close the door with my first 2 before I had the oils.

      • Hi! I’m in the same boat could you please share what essential oils you used or an email address where I could reach you would be great!

  9. How about teaching them to control their emotions, but WAITING to talk to them WHEN they’ve calmed down? “hugging” them WHILE in the throws of a fit, will only reinforce to them that the uncontrolled behavior is acceptable, and will get them they attention they seek. With my boys, if they were pitching a fit. I would calmly say, when you’ve calmed down, we’ll talk about it, until then, I will leave you to think about it. No anger, just non-committal to their overreaction. Usually after a bit they’ll come and say sorry for their out burst, and we hug or talk til they feel on better footing. I’m NOT not showing them love by creating a boundary on their emotions and teaching that while yes, they have emotions we shouldn’t let them control the situation. learn to process them constructively and not destructively!

  10. I am touched by he number of people who are touched by the dilemma of how to respond to a sensitive child with a strong will to be heard and reacted to. These are the kind of situations which we – as parents and children of parents who are ill-equipped to have the wisdom in all things related to children and discipline – react reflexively based on our own experiences with discipline by unwise parents. The circle can be broken, but only if our leaders want to intervene with mandatory, subsidized counseling of all couples wishing to or already on the path to having children. It is the responsibility of the state – no matter how controversial it may seem – to offer guidance and perspective to would-be parents. May the circle of inappropriate, uneducated, reactive parenting be broken.

    • Sorry, couldn’t disagree more! Where does the State come into the picture?? Are you suggesting our children belong to the State? If not, then how in the world is it their responsibility? It is the Parents responsibility to think, read, grow, and educate ourselves, on how to be the best parents we can be! The buck stops here! Keep the State as far away from my family, and the choices that we make out of love for our children. I’m sure we don’t get everything right, but I’m willing to bet that any parent who loves and tries, is going to do a better job than the State!!

  11. Children are little versions of big people. How would I like to be treated when I’m angry/scared/frustrated/overexcited? (Wish getting overexcited was a more common problem these days!) if I’d like sympathy, comfort or attention then I think to some extent that’s probably what I should react with. Patience! How I appreciate people showing me patience!

  12. I think the line comes when you have repeated bad behaviour such as hitting and hurting and shouting in people’s faces when they are not upset. There needs to be a chance for them to learn to calm themselves at some point or they never will. And when a parent is driven half mad by relentless bad behaviour for years. Then it can be very difficult to be in the receiving end of an angry 3/4 year old that just wants to make you react in anger or will not let a subject go. I always stayed with my little ones when they cried tired or hurt or tantrumming, until they were at an age where they clearly did wrong on purpose and repeatedly, and I was running low on the patience and ability to help them deal with their feelings without loosing my rag. There has to be balance. Parents are only human too.

    • Wow, just wow….. I believe this approach and as a grandma I wished I had been able to do this as a mother and auntie!!!

  13. Yes! My grandma never understood this (to her, all crying by a child was bad behavior that deserved scolding or punishment), and when I comforted my son when he was upset that I said no to something, she would say I was letting him “wrap me around his little finger.” She told me that when a child is bad, I should “take my love away” and when the child is good again, I should return my love.

    UGH, no!

  14. wow! I have not yet looked at your website or background, but I consider myself to be an expert on children and what they need. You are spot on-this may be he finest piece of writing I have ever read about children and emotions. Though I was a pretty good parent, I wish I had known a little more while I was raising my own children 40+ years ago. A child is a gift-all people are gifts-all people deserve to be cared for and comforted, even those who are not comfortable with that attention. Thank you for this beautiful piece-I will share it widely.

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    • You grow up afraid and cautious. You either become a chip off the old block and pass on the shameful habit of shaming, scaring or whacking the child at the scent of any misbehavior on his/her behalf OR you never discipline the child and unconditionally shower the child with undeserved praise and affection. Fear tactics passed down are hard to moderate in a reasonable fashion.

      • Or, you educate yourself and stop the cycle of bad habits. You decide to be the parent your children need despite the parenting you received as a child. You have the ability to be a wonderful parent. I understand what Richard was trying to communicate, but don’t forget you have a third, more positive option. 😉

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  18. I cannot express how great this piece of writing is! Life changing and just words I needed to share this perspective on our daughters tantrums with my husband

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