“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
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.
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.
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.