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Should You Shush Your Child When They Cry? A New Book Says No

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Let's all just admit it: no one likes when a baby or child starts to cry. And even if it's your first instinct, a new book says that you shouldn't shush your child when they cry. Parenting guru Kate Orson writes in Tears Heal that not shushing a child isn't about inflicting pain and suffering on the kid or saving your poor, tired head. Really. Orson writes, crying is the first language a baby learns. It's one thing to guess if your infant is hungry, wet, or just doesn't like being held by the random neighbor you run into at the supermarket, but it's another thing to understand that crying is the first way that little people learn to process their emotions. And according to William Frey, a biochemist Orson cites in her book, tears shed for emotional reasons contain cortisol, a stress hormone.

This means that when a tiny human (or any human, for that matter) cries, they are actually releasing stress or the effects of some emotion that's getting to them. Think about it: doesn't it feel like that when you have a good cry? Now you can blame science. The limbic system, which is where all of our emotions are stored in our brain is totally formed before birth, but the frontal cortex, which is where language is stored, isn't formed until we turn into adults — which is the reason babies and toddlers use those teary tantrums to express themselves when language isn't available to them.

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According to Orson and Frey, when you let a child "cry it out," it just releases more stress hormones, which in turn might make the actual crying worse — but also has its own benefits. There is just as much research that says letting a baby cry it out won't completely scar it for life. But letting a child cry it out is different than "not shushing it." Instead of just allowing the little one to scream for a while, Orson and Frey suggest that a crying baby needs a "listener," just like you might after a long day at work.

Since emotion expressed in tears is a child's first language, it's best to be totally present when they're having a little sob-fest. That can be tough, especially when you're at your wit's end too and could use a little stress relief. But instead of scolding your child or telling it to be quiet, the best thing a parent can do is to try to be as kind as possible and really attempt — or at least pretend — to know what they're saying.