I Like Crying Children

by doodaddy on April 26, 2010

I was at a nursery school event some months ago, just hanging out by the climbing dome, when a small girl hit her head on a bar and started to wail.

The girl’s mom wasn’t immediately available — this is an enclosed and locked play yard, so we often work under “village rules.” So, being the closest familiar parent, I scooped her up, gave her a squeeze, and comforted her the requisite 90 seconds until she felt better and ran off laughing to find another bar to bash into, or something else suitably dangerous. What is it about 3-year olds and head trauma?

The entire time I was helping my little friend, a trio of other moms — also not belonging to this girl –  was circling us, trying to pounce with their own words of comfort, waiting to violate the very first rule of consolation:


Nothing is less likely to help a freaked-out kid than an entire tribe of people “trying to help.” So while I would have handed off the girl to her own mom or dad, I wasn’t about to expose her to the stifling clucking of three random moms who clearly felt I wasn’t up to the job.

When a child is crying, here’s the list of who’s best at helping, to my mind:

  1. The child’s parent.
  2. Another familiar adult the child likes and who knows how to handle an upset child.

Whether mommy or daddy is better for this particular task largely depends on the individual family, but I suppose in most families, comforting is largely mom’s job. I can live with that.

I’ve noticed, though, that many moms’ instincts run a little counter to mine. To them, if a child is crying, here’s the list of who would be the most comfort:

  1. The child’s mom.
  2. Another mom the child knows.
  3. Some other random woman the child doesn’t know.
  4. If absolutely no women are available, then the child’s dad will do, but certainly not some other dad the kid knows. And someone better run for mom, quick-like.

Of course, kids frequently pick their own comfort person, and for reasons they keep to themselves.

Just last week, we had a newish friend ride in our car to a distant field trip her parents couldn’t make. By the end of the excursion, she was overtired and weepy, and to my surprise, she chose me as her consoler over some grownups she certainly knows better. Probably she just saw me as the quickest route to her car seat and a much-needed nap, but whatever the reason, and on that day at least, she gravitated toward me, and I’d like to think I did as adequate a job of consolation as anyone else could have. (What she mostly really needed was that nap, anyway.)

In the end, here’s the important thing: men aren’t immune to the instinct that imbues a child’s cry with an unmatched sense of urgency. And I, at least, am rewarded with an unequalled sense of warmth if I can soothe that cry when a parent’s not around to do so.

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in community,crying,unsolicited advice ·

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Rayne of terror April 26, 2010 at 12:03 pm

My husband is definitely the consoler and more likely to be right about true fear or ear infections. He’s got a gift I lack.


doodaddy April 26, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Does the village understand that, too?

gribblet April 26, 2010 at 6:57 pm

My SAHD husband is an excellent consoler, but you’re right, when she cries, I want to jump in and take her from him – not because I don’t think he’s doing it right but because he does it 99% of the time and I want some sweet tears.

The thing is, (and this is something I have been trying hard to emulate) he certainly doesn’t jump to scoop up a kid who might have a boo boo — or might not. Maybe that is one of the reasons you’re not often the comforter? I notice that dads often have a calmer approach to falling and bonking than moms do – maybe by the time you decide it’s a big enough deal to react, most moms have already gasped and swooped and started the cuddling?


doodaddy April 26, 2010 at 8:30 pm

That’s a pet peeve of mine, actually — adults who instantly say “are you all right?” Mostly after a bonk, kids look to adults to see how they’re supposed to react, and 9 times out of 10 the adult is telegraphing that sense of urgency that actually *makes* the kid cry. I mean, comfort once she’s crying is one thing, but before the fact, it’s all about establishing that the event was normal and OK and not the end of the world…

twistedxtian April 26, 2010 at 7:25 pm

This is something I’ve also noticed with my 6 month old. If he starts crying, I can be standing right there and they will look around for my wife before handing him off to me. “Umm…I’m right here. *waving* Hello? I’m his dad, I can take him.” But no, they’d rather give him to my wife. Who often just gives him to me. 🙂


Anne Wilkinson December 23, 2010 at 10:59 pm

My husband is definitely the consoler and more likely to be right about true fear or ear infections. He’s got a gift I lack.


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