“Hurt me, Hurt me!” Or, Please Don’t Whimper at the Baby


I didn’t really take this picture while Boo was crying. Mike did. I watched.

One of Boobaby’s favorite hobbies lately is attention through self-injury.

“Hurt me!” she’ll announce, a little disturbingly. You realize quickly that she’s not a precocious masochist but simply still having pronoun and tense problems: what she means to say is “I hurt myself.”

Except (usually) she didn’t — she only brushed against a chair leg or slopped some milk on her chin. What she wants is sympathy.

What she wants is: the maternal whimper.

Boo’s godmother spent the weekend here, and between her and Working Mom, the house was flush with whimpers all weekend long. My wife has learned at least not to make the baby cry, as I’ve seen some parents do:

“Oh my GOD, are you OK? Is there INCREDIBLE PAIN? Come here, let me hold you and check for INTERNAL BLEEDING!”

What’s that but a signal to your child that she should be upset? Duh. Luckily, we have little of that anymore, but nonetheless, in case of pain, my wife cradles her and whimpers a little “Oh, baby, it’ll be OK” ditty. And so, little by little, Boobaby learns that injury (or fake injury) warrants cuddles and attention.

How do you calm a crying child?

Now, I’m all for cuddling as a cure for actual trauma, but I do it a little differently. First of all, I lie on the ground with Boo on top of me. She prefers this, and I think I know why: it’s because horizontally, we’re “cuddling” by gravity only. She doesn’t lose freedom of movement in addition to all her other woes. I think that a toddler works out anxiety like a cat flicking its tail — by flailing her appendages. If you’re holding a baby off the ground, you necessarily restrain her a little bit. Prone and unencumbered, Boobaby gets up when she’s ready to move on, which is usually pretty quickly.

Then I either say nothing or simply report what’s happening in a normal octave. “You got a shot, and it hurt. I bet you were scared. Not to mention a little annoyed.” Amidst a tantrum’s heat, I don’t bother with logical explanations (“You needed a shot so you won’t get sick!"). I leave reason for lower-energy upset, like why we can’t stay at the park until midnight: reason is incompatible with high emotion.

Eventually I work some questions into my monologue, questions that let her express her high dudgeon.

“Did we trick you into coming?” Yeah!
“Are you worried it’s going to happen again?"Yeah!
“Did getting a shot bite the big one?” HELL YEAH!

Apart from teaching her useful expressions (can your toddler say “Bite the big one?"), you can use questions to lead to a distractor, like “Do you want to say good-bye to the doctor’s fish tank?” If I’ve led up to it well enough, that usually is enough to calm the fit.

So I’m pretty good at calming the savage Boobaby — probably better than my wife, in fact, because after all, I have had more baby conniptions in my face than she. And she’ll ask me — sometimes while she’s calming a tantrum, sometimes afterward — what I would have done, and what she should do to calm down the baby.

I usually answer “Nothing different.”

And I’m usually lying.