What would happen if you just listened?


I was working as a babysitter when I started to discover the healing power of tears. The 5 year old boy I was looking after kept having tantrums, and I had no idea what to do. I went home and googled, ‘what to do about tantrums.’ I read suggestions about using time out, or ignoring the behaviour, but neither of these felt right to me. How could I ignore or punish someone who was clearly upset, especially since I was just his babysitter, not his parent. I googled a bit more and came across the idea of simply staying close, offering support and warmth, not trying to stop the child from crying by distraction or trying to fix the situation, but simply being there, to listen. This was what I was looking for, a compassionate way of accepting emotions.

It seemed so obvious but I hadn’t thought of it until I read it. That I actually didn’t need to do anything. There’s something, so unruly, so wild about tantrums, that I felt like I needed some expert advice on how to handle them, when in fact all I needed to do was simply be there, and listen.

Through my web research I discovered the concept of attachment parenting. When I became pregnant a few months later, I bought some books I’d seen recommended. One of which was called The Aware Baby. I was simply intrigued by the title.

The book explained how babies, have a natural inborn mechanism for recovering from stress and upsets. Crying, when it’s not to express a need, but for what seems like no apparent reason, is a healing process. Solter explains that children can recover from any stress or trauma they experience, whether it is stress during pregnancy, a difficult birth, or simply just release the every day stress of living in a new and stimulating world.

It seemed absolutely amazing, that there was a way I could bring up my daughter without ladening her with emotional baggage. I had done a lot of things to try to heal myself as an adult, through yoga, meditation, and exploring creative writing as a therapy. I realised that all these healing modalities had helped me access my feelings more easily, and helped me cry. All that time I had spent trying to heal, I hadn’t realised, what I had been looking for was my own tears. It was a revelation to me that I could help my daughter to heal while she was still young. Then she wouldn’t need to do so much soul searching as an adult. I knew that this is how I wanted to parent.

When I next went to babysit for the boy, he was recovering from flu. He had a technical lego set, for age 7 and above, and started building a helicopter. He could actually follow most of the instructions to make it, but from time to time he would get stuck and need my help. Then we got to a step that neither of us could figure out. Perhaps it was my ‘pregnancy brain’, but no matter how hard I stared at the instructions I couldn’t figure out what to do. He kept asking me over and over to help him, but I gently explained that I couldn’t. He started to cry, and tantrum stamping his feet. I simply listened. Then as suddenly as he started he stopped crying. He sat down again, and fixed the lego himself.

This was such a wonderful example of what Aletha Solter explains in her book, that crying clears out the mind of difficult feelings so that we can think clearly again. When he had finished crying, his frustration was gone so his mind could think even better than he had before the upset began. What a wonderful lesson for him that when an adult couldn’t help him he could figure things out for himself.

The wild display of strong emotions, didn’t seem so out of control anymore, but simply like a storm, that would pass, and life would be better and brighter than before.

Read more with this free Secret to Transforming Tantrums guide, 

or The Aware Baby by Aletha Solter 


My Three and Me

6 thoughts on “What would happen if you just listened?

  1. Listening is such a powerful tool. We cut short a lot of tantrums through listening and empathising. Explaining you understand why they are upset is powerful too; then we distract if listening didn’t work alone!

    1. yes, listening and empathising are so helpful! I think in the long run it also prevents tantrums from recurring because children are then able to release all their feelings so they don’t come up at other times. I don’t usually distract my daughter, unless it’s a situation where it’s really hard to listen! When she’s upset, she just needs the space to have her feelings (if there’s nothing that needs fixing), and if I can listen till she gets to the end of crying, without me trying to stop her, then I see the changes in her mood and her behaviour. Now she’s older she’ll sometimes tell me, ”I just need to cry.”

  2. This is really interesting, as well as a non sleeper, my daughter also seems to cry at everything and it’s making me think about what she is trying to tell me or process. Thanks for sharing x

    1. That sounds like listening to her feelings might help a lot for her sleep. I hope it improves soon! If you need any more help just let me know 🙂

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