Over the years there has been many advocates of leaving babies and toddlers to cry. Mothers were told their babies were just “exercising their lungs” or that continually picking up a crying baby would “spoil” him. More recently spells of crying have been used to train babies to go to sleep and establish clear bedtime routines.
There is no denying that these techniques work !
An uncomfortable child will stop crying eventually if there is no response. But there are real costs.
Babies are genetically programmed to call out for comfort when distressed. Crying is your baby’s intense bid for you to help him with his overwhelming feelings and frightened bodily sensations.
The amygdala in the lower brain (functions as a detector of potential threat) is perfectly online at the time of birth.
See… what happens to your newborn’s brain when she is left crying in her room –
High levels of toxic stress hormones wash over her brain
There is a withdrawal of opioids (chemicals that promote feelings of wellbeing) in her brain.
The brain and body’s stress response systems can become hardwired for hypersensitivity.
Pain circuits in the brain are activated, just as they would be if she was hurt physically.
Let’s be clear at the outset— it is not crying itself that can affect a child’s brain. It doesn’t. It is prolonged, uncomforted distress. Prolonged crying can be recognized as a desperate calling for help. It is the type of crying that goes on and on, and eventually stops when the child is either completely exhausted and falls asleep or, in a hopeless state, realizes that help is not going to come.
Comforting a screaming child activate her vagus nerve, which is found in the brain stem. This nerve, which is known appropriately as the “wanderer,” regulates the function of major organs all over the body. As your soothing takes effect, the vagus nerve will rapidly restore order to key body systems disrupted by distress— rebalancing the digestive system, heart rate, breathing and the functioning of the immune system.
One of the greatest gift you can give your child is to help her establish good vagal tone. This means that the vagus nerve works well in all its calming, regulating function. Research shows that good vagal tone is linked to better emotional balance; clear thinking; improved power of attention; and a more efficient immune system. People with good vagal tone tend to be nice to have around.