Crying as Sport?

Everyone loves babies. We’re programmed to. It’s biological: A 2008 research study at Baylor showed that the happiness centers in our brains light up when we see a baby smiling at us.

Conversely, a 2012 study at Aarhus University showed that a baby’s cry elicits a unique, lightning-fast response in his parents to soothe the baby. We want that crying to stop. We’re wired that way.

So, it’s puzzling why there seems to be a surge of entertainment centered on crying children, particularly infants. The quiver of the lip, the shaking of the chin, the miniature pout, the glistening tears. Apparently, it’s quite adorable. And as the child grows and those crying sessions become tantrums, these big reactions can seem downright hilarious to a lot of people. “You’re having a fit about what?!”

Making sport of crying babies – from’s “They’re mad, they’re sad, they’re so darn cute!” crying baby pictures to YouTube’s swarms of “cute baby crying” videos to talk show host Jimmy Kimmel’s challenge to parents to feign eating all their child’s Halloween candy to Japan’s crying babies festival (what!?) – seems to be taking this fixation with baby cuteness one step too far.

What ever happened to adoring a baby’s tiny toes or fingernails or curls? Or, celebrating a baby’s first steps or raucous laughter at a mom blowing her nose? And why are we oohing and ahhing and laughing at a baby crying rather than grimacing and imagining how we can soothe her? Why don’t these videos and photos make us more uncomfortable than they do, ringing our psychological bells to come to her rescue?

I’ve never found my baby’s crying anything different than distressing. I can definitely identify with that lightning-fast response time. Where’s the milk? Need a diaper change? Kiss the boo-boo. No, you can’t play with the scissors but here’s a ball to look at. And of course, my lap and arms are always open to comfort.

But I admit it, there have been a couple times when my six-year-old daughter’s meltdowns bordered on funny or when my four-year-old makes a comment that almost makes me smile. Almost – because in the middle of a little person’s over-the-top outburst, when he’s feeling so misunderstood, so denied, so frustrated, angry, sad, out of control of his world, is when the parent needs to strive to empathize with his child and to stay attuned. Attunement is impossible if we’re not allowing ourselves to get down to her level to understand her emotionality because we’re too busy seeing the situation through adult eyes, which invariably looks silly or completely unreasonable from our level.

And that’s the point: children are not on an adult level, so what we find silly or alternately adorable, they find devastating. And what we adults get upset over – getting our bills paid, taking an afternoon nap, eating broccoli – our children don’t see what the big deal is. Does that mean what adults care about isn’t important? Of course not. But don’t try flipping that around and saying that just because we adults don’t think a toy car is anything to be flailing around on the supermarket floor for, doesn’t mean that it’s not important to a child. And while some of us might find the scene of a complete meltdown somewhat, or totally, hilarious, it certainly isn’t to that child.

Children can’t fathom that their anger and sadness – their emotional pain – is funny or adorable. And expressing this, even privately within our minds, is disrespectful to our children. It comes back to talking the talk and walking the walk. We want to be respected for our needs and wants, so we need to live in a way that is respectful and that teaches our children to be respectful.

Author: Rita Brhel

Rita Brhel, BS, CLC, API Leader, lives with her family near Hastings, NE, USA, where she works as a WIC Breastfeeding Counselor. She also writes for Mothering and La Leche League's New Beginnings.

9 thoughts on “Crying as Sport?”

  1. Couldn’t really agree more. I think we have less than 5 photos of my son crying, because no matter how “cute” it is, there is no way I am going to grab the camera instead of grabbing my baby. We do have one particularly hilarious one where he is in bear pajamas (fuzzy, with ears on the hood) but he was happy before and after the pic was taken, and we’d been taking pictures already before the meltdown and just snapped a couple extra. (We would never laugh AT our son, but there is something funny about a crying bear. There just is. And that’s fine I think, if it’s once, and if you rip him out of those pajamas the second after the shutter goes off, which we did. Of course it’s different for an older child who understands what photos are and that you are purposely documenting their misery.)

    I honestly don’t struggle with understanding my kid’s big emotions. Wanting a toy he can’t have is a big deal, and I instantly see it through his eyes. For smaller kids, who are crying because they want to be picked up out of their stroller or just need a minute to cuddle, I have had to physically remove myself from public places because I’m afraid I will ream the parents who are ignoring it. Any child crying is heartbreaking to me and it alarms me that some parents can just keep on shopping while their baby cries restrained in their seat.

    Baby crying is not a sport, and I will never purposely watch a baby cry. I don’t even like to watch video where my own son is unhappy, even though I know he was quickly responded to. I’ll stick to that baby who laughs until he falls over when his dad rips pieces of paper.

    1. I agree with most of this – however, I have, unfortunately been one of the moms having to continue shopping with a crying child. My heart is screaming for every second of it. I shop often with both kids – one in the sling and the other either walking beside me or in the cart…. but there are times when – either I planned poorly, or circumstances were out of my control…. that led me to being forced to shop with a tired baby, or a grumpy toddler – and in order to have lunch/dinner/diapers etc. The shopping must go on. Not everyone has someone else to be able to go with them 100% of the time…. or someone to watch the kids while we run errands. Sometimes leaving the buggy just isn’t an option.
      Some of us have to complete the complicated portions of life with small children in tow…. regardless of the current emotional status. It doesn’t mean we aren’t cringing and desperate on the inside – it means we are getting done what we have to get done and trying not to fail our kids and look like a bad parent all at the same time.

  2. Crying, shouting, screaming, cowering – it’s all communication. For some parents, who have not had their own tears and shouts acknowledged and responded to, it may not come naturally to them to know how to respond to a crying child. And although many of us live in cultures where there are taboos about ‘interfering’ in others parenting struggles, I still hope we can copy that old lady who bustles in anyway cooing and clucking, giving voice to the child’s feelings, “oh dearie, dearie me, you’re very upset aren’t you little one, the world’s not that bad, you see, we’ll soon have you soothed and sorted, is that pram a bit bothersome, are you hot, bored, hungry, what are you trying to tell us?” at the same time as soothing the parents, “it’s hard isn’t it, when they’re little and can’t tell us what’s up, bet you wish you had a bit of time off from all this too, I wonder what little one needs, what a bonny child, is he your first, what does he like when he’s like this?”

    1. Love this comment about emulating the little old lady bustling in to get involved! I’m 50 so I can BE that little old lady soon!

      Totally agree w/this article! I have never understood people posting pictures of their crying babies/children and saying how funny the pictures are.

  3. I’m the first to admit that I find my LO’s pouty face to be adorable, but I also read it as what it is-a way of communicating in one of the few ways he has currently available. And as in any conversation, I know it’s my responsibility to respond. I could never just sit there and let him cry.

  4. I’m guilty of this too from time to time. I don’t go to the extreme, and the one or two times I did it when my 2-year-old threw a tantrum, I felt horrible about it. Most times, I immidiately try to stop the crying. It has seemed to become a short thought, which is pretty disturbing. -Sarah

  5. When I first returned to work after the birth of my son. I had heard a baby cry, it was my first instinct to run up and sooth it.Instead I just cried because I could not sooth the baby. It now breaks my heart to see people share and post pictures and videos of their child having a hard time. No matter what the reason behind the it.

  6. To me, it’s just plain weird! Being entertained by a child suffering is bizarre. Of course every parent has seen their kid being a big, ole faker or freaking over ‘nothing’, but the majority of the time, they have a very real issue. Just because that issue may seem trivial to an adult, doesn’t make it so, like Janine said above-it IS a big deal.
    We’re dealing with this in a weird way right now. Our 10-year-old autistic son LOVES watching this set of YouTube videos called Babies Crying, Falling, Shocked or Hurt-something like that. He is a very repetitive viewer and if we disable it, he figure out how to get it back on. He just loves it. He giggles and even belly laughs. Kinda scary! Anyway, great article!

  7. I have to admit too, I would see that my daughters little lip sticking out was super adorable. I think its because its so innocent and pure for a child feeling fed up from not being able to roll that car in the grocery store, or not understanding why you cant reach THROUGH the glass door to touch that toy thats JUST RIGHT THERE. I laugh inside at the innocense because I CAN UNDERSTAND however, I know its a serious subject for them and enjoy the teachable moment. It is a seriouse responsibility to help teach our little ones about cultural expecations and the physical laws of this world. its a cute lesson that you cant go THROUGH the glass, you have to OPEN the door. heartbreaking that they cant roll that favorite car of theirs on the floor, and cute because you wish that the worlds major dissapoints would truely just stay as simple as that situation throughout his or her lifes. I agree that laughing at any child openly is disrespecful and demeaning, but I use to think some of my daughter (they are far and few between now that she is 5) lip pouting and meltdowns were “cute” because it shows the beauty of raw human emotions before being conformed and the innocence of learning about the physical laws of the world.

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