Tears and Tantrums by Aletha J. Solter, Ph.D., Shining Star Press, Goleta, CA, 93116, 1998, pp. 177, $12.95 + $1.50 S&H

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

"In spite of hardships and painful experiences, children can heal themselves from stress and trauma through the natural recovery processes of tears and tantrums. this will allow them to become emotionally healthy, eager and able to learn, compassionate, cooperative, and non-violent. if we can remember to trust these processes, human beings of any age can be healed. it is never too late to begin." -- Dr. Aletha J. Solter

Tears and Tantrums is Dr. Solter's third book. Subtitled: What To Do When Babies and Children Cry. It could just as well have been subtitled, Preventing Neurosis and Resolving Birth Trauma In Children.

The Swiss-American developmental psychologist has written what may well be her finest work and which should be widely read and more importantly put into practice by all parents. Her advice about what to do with crying and rageful children is clearly explained and could easily be applied but unfortunately most mothers and fathers will continue to raise their children the way they were raised.

But don't necessarily look to primitive cultures for guidance to learn how to raise a child. According to Dr. Solter, some of these primitives have their own cultural taboos which are as detrimental to their children as some our own misunderstandings are to our children.

One theme runs through Tears and Tantrums. and it is that preventing babies and young children from crying is not something which should be done automatically. If you find out that your infant is not hungry or thirsty, his diapers don't need changing and he is not in physical pain --- then let your baby cry and rage while you lovingly hold him or be attentive to him.

Do not be deceived. It is difficult to not nurse, to not allow use of a pacifier, to not give in to excessive demands for attention, but to lovingly hold your child for as long as it takes for your child to relive and release early repressed feelings and current hurts through crying jags. Common sense and perhaps your need for peace of mind tells you to try to stop the crying! Common sense also tells you when driving a careening car on an ice slick highway, not to steer in the direction the car is traveling. In both cases, following common sense is neither correct nor helpful and may be detrimental. The author believes that the child must go with and through the pain instead of avoiding it.

Too frequent nursing to prevent crying is called a "control pattern" by the author. It is a defense; a way of containing feelings, even traumatic birth feelings which are pressing for release. Besides unneeded nursing and thumb and pacifier sucking, other control patterns are hyperactivity, head banging, and excessive clinging.

Some infants and young children constantly demand attention and entertainment. When this happens, a child is using still another control pattern, Solter believes, and is another way the infant or child keeps his feelings and crying at bay. What the child really needs is to connect to his feelings and not to defend against them.

The parent should remove the pacifier, discontinue giving in to the child's demands for continual entertainment and attention and let the child feel its sadness and misery as completely as possible. But never ignore your baby by leaving him to cry alone. Support the infant's or child's raging grief occasionally with holding but always with loving attention.

Later in life crying is strictly used as a release of tension, but infants and young children use crying in a two-fold manner. It is up to the observant parent to know whether the child has a real physical need or using a defense to keep from feeling earlier hurts. Since babies have only one method of communication, sometimes the message is not that clear. If you can't resolve or remove the hurt without resort to a control mechanism then allow your infant to cry, but always in your attentive presence.

When very minor hurts trigger crying one should remember that the child is not being manipulative, but that its repressed feelings were very close to the surface. Sometimes it only takes a very small stimulus to trigger crying. This is what happens, for example, when someone else's eating of the last cookie provokes a disproportionately responsive crying reaction. Sometimes parents give in to their child's whims to stop the crying. But if this continually happens, the "attentive good parent" may cause their young child to become a demanding older child, adolescent and adult as their defense of choice continues over the years.

The problem will not be that your child will still be using a pacifier during high school graduation exercises since that particular control pattern is outgrown much earlier, but others, and perhaps more subtle defenses will arise to take its place. The years that the child uses its defense of choice will help to prevent resolution of earlier hurts which would otherwise have been resolved or lessened by its withdrawal.

Remember, children are not demanding because they have been spoiled, but "because they never have had an opportunity to release pent-up feelings by crying and raging." (Emphasis in the original text)

As in her other two books, The Aware Baby and Helping Young Children Flourish, Dr. Solter recounts interesting examples of what to do taken from interactions with her own children and other children. To be a good parent, you don't need a Ph.D. in developmental psychology like Aletha J. Solter, but you do need to be able to resist the temptation to give-in and have peace at any price and do like your parents did to you when your child cries. Dr. Solter did not write this but I believe that the price your child may pay for your mistakes in their upbringing may well be lifelong neurosis for them which may be ultimately handed down to your grandchildren.

The author's Tears and Tantrums has many interesting sections. Some of them concern dealing with physical hurts, crying during separations, dealing with violence, bedtime crying, helping children heal from specific traumatic events, as well as a practical applications chapter which includes a section on questions which Dr. Solter frequently hears at her workshops given in this country and in Europe. Tears and Tantrums also contains extensive references, suggestions for further reading as well as letters from happy parents who have successfully used her techniques.

Crying is not just for babies. The author believes that everyone can and should use that mechanism unless they are too shut down. Three books and three successes!

See my book review of Cure By Crying by Thomas A. Stone. The book is an excellent companion to Dr. Solter's Tears and Tantrums.

For more information about Aletha Solter's work, see her Aware Parenting web site.

The Primal Psychotherapy Page also has reviews of Dr. Solter's two other books:

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