Crying is a normal and healthy way for babies to make sure their needs are being met. But it is also their way to express themselves. Even though the cries often sound the same, they can be expressing a whole range of emotions. Including frustration. But it’s never quite clear how to deal with the frustration cry, especially when it arises over something seemingly inconsequential. Here is one approach that will benefit everyone, both now and in the long run.


What it looks like: Baby attempts some sort of task (climbing over a bar, placing an object on a shelf, opening a box) and is met with failure. He may have a few tries but sooner or later melts into a puddle of tears and defeat.

Mistaken for: Needing an adult to step in and complete the task for him.

What baby is learning: His failure is showing him that the world is a challenging place but it’s also giving him an opportunity to learn how to respond to frustration . And your reaction to this situation will teach him how to respond. Most parents’ natural reaction to baby’s expression of frustration would be to either scoop him up and take him away from the challenge or simply complete the task for him in an honest attempt to end his frustration. What baby learns from this is that he needs an adult to sort his frustration. So the cry that once was an expression of frustration develops into an effort to summon the necessary adult to fix the situation. However, there is another option. If we respond to baby’s cry as an expression and not a summons it can dramatically change our response and the outcome.

How to support: Acknowledge baby’s frustration by stopping what you’re doing, getting down to his level and verbalizing what’s happening (‘I can see that you’re frustrated. You’re trying to climb over that bar but your foot keeps getting stuck. That’s a really tricky thing to do.’). Identify whether baby needs any physical support to make the task achievable but try to make as little alterations as possible. Baby¬†will need emotional support in the form of allowing him to express his frustrations through crying. He may want a cuddle and then go back at it again or he may just want to be heard. Believe it or not, outright cheerleeding (‘You can do it!’) can actually provide added stress for some babies so stick to narrating his progress.

What baby is beginning to learn through this approach is how to cope with frustration. What a huge lesson! This is something we all spend our whole lives learning and relearning. I don’t know about you but my biggest trigger for crying is frustration and it’s so wonderful when someone I love chooses to stay with me, acknowledge my frustration (no matter how inconsequential it may seem to them) and do what they can to help me succeed. This kind of support shows anyone, from babies on up, that instead of being the end of the road frustration can become the turning point. And if we support babies through their frustration instead of taking them out of it they will develop patience, persistence and confidence. What more could we ask for?