It’s very common for parents to tell their children to stop crying. Often times we find the things that kids cry about to be trivial and unnecessary, so we tell them to “suck it up.” There are terrorists murdering innocent people and poverty stricken countries that many children call home, therefore, we believe that crying over losing a toy is petty and nothing to cry about.
Here’s why that logic doesn’t work…
The mind of a child is innocent and open, a clean slate if you will. Their minds have yet to see the poverty stricken world or the all the other evils that swarm amongst it. In their unscathed world, losing their favourite toy is as tragic as all of that.
When we tell our kids to stop crying, we are essentially telling them that it is not OK to feel what they are feeling. We are judging their emotions and comparing it to something that they are completely incapable of grasping. We are saying to them, “your feelings don’t matter.” Telling kids that they are crying ‘for no reason,’ only communicates that the emotions they feel in the pit of their stomach, are unworthy of tears.
As a young child, I remember my mum telling me to “stop crying over silly things”, and though I tried my hardest to stop, her scolding only made me cry harder. I remember really, really trying, but I just couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. I never understood, “you better stop crying or I will give you something to cry about.” I always thought, “this is something to cry about!” However, over time, I learned how to hide my tears and suppress my feelings to spare the judgement and embarrassment that came with them. I learned when it was OK to cry and when it wasn’t.
“Big girls/boys don’t cry.”
“That’s nothing to cry about.”
When we tell our kids what to feel, how to feel, and when to feel, we are teaching them to bury their true emotions. The problem with that ‘lesson’ is, suppressed emotions create a bottomless pit of real feelings that so desperately need to come out; this pit lives throughout adulthood and so on. Invalidating our children’s feelings becomes genuinely confusing and frustrating for them.
It’s no coincidence that as adults, most of us feel embarrassed or ashamed to cry and we often apologize when we get emotional. However, it is human nature for us to feel emotions, including anger and sadness. Perhaps we believe that how we are feeling at the time is silly, but that doesn’t scorn the truth of what we feel. What we feel is real for us and only we can fully understand why we feel the way we do. We must simply allow ourselves to ride the wave.
When we accept our emotions and choose to feel them fully, there is no battle against the inevitable. Often times, it is the battle that upsets us the most. We get angry for feeling a certain way about something and we end up feeling both the original emotion as well as the feelings that come with fighting the impossible battle.
When a child is overjoyed when they get to skip their nap or play at the park, we don’t necessarily understand their enthusiastic excitement, but we embrace it anyway. When it comes to emotions of anger or sadness, we should embrace those emotions just the same.
Children crying in public…
The need to tell our children to stop crying occurs most frequently when we are in public. As parents, we don’t want to be viewed as not having our children under control. Here’s what I say to that….
If someone has a problem with your child expressing themselves, that’s their problem. Most people don’t care if your child is having a mental breakdown anyway and if they do, again, that’s their problem. Allowing your child to express themselves is far more important than what anybody thinks of you.
It really shouldn’t even be a debate. Boys cry too, and it’s been scientifically proven that boys are just as much human as girls. Haven’t you ever heard the phrase, ‘real men cry’? It’s true.
Instead of telling children to stop crying…
First, kneel down to their level. Have empathy for their emotions and tell them you understand that they are upset. Explain to them why they can’t have the toy they want or why you don’t appreciate them throwing things. Its important to speak to them in a calm and loving manner and in a clear concise way that they can understand.
“Honey I understand that you are upset that you can’t have any candy. Here’s why I can’t give you any more. Candy isn’t good for your body, and even though it tastes good, it can make your tummy hurt. It’s OK to have chocolate every once in awhile, but mommy/daddy has to make sure you don’t have too much, so that you can be healthy, that way you can run and play as you please.”
Yes, screaming and crying isn’t fun to listen to, but its important that we don’t label it as “bad.” If your child is being irrational in your eyes, just allow them to ride the emotion without saying a word until they calm down on their own. You can hug and love them, but if they make you feel stressed or emotional yourself, explain to them that you too need a minute. Breathe and ride it out together.
Nobody said this approach was easy. It takes practice, but in the long run you will have a happier child and one that won’t be afraid to come to you when they are in need of the very job that is yours, to provide unconditional love. Not only does this approach build trust and a positive relationship, it teaches kids how to deal with their emotions in a healthy manner.
Crying is a part of life, we need not pretend it isn’t.
If you’re still not convinced, here is a very good article on the emotions of children, written by psychologist, Aletha Solter, click here.