Photo by John Evans on freeimages.com
Your child fell down.
Your child was told, “no” to a request.
Your child’s balloon floated up to the clouds.
All of the above might cause huge tears to slide down your little one’s face.
Parents, at this moment, how do you respond? Many parents were conditioned (during their childhoods) to thwart those tears so some offer the same advice to their kids . . .
- “Big girls don’t cry.”
- “Boys don’t cry.”
- “No crying.”
- “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”
Does this approach work? If it does, what messages are parents giving kids about expressing feelings?
Is there a problem with the “put a lid on it” approach?
When parents reflect on being told to stop crying (when they were children,) a sampling admit that even as a child, something felt wrong or perplexing about being “hushed,” even if it was done in a gentle way.
Some years back, I heard Jane Nelsen suggest to tell kids, “It’s okay to be disappointed and it’s okay to cry.” Dr. Jane Nelsen is the author of Positive Discipline and over thirteen other books on parenting. When I’ve shared Jane’s approach with parents and child care providers, it’s often met with surprise and confusion . . .
“But if we tell kids that it’s okay to cry, won’t they just cry more and a lot?”
It seems to be a common worry for adults.
I decided to ask a group of Positive Discipline Trainers to respond to this concern to answer the question, “Why is it okay to tell kids they can cry?”
Photo by ccmackay on Morguefile.com
Positive Discipline Trainers answer, “Why is it okay to tell kids to cry?”
Deb Pysno answers . . .
Why is it not only okay, but essential, that you tell your kids it’s okay to cry? In the most simplistic terms, if I am crying, and it’s not okay to cry, then I am not okay. There is something wrong with me, with how I feel, with expressing those feelings with tears, with having feelings at all. These beliefs can stunt a child emotionally for life, and severely inhibit the richness and reward of all experiences and relationships. Telling a child it is not okay to cry is the opposite of acceptance and unconditional love, two things all people need to thrive.
-Deb Pysno, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer, The E Team, www.eteamnow.com
Nadine Gaudin Thomas says . . .
. . . because it brings relief
-Nadine Gaudin Thomas, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer
Elly Zhen writes . . .
. . .because crying helps us face a range of emotions, such as sadness, anger, stress, etc, and release them. It also helps us be emotional honest with ourselves and eventually create emotional security for ourselves. We will not have “fear of tears”. Of course it’s ok to cry when our cry does not bother or hurt others.
-Elly Zhen, Certified Positive Disicipline Trainer, www.pd-china.org
Casey Wilson O’Roarty replied . . .
Why it’s ok to cry… Well, crying is just our bodies way of allowing the emotions that are too big to hold spill out. Crying is a release and an opportunity to physically meet the feelings that are hard to face. Feelings of disappointment, anger, hurt – even compassion and joy, can be overwhelming, and crying creates the space we need to move forward and decide what needs to be done. An adult that stays present with a crying child becomes an advocate for them. It is also appropriate for the adult to remain curious about what is happening for the child, noticing patterns, and when the child is calm, engage them in exploring the experience they had.
-Casey O’Roarty, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer, Joyful Courage
Terese Bradshaw commented . . .
As a Montessori toddler teacher, I have observed many young children over the past 33 years, and have noticed that when children are allowed to cry and given a save place to express their feelings, whether it be physical pain, fear, sadness, disappointment or any other challenging emotion, they often cry for a shorter period of time than they might when a parent or caregiver tries to “convince” them not to cry. Often parents or caregivers fear the crying and will use any number of means to try to get the child to stop crying:
“You’re OK.” when they have fallen and bumped their knee, or
“You know we don’t eat cookies before lunch, and if you keep crying you won’t get ANY cookies.” or
“Big boys don’t cry. Are you a big boy?” or
parents try to deliver a lecture to convince the child why their feelings are “wrong.”
Feelings are always OK. The actions we choose to take when we don’t feel heard may not be OK, but when we adults take the time to connect with a child first, so they feel heard, they are less likely to “act out” in destructive ways, on those strong feelings.
-Terese Bradshaw, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer, Positive Parenting
Susie Zhang offers . . .
It is okay to cry or not, let’s ask ourselves few questions:
Is crying a normal function for human to express emotions, just like laugh or giggle? Is it okay to laugh and giggle?
How do you feel when kids cry?
Where did these feelings come from? Is it because kids crying, or because of yourself?
What does crying mean to you?
Standing in children’s shoes, what does crying mean to them?
Where did we learn about the meaning of crying?
You may have your own answer now.
-Susie Zhang, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer, www.pd-home.org
Suzanne Smitha McPherson writes . . .
I heard years ago that tears you cry when cutting onions, for example, are chemically different from the tears you cry when you are upset. To read some for yourself, you can search, “Is there a difference between the chemical composition of tears?” There are quite a few good articles, most discussing that tears of sadness have higher levels of hormones. I’ve often explained in parent groups that when we cry for emotional reasons, it is like we are literally crying some of the sadness out of our bodies. So crying can be very helpful.
Works for me!
Suzanne Smitha McPherson, Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer
Articles to read:
Sarina Behar Natkin responded . . .
Imagine you have just received really bad news. Maybe it’s a job loss, a best friend moving away, or a tragic news story from across the world. Now imagine your boss, your friend, or your partner saying, “don’t cry.” If you are like most people, you now add on to your feelings about the bad news with more negative emotions, such as shame, anger, and self-doubt.
Now imagine growing up in a home where crying is not allowed. Crying is a sign of weakness. Given that crying is a normal response to sadness, fear, anger, and even happiness, what do you do you do with those emotions? If you can’t express your emotions in a way that we are physiologically designed to do, you are left with either holding it in and letting it fester, or letting it out in less helpful and healthy ways.
We need to let our children know that crying is not only ok, it’s a normal response and one that should be respected. When adults are uncomfortable with children crying, it often stems from their own experience of being told crying is not ok. So, instead of focusing on getting some one else to stop crying, we are more effective if we turn inward and reflect on where our own negative feelings about this normal human response is coming from. Only then can we really get to the root of the problem.
Sarina Behar Natkin, LICSW, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer, Parent Education & Coaching, www.growparenting.com
Carol Dores added . . .
We need to validate children’s feelings. If a child is crying, saying something like, “you seem upset,” and then listening (if they want to talk) will help a child understand that their feelings are important. Telling a child that they should not be crying is giving them the message that their feelings are unimportant. Acknowledging their feelings and listening will help build a trusting, supportive relationship.
Carol Dores, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer Candidate
Lori Onderwyzer and Catherine Bronnert DeSchepper offered similar feedback . . .
Here’s my fav back from when I was a little kid. Still know it by heart and my sis and I always sing it when we are together! (song lyrics below)
– Lori Onderwyzer, Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer
I’m dating myself here, but I grew up listening to “It’s Alright to Cry” from the Free to Be You and Me record sung by a former professional football player, Rosie Greer. The lyrics are still relevant today – especially for boys and men who in many cultures still aren’t always supported to embrace, experience and express the full range of human emotions, including crying. It is critical for children to build their own emotional literacy as they mature – and sometimes crying is an important expression of different emotions.
-Catherine Bronnert DeSchepper, Certified Positive Discipline Trainer, Interweavers Consulting
It’s All Right to Cry – Free to Be You and Me
[Performed by Rosey Grier]
It’s all right to cry
Crying gets the sad out of you
It’s all right to cry
It might make you feel better
Raindrops from your eyes
Washing all the mad out of you
Raindrops from your eyes
It’s gonna make you feel better
It’s all right to feel things
Though the feelings may be strange
Feelings are such real things
And they change and change and change
Sad ‘n’ grumpy, down in the dumpy
Snuggly, hugly, mean ‘n’ ugly
Sloppy, slappy, hoppy, happy
Change and change and change
It’s all right to know
Feelings come and feelings go
It’s all right to cry
It might make you feel better
and lastly, my thoughts on telling kids it’s okay to cry . . .
Our emotions are a normal part of us. When we feel happy, we smile. When we encounter something humorous, we laugh. When we feel hurt, sad, disappointed and yes, even sometimes when we feel happy, we cry. It’s a normal reaction to a normal emotion. Much of the “discipline” we can do to help children as parents and teachers is to help them learn to recognize, label and cope with their emotions.
Kelly Pfeiffer, Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer, Think It Through Parenting