The title of this post might confuse you… When S was a baby I wrote about how I would never leave her to cry.
There is a difference though, between leaving a child to cry, and allowing them to cry. Sometimes we all need to have a good cry and let out some pent-up emotion, right?
I’ve been reading this book called Playful Parenting, about a way of parenting that’s different; to how most of us were brought up, and to how most of us parent now. I’ve written posts before about how the ideas in the book have affected me, and how I am trying to change the way I parent S. It’s an ongoing process.
One of the things mentioned in the book is about children crying. When a child cries our first instinct is always to say something like “don’t cry, it’ll be okay!” We tell them “big boys/girls don’t cry!” and shush them, try to distract them with a toy or a game or something.
Author Lawrence J Cohen says when we do this, we inadvertently teach children to hide their feelings, to gloss over when they feel hurt or upset, to push it all on down and get on with their day. That’s the sort of thing that’s convenient right now, but inconvenient in a few years’ time when a person has learned this is the way to deal with feelings, and needs endless hours of therapy to help them express how they feel.
And so, I am trying to allow S to cry.
When she cries, I just want to make it better. I want to find a way to make her smile and forget whatever was wrong. I don’t want her to be sad. I don’t want her to cry.
But when I hear myself say “don’t cry…” I can almost hear the words I’m actually saying: “your tears are not important. You should not show your feelings. You should hide your sadness.”
And so, instead, I try to say different things. I try to say:
Wow, that must have been a big shock to fall over.
Do you need a cuddle?
Everybody feels sad sometimes.
Mostly though, I try to just sit with her, and cuddle her, and allow her to cry.
Luckily, S doesn’t cry very much. She’s generally a happy person most of the time. I don’t want her to feel that she always has to be that way, though. I feel like the ability to express emotions – good and bad – is an important part of life and I don’t want her to learn that we should hide our feelings. So I’m trying to keep my big mouth shut!
Elizabeth Rebecca · 13/06/2015 at 12:08
I think the best thing to do is to give them a few minutes to see if they self soothe and then go to them.
Vicky Charles · 13/06/2015 at 12:30
I disagree, I’ve never just left S to “self soothe” I don’t think it’s the right thing. If she cries, I stay with her until she’s feeling better – I just don’t try and stop her from crying.
Natalie / @diaryofuem · 19/06/2015 at 21:53
I agree. Self soothing is a myth. They just learn to give up in my opinion.
Vicky Charles · 19/06/2015 at 22:56
I find it heart breaking, and one of the few things in parenting where it’s hard to bite my tongue with other parents.
katy allred · 13/06/2015 at 14:51
I really love this, Vicky. It’s so true – if we constantly tell our kids “it’s okay, stop crying” they won’t ever feel it’s okay to just FEEL their emotions! Sitting with an emotion and feeling it fully is the best way I’ve found to let it work through me. If I just stuff it down and ignore it, it will just arise at some later time :) Thanks for sharing!
Vicky Charles · 13/06/2015 at 19:18
Thanks Katy. I’m fairly sure if I’d figured this stuff out earlier, I wouldn’t have had a massive nervous breakdown!
Joy Morales · 13/06/2015 at 20:34
M has a flair for the dramatic and sometimes she is able to turn on the waterworks if she doesn’t get her way. In those situations I don’t react and try to talk with her calmly and I’ll ask if she needs a hug. I think sometimes they just have a hard time processing their emotions. If the reason is obvious (she’s hurt herself or she’s talking about something and it makes her upset that doesn’t involve me telling her she can’t have or do something) I usually ask M why she is crying and there are lots of hugs. I’ve found even if she is angry with me, she will still ask for a hug, and the crying subsides.
Vicky Charles · 14/06/2015 at 12:09
I’m a big fan of the hugs! S is knackered most days after nursery and there are tears over things I think are silly but obviously they’re a big deal for her. She does do this really irritating whiney noise sometimes, and I think perhaps she does that as a weird sort of comfort thing, and can sometimes forget she’s doing it so I tend to say “can we stop making that noise now? Do you need a cuddle?”
Kohl Mama · 17/06/2015 at 10:11
This is a really great post. I started off almost defensive because I’m a massive advocate of gentle parenting methods but you’re totally right in what you say. By not saying ‘don’t cry’ you’re validating your child’s feelings and that’s so important. I’m going to start doing this from today! Thank you <3 x
Vicky Charles · 18/06/2015 at 13:58
Thank you! It’s really hard not to shush S; I think because it makes me sad to know she’s in pain. But quite often even when she’s doing that really annoying whiney noise kids do, it’s just because she wants some affection and attention.
Natalie / @diaryofuem · 19/06/2015 at 21:50
This is the exact way that I parent! I was always told not to cry and its where my emotional problems came from, I’m sure of it. I cuddle Oliver and tell him it’s ok to be sad and we talk about why. It really seems to help him when he can see that I understand. I found giving the emotions names really helped and talking about how we deal with them. Ie, when he gets frustrated I say ‘i can see you’re getting frustrated, why don’t you come and have a cuddle then try again’, and now he’s starting to recognise when he’s frustrated,comes for a cuddle then goes back to what he’s doing. He also comes to me to tell me he’s sad, instead of being destructive like he used to be. Its so hard at first when you have people telling you to leave them or put them on the naughty step.
Admittedly he sometimes doesn’t want a cuddle, so I tell him it’s ok if he needs space and say I will be on the sofa (or wherever I am) if & when he needs a cuddle. He usually calms down, comes to me then we talk and have a cuddle then he’s back to normal again.
Vicky Charles · 19/06/2015 at 22:58
When we were talking home from nursery the other afternoon, S was really tired and started to cry, saying “my a bit sad.” I knew it was tiredness rather than sadness, and it was really hard not to just say “stop crying and we’ll go home to bed.” I think it’s an ongoing thing where we try to overcome the things we were brought up with and do things differently with our own children.
Natalie / @diaryofuem · 19/06/2015 at 23:36
Aww, yeah Oliver says he’s sad when hes tired too. I just explain that sometimes when we are a bit tired it makes us sad/grumpy and so we just need to have a cuddle and a nap. Sometimes mere mention of the N word sends him in to a meltdown but mostly he accepts the cuddle and drifts off. “do you want to watch Mickey mouse” also seems to work! Lol.
Vicky Charles · 21/06/2015 at 07:45
naw bless him! I try to avoid the N word too. Sometimes I say “do you need a little lay down?” She likes to have a little “bed” on the sofa with a blanket and cushions and sometimes just twenty minutes there watching a dvd can help x
10 Ways I Stay Happy - Single Mother Ahoy · 18/11/2018 at 18:56
[…] wrote a previous post about allowing children to cry. The thing is, that does not apply only to children. I am sure that an inability to effectively […]