I think most of us would agree that if our child was physically hurt and crying, we would provide comfort. And if our child expressed emotional pain through crying — especially if it was in a non-whiny way — almost all of us would rush to offer soothing. But after that, things get a little gray for most parents.
As a parent, you deal with a LOT of feelings on a daily basis. Right? And sometimes, it can all get to be just a little bit much! When you’ve had what seems like hours of kids crying at you, the temptation to make it stop is high!
We’ve all said it, or at least thought it. ‘Stop crying! Just stop!
It’s very common! Often times we find the things that kids cry about to be trivial and unnecessary, so we tell them to “suck it up.”, but a child does not have an adult perspective on the world. Children are small beings with very big feelings — feelings they really don’t know how to control. (Fun fact: the part of kids’ brains that control and regulate emotions aren’t fully developed until they are in their early 20s). In their unscathed world, losing their favorite toy is as tragic as all of the bad that happens around the world. And often, crying is the only thing they know how to do when those feelings overwhelm them
Oftentimes people struggle most with allowing children to express their feelings in public, thinking that it is not an appropriate setting and worrying about other’s reactions or judgment. But let’s not teach them they need to quiet their feelings for others. They will eventually learn our unspoken social
When we tell them 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, they learn to bottle up their feelings that so desperately need to come out; this pit lives throughout adulthood and so on. 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.
Crying is ok! Crying is always appropriate! It’s a very healthy and necessary way for children to express their feelings, and we don’t need to make them stop. By telling them to ‘stop crying’ we send the message that their feelings are not important, not valid, silly, and annoying.
If we want our children to learn how to regulate their emotions, and to trust us with their problems and feelings, then we cannot be dismissive of them when they try to do this!
Sometimes, even when you know that you shouldn’t tell your child to stop crying, it’s hard to know what to say instead! You might feel like you need to do something, but aren’t sure exactly what.
So, what can you say instead of Stop Crying? Here’s some suggestions!
• Its Okay to be Sad
• This is really hard for you
• I’m here with you
• Tell me about it
• I hear you
• I will help you work it out
• I’m listening
• You could also just say nothing! Sometimes no words are needed and physical comfort or presence is enough.
It’s true that sometimes distraction can work, but it’s often just a band-aid. It doesn’t help your child to learn how to cope with a similar situation or emotion in a more positive way in the future.
The next time your kid starts crying, try to take a moment to make sure you are calm. If you’re angry, stressed or frustrated, the things that you say will just add to your kids’s distress.
Below are few things you should not do when your kid starts crying:
Don’t distract. When you distract your child from their feelings, you miss a chance to connect and help them learn the emotional regulation skills they will need in the future. You also send the message that their feelings are unimportant, or too much for you to handle. Children need to know that you are capable of dealing with their emotions so that they feel safe and capable too
Don’t punish. Punishment and rewards are not a part of respectful parenting. Never punish, threaten, shame, blame, or judge a child for their feelings!
No but’s. When you’re empathizing with your child’s feelings, refrain from following it up with a ‘but’. ‘But’ kind of invalidates everything that comes before it. It tries to explain away or fix the feelings. There’s no need to do that. Empathizing is enough.
Ask too many questions. When your child is full of huge overwhelming feelings, they don’t have the ability to provide answers to lots of questions. Empathies first, ask questions later.
Say ‘it’s ok’. People are well meaning when they say ‘it’s ok’, ‘you’re fine’, ‘shh’, but the thing is, your child is not fine right now. A simple ‘it’s ok to cry’ is a better option.
Have a time limit. Don’t use empathy as a technique to ultimately stop the crying. That’s not the goal! The aim is to help your child feel heard, understood, validated, and supported. That might take a while, especially if their feelings have been dismissed in the past. Empathy is not a technique for control, but a way of meeting your child where they are and supporting them.
Crying is a part of life, we need not pretend it isn’t. Comforting kids when they cry doesn’t mean that you are allowing them to manipulate a situation to get what they want. What it usually means is that they are able to “get their feelings out” and move on with their day. It means they are learning that you are a person they can trust to help them work out the complicated mix of emotions they hold in their hearts and bodies pretty much all the time.
Children are looking for empathy and understanding. If they don’t get it, they’ll keep trying. Next time your kid is struggling with an overwhelming feeling, follow some of these advises and meet them with empathy and understanding. Because they deserve it. Feelings aren’t something to be avoided, but opportunities for connection.