As a parent, I often freak out when my children cry over trivial and unnecessary things since to me, it really isn’t a big deal if they can’t find their favourite toy. But if you think about it, to a three or four-year-old, it can seem like the end of the world.
And when I tell my child to stop crying, I am basically telling him that it is not ‘ok’ to express what he is feeling. This is how we cause damage our children – to their compassion for themselves and others and to their self-worth.
Parents, including me, are usually guilty of judging their child’s emotions and analyzing them in a way that children are not even capable of grasping. When we tell them to “stop crying” we are indirectly telling them that their feelings don’t really matter to us. When we keep telling them that they are crying for no reason, not only are we denying their emotions, but we are also telling them to behave and act in a certain way – a way that we deem acceptable. And when we tell our children how to feel, what to express and when to express it, we are teaching them to hide their true emotions.
A recent study by the University of Oxford has found that an adult brain is genetically programmed to have an immediate reaction to a child’s crying. A crying child triggers primitive parts of the brain, increases the heart rate and pushes us to do something about the crying, even if the child is not our own.
It seems that our genes tell us that we must react to a crying child and most of us do but it is extremely important to know HOW to react to a child’s wails.
First, take a deep breath and try getting down to their level. Tell them that you understand what is upsetting them. Sometimes just having their feelings validated is enough to calm them down. If not, then gently explain why they can’t have that particular toy or why you don’t want them to throw things on the floor. Speak to them calmly and in a loving way that they can easily understand.
Trust me I know that hearing your child crying and screaming at the top of their lungs, especially in a public place or with people around is no fun, but try not to label the behavior as ‘bad’. Even if your child has clearly crossed all boundaries, try and allow them to express their emotions without you saying a single word until they calm down. It is important for them to feel all those heavy emotions wash over them and frankly, is the only way of letting go and moving on. If they let you, you can kiss or hug them but if you feel triggered, it is ok to tell them that you need a break too. Breathe and try again.
Yes, I know this approach is not a piece of cake. It requires a lot of practice but in the long-run both, you and your child will benefit from it. He will gradually learn to regulate his emotions and will trust your unconditional love.
Remember, crying is a part of life and we shouldn’t pretend it isn’t.