A short but important blog this week! It's all about one of the most difficult parts of parenting for many people:
the crying, wailing and screaming of our children.
We hate to see our child unhappy or in pain, so it's natural we should try to comfort them to stop their cries - this is the clearest signal we can get that they are OK.
But what if I told you that crying is actually good for them? In fact, it's a basic need of every child and an important part of them developing into happy people...
According to developmental psychologist, Aletha J. Solter (1):
"Not all crying is an indication of an immediate need or want. Much of it is a natural stress-release mechanism that allows children to heal from the effects of frightening or frustrating experiences that have occurred previously."
>> So when your 4 year old cries for 10 minutes over the shock of dropping their cup of milk on the floor, he is letting off steam from the whole day he just spent at kinder trying to work out how to play with the other kids.
>> When your toddler won't leave the playground and, when you bundle her in the pram, she screams the whole way home, she's also letting off all the tension from her big day out.
While crying can, of course, indicate problems like illness, pain, hunger, tiredness and more, you can usually figure this out. (And if you're worried about persistent crying, please take your child to the doctor.)
But emotional crying is actually healthy for kids - it's the way that they process and let go of all their everyday fears, stress and big emotions so that these don't get stuck in their nervous system and body. Crying is the ultimate stress release mechanism!
But, as parents, how do we deal with the loud and upsetting crying?
Many parents find it stressful to hear their child cry or scream.
And some parents feel angry that they can't stop (i.e. control) it - and may even think the child is being manipulative. (This is an old-school parenting myth that's NOT based on brain science - science tells us that children under 6 or 7 are entirely driven by their immediate emotions and can't truly premeditate their emotions - read more on this here!).
So what can you do to make your child's crying easier to bear?
IMPORTANT: You first need to take care of your child's physical and safety needs to ensure that their crying is not caused by issues like hunger, pain, illness, fear or anything else that can be fixed. Once you're confident they are just crying to let off their emotional tension, take these steps:
1. First, remind yourself that crying is good for your child's nervous system and emotional health.
They are processing their hurts instead of holding them in their body and nervous system (for life!). So, once your child's safety and physical needs are met, tell yourself "I don’t need to stop the crying".
2. Realise WHY it's hard for you to hear the crying.
Is it because you were taught not to cry or be "emotional" as a child? Or some other reason? Be compassionate to yourself about this.
3. Support your child to cry – they need us to feel safe and to comfort them.
Even if the crying goes on (often precisely because they feel safe to cry), you can know that you're doing everything you can to help them. After that it's all OK.
4. We need to help them feel OK about crying.
If we tell them to be quiet or leave them alone, they get the message that the crying is bad or they are bad for crying. So just try to empathise with how they're feeling as you sit with them.
5. Help yourself stay calm despite your child's big emotions by saying this mantra in your head: "It's not an emergency!"
Because, even though your body may feel like it is, emotional crying is really not an emergency!
Can you remember the last time you had a good cry? Didn't you feel better and much more relaxed afterwards? It's the same for your child. See the crying as a healthy release for your children - and good for their mental health as they grow up.
I hope this helps - shifting our view of emotional crying from problematic to healthy can make it a whole lot easier to bear!
All my best,
(1) Aletha J. Solter (1998) "Tears and Tantrums: What to do When Babies and Children Cry"
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