Crying is a perfectly natural, healthy response to strong emotions. As adults when we experience sadness, despair or even anger, we can well up and use our tears as a way to release our emotions. It’s well recognised that to suppress these emotions is unhealthy and can lead to a plethora of psychological issues.
As parents it can be distressing to hear our children cry. The sound of my daughter’s crying breaks my heart and makes me feel almost panic-stricken. But we need to bear in mind that, as with adults, crying is a healthy way to express and release strong emotions. And we need to be careful how we react to the cries of our children, based on their developmental level.
A baby cries primarily as a way to express needs. If a baby is hungry, thirsty, cold, wet or lonely they will cry to let their caregivers know. It’s the only way they have to communicate. And as such it is important that we acknowledge this expression of need and respond appropriately. We ignore a baby’s cries at our peril, with the danger of missing something seriously wrong, or damaging the relationship between caregiver and child.
But as a child grows and learns more appropriate and mature ways to express themselves, crying becomes less of a communicative tool and more of an emotive one. A toddler or child may cry through frustration, anger, pain, tiredness… any number of emotions. Now parenting becomes less about responding to a need, and more about recognising the feeling behind the crying. Of course we should always try to find out why our child is crying, and whether we need to do something about it. But often it will be the case that there is nothing we can do, or they’re crying because of something we’ve denied them. And in these cases it’s important we don’t try to stifle our child’s cries. We need to recognise that our child is experiencing an emotion and that’s it our job to be there with them while they experience this, without trying to tell them to stop crying, however distressing it may sound.
Here’s my tip: If your child cries and it’s obviously through experiencing an overwhelming emotion, be there with them. They need to know it’s ok to express themselves, and that you accept their feelings. Strong emotions are scary for children; the worst thing you can do is tell them to stop or send them somewhere to deal with them alone! Naughty corners and time-outs can be harmful for this very reason. A child needs their caregiver to tell them it’s ok and listen to them vent their feelings. Try not to distract them or disregard their feelings. What might seem trivial to you may be disastrous for them! Just be there with them, and let them know it’s ok to cry, and that you love them no matter what.
Photograph by http://www.flickr.com/photos/eggonstilts/