Grandma put Susie on the kitchen counter. She was gentle, loving and with an almost singing voice, she said, “Don’t you cry. It is embarrassing to cry. Beautiful girls like you don’t cry…”
I know the grandma meant well; she doesn’t want her granddaughter to suffer. For many grownups, tears are strongly connected with suffering and pain. Many grownups will do anything to satisfy a child’s wants just to make sure the child doesn’t cry. Sometimes I also wish we could have the magic power to take all the pain away from our children’s lives. And at the same time life is about falling and knowing how to get up; Magda Gerber said “Learning to fall, getting up again, and moving on is the best preparation for life.” Also, by putting a veto on emotions and crying we are not really taking away the pain. It is actually confusing for the child why she can’t let her special grown-up know how she feels. Eventually, the child will learn that some emotions are scary or unacceptable and they need to be hidden. And this of course does not help the child in processing their emotions and being able to move on.
It’s okay to cry. Especially if you really want something and you can’t have it, or it doesn’t exist in reality. It is sad, unfair, and unpleasant. “Grandma can’t pick you up right now – she has to leave.” This news doesn’t feel good; Susie loves her grandma. It feels joyful to dance together with her and no reasoning at that point can make this news feel less sad. Mourning and sometimes anger are an important part of the process. Those “negative” emotions are often scary for grownups, so they try to convince children not to cry and not to feel them. Susie is sad!! It is hard for her to believe in such injustice! Mourning is normal, crying is normal, feeling frustrated and perhaps even angry is normal. When grownups are allowed strong feelings the child can process what’s going on and rejoice, because it was and has passed, it is not stuck anywhere. Ok, if we are not going to stop a child from crying, not discourage, not distract, not even redirect – what can grownups do to support a crying child?
What can we do?
Recognize that the child is upset about something. Name what he is upset about. “You want grandma to pick you up and dance and sing with you… and she needs to go home.”
Normalize experiences. It is sad when a loved one needs to go. It is ok to cry.
Listen, be present, hug (if the child wants one).
When the big emotions go down the child might be ready for simple explanations. “Grandma is tired. She will go home, rest, and come back tomorrow. She will be refreshed and ready to dance with you again.”
5. Empathize again
Hug, cuddle, kiss.
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Wishing you all the best in the difficult yet exciting journey of parenting!