Because empathy and compassion don’t come easily to everyone
Being in the presence of a child’s pain can be uncomfortable for us, hence why our automatic response is often ‘don’t’ or ‘there’s no need to cry’.
But, at any age, crying is as normal and healthy as the expression of any other kind of emotion, even though many of us were ourselves raised on ‘don’t cry’.
But some adults are extra-intolerant of others’ tears; even children’s, and especially as they grow older.
This week I was asked for an opinion by a parent concerned because there seemed to be an intolerance in her child’s school about children crying, even very young kids.
Even though they apparently only were told to stop crying if it ‘went on for too long’ , that still didn’t sit right…
And those concerns are well placed…
Crying is a physiological and emotional reaction to distress that, even as adults, we often just don’t have autonomous control over. So children definitely can’t be expected to.
I wholeheartedly advocate for teaching kids the skills to regulate their emotions, handle disappointment etc., but that mustn’t be confused with stifling crying or supressing difficult emotions.
They all find a way out sooner or later, and the more bottled up they are, the more unpleasant that can be, for everyone.
SO here are 5 must-know facts about crying, especially if you need to advocate for your kid’s right to cry in the the presence of a grown-up who is intolerant of crying…
1) Crying is a hard-wired response to distress or discomfort. It’s the way Mother Nature designed our nervous system to basically re-align itself so it’s ready to function better again.
2) Tears contain endorphins; hormones which basically act as our own morphine.
Take comfort from the fact that, while crying is an expression of upset, it doesn’t cause more pain… Crying helps to take the pain away…
3) Crying alone causes a huge spike in cortisol. We tend to shut down rather than cry deeply by ourselves for this reason. It’s a catch 22; the stress response amplifies the stress response. Hence having someone to cry with is important.
4) Crying activates the ‘parasympathetic nervous system’, the in-built wiring which brings us back to a state of equilibrium and calm. Stifling crying doesn’t have the same effect!
5) Compassion and empathy is nature’s own pain relief! When we comfort our child, speak soothing words, use a kind voice, hold them, make safe eye contact, we dose them up with oxytocin and opioids, hence you can very much be addicted to love!
Crying isn’t a sign of weakness, regardless of age or gender, and it’s harmful to exacerbate this belief.
Crying is just; albeit, sometimes uncomfortable; an expression of a need and, whoever I’m talking to; professionals, parents, anyone; I always, always come back to the same belief: It’s an adults’ job meet the needs of children, not the other way round.
Some grown-ups do struggle to respond compassionately to another’s pain. That’s their story. It doesn’t have to become our kids’ too.
Wouldn’t we have a mentally healthier population if the world replaced ‘Don’t cry’ with ‘It’s ok to cry’?
Of course we would.
So let’s teach our children – especially our boys – that crying is acceptable, normal and healthy…
Let’s also make sure they know that; even if they’re in the presence of someone who doesn’t have the inner-resources to accept, connect with and meet their needs; their needs are still valid and important.
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