Are you from a family of criers? I am. You only had to see my sisters’ faces at Melissa’s christening, when we were singing Jerusalem (which was our old school song); tears rolling down our cheeks, lumps in our throats. Or my mum’s touching goodbye with a tear in her eye; knowing that it’ll be a while before we see each other again. Not to mention the ‘welling up’ of pride when my dad saw me in my wedding dress. We’re an emotional bunch. In fact, I’m shedding a tear as I write – ridiculous as it may seem, because it’s a beautiful thing.
Humans are hardwired to cry. Crying is a natural physiological response to pain, fear, happiness as well as getting grit in your eye or cutting onions. Emotional tears start in the cerebrum where emotion is registered. The endocrine system is then triggered to release hormones to the ocular area, which then cause tears to form.
Feeling better after a good cry
A study at a Medical Centre in Minnesota, found that chemicals that build up in our body during times of stress are shed in our tears when we cry. If we suppress the emotion and hold back the tears, the unreleased stress can manifest into health complaints like chronic illnesses and an increased risk of heart attack or damage to the brain. So the human ability to cry not only feels good, it’s necessary for your health!
So, why is society down on crying?
Somehow our culture has filtered down the message that children shouldn’t cry. Or that crying should be reserved for the really big things in life, like the loss of a loved one. We’re taught that repressing your emotions is a mature thing to do, and that we must behave in a socially acceptable way; hence the stiff upper lip.
Little boys are told to ‘man up’ or that ‘crying is for sissy’s’. Older children are told that ‘crying is for babies’, and I frequently hear parents say ‘that doesn’t hurt, there’s nothing to cry about’.
Firstly, who are we to decide what does or doesn’t hurt? Secondly, children (as well as adults) cry for many different reasons. It may look like your child’s friend only pushed them gently, but the tears may flow over the emotional hurt that comes from a friend’s rejection. The amount of times I’ve stubbed my toe, collapsed on the floor in sobs and realised I’m crying over something completely different.
Babies cry as a way of communication
The first thing that a baby does when it enters the world is cry. Parents and midwifes sigh in relief that the baby is breathing and all is okay. Crying is a language, it’s a form of communication that tells you your baby need feeding, changing or cuddling and it deserves to be listened to. Toddlers and children often don’t have the words to fully express what they are feeling. So in times of raw emotion they resort to crying, yet society has taken the view that crying is wrong.
Should we tell a child to stop crying?
When we tell a child not to cry, we are saying to them that crying is bad. We aren’t teaching them how to master the expression of emotion, but rather how to suppress it. Worse still, if you tell a child off for crying, or ignore crying, then you’re saying that the emotion they feel is invalid and wrong. If constantly reinforced, over time, your disapproval or unavailability will stop them from expressing their feelings to you again. On the surface, this may produce an obedient child, but this suppression can often be the source of frequent toddler Temper Tantrums (read more on that here), and later in life emotional suppression has been linked with major depression.
My experience of crying
In my experience when someone invalidates my emotions by telling me ‘I don’t understand what you’re upset about’ or ‘you’re over-reacting’, it only makes me defensive, and I no longer want to share my feelings with that particular person. In this way, good friends that listen to you open heartedly are so important; because you deserve to be listened to when you’re upset. I want Melissa to feel the same – that no matter what the problem is, she can express it to me and I’ll support her.
I don’t stop Melissa from crying when she’s screaming the house down; even when I think she may be overreacting. Responding to her cries promptly and allowing her to express whatever it is she wants helps build a strong bond of trust between us.
Even when disapproving eyes are on me….
….instead of trying to quieten her, I offer a cuddle and words of reassurance. Once she’s calmed down enough to hear me, I work on expressing her emotion by verbalising what she may be crying about. For example ‘you’re sad because your friend pushed you over and you really like playing with your friend’ or ‘you’re cross that you didn’t get a turn on the swing’. By putting words to their emotion, even at a very young age, you’re teaching your child to express themselves clearly; which is a valuable skill for life.
Repressing emotions only leads to things eating away at us. Our children are precious; we need to teach them to communicate their emotions freely, safely and openly for them to grow up into well adjusted individuals.
I always carry some Bach Flower Rescue Remedy in my handbag for times of emotional need. I also find Australian Bush Flower Emergency Essence mist amazing at giving everyone a bit of emotional comfort. For more info on how to help a child deal with their emotions safely please read my post on ‘Being a baby is Emotional’
Have we got crying all wrong? I’d love to hear your view, please post comments below or on Facebook.