by Kristi Miller MS, LPC-MH, Certified Theraplay Therapist
Have you squeezed back tears to avoid crying? Maybe you were alone at the time, or maybe you were around others and felt embarrassed or weak.
Perhaps your child cries frequently. Parents often feel helpless and unsure how to respond to their crying child. All of us who are or have been parents of small children know how nighttime crying results in exhausted parents and sleepy and grumpy children. This obviously makes daily activities more difficult. A frequently crying child can exasperate or puzzle any well-meaning, loving parent.
We need to remember, however, that tears have a purpose. Let’s explore this further.
Historically, adults and children often experienced being ignored or disciplined when tearful. Unfortunately, these generational beliefs from our past experiences frequently shape our current views and approaches to crying. Instead of tuning into another's need/experience, we may unknowingly shame, humor, or coax others out of their feelings. Typically our intention isn't to contribute to another's pain but rather resolve, mediate, or ignore what we can't understand. Unfortunately, sometimes these tactics result in others feeling dismissed or ashamed.
Take Sam, for example. Sam frequently cried as a young child. His high sensitivity, an aspect of his personality, was a factor. His parents allowed crying but ignored it due to their lack of knowledge and feelings of helplessness. Sam recalled feeling profoundly lonely and stuck in sadness he couldn't understand. His parents, due to their own history and their lack of parenting skill, couldn’t teach him to cope with intense feelings which resulted in anxiety and self-esteem issues for Sam. As a result, Sam, although he couldn’t verbalize this at the time, internalized crying as bad or wrong. For example, Sam recalled falling off his bike at the age of 6, and instead of crying because he was physically banged up, Sam felt proud about feeling pain but not crying. He recalled limping into the house to tell his mother what happened and saying to her, “and I didn’t even cry!”
That may seem to fit our Midwestern mindset, but it’s not healthy.
According to the book Tears Heal: How to Listen to our Children, Kate Orson reported the following discoveries from several studies:
85% of women and 73% of men who cried felt less sad.
When a close person offers emotional support to a sad and crying person, the tearful person experiences a sense of healing.
- "When babies are left alone to 'cry-it-out,’ they give up expressing their feelings but remain in a stressed state with high cortisol levels. It's essential that we stay with our babies or toddlers when they cry."
Adults and children experiencing sadness benefit when a familiar person provides support, empathy, and presence. Additionally, the experience of crying also often provides comfort. Sometimes listening is all a distressed person needs from a trusted person. It is so important that an attachment figure be present and provide support to young children who are distressed.
Sometimes caregivers think that talking about feelings will increase them. Typically, when a child feels heard, the nervous system calms, and the crying lessens. Ignoring a child’s crying may reduce it, but that occurs because the child gives up on believing they will receive any support. Your children need to know you support them and can help them cope with big and painful feelings.
If you frequently find yourself in tears without support, or if you are wanting help with how to be the best parent you can be, River Counseling Services and Sioux Falls Psychological Services meet you where you are, offering hope. You may schedule an appointment with the Platte office at 605-337-3444, or meet with one of our Sioux Falls Psychological Services therapists from your own computer or smartphone. To schedule an appointment please call 605-334-2696.