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You want your child to just stop. crying. already!
How many times do they cry a day? And how often is it over nuisances?
If you are as wore out as I used to be, and want to know how to effectively help kids when crying, read on!
Kids cry a lot. I have 4 of them (including a teenage stepdaughter) and boy, do they all cry a lot.
Often times, all at once.
I grew up hearing the sentence “don’t cry” or “stop crying” from a lot of people around me.
As an adult and beginner parent, I believed that kids needed to stop crying and fussing and be sensible.
I thought that crying was sometimes frightening and annoying, but most often just simply useless.
As I gained more experience, I have slowly changed my view on crying.
Not only did I realize that crying is beneficial, I have also learned ways to help my children cry.
Just like I have learned ways to respond to my kids instead of always saying “no”, I also learned to help them make sense of crying instead of just ordering them to stop.
Of course, as my kids are growing, maturity has already brought about a change in the frequency of crying, but the goal is not to stop crying anymore.
My goal is to teach my children what to do when they are upset and how to use crying to their advantage. And as a side benefit, I may have also learned some skills to use when I am upset.
How to Help Kids When Crying And What To Say “Instead Of Stop It!”
In order to help kids when crying, we need to understand certain facts and the science behind tears.
First, let’s look at why do we even cry
There are several reasons as to why we cry, but for the purposes of this article I am going with this answer from Dr. Nick Knight:
…there is an area of your brain specifically to deal with your emotions, called the limbic system, (…) which is hard-wired into your autonomic nervous system. (…) This system… has a degree of control over the lacrimal ‘tear’ system; So in short, your emotional reaction (…) triggers your nervous system, which in turn, orders your tear-producing system to activate.
It’s clear then, that crying is automatic to certain emotional reactions and controlling them is about as difficult as controlling how we feel.
However let’s not wrongly assume that just because emotions are hard to control then we can just display them as we please with no effort to reign them in or no regards to others.
We can’t help how we feel, but we CAN help how we react and how we display those feelings.
A therapist once told me that emotions are like the check-engine light on a car. They signal what is going on under the surface. Open the hood and find out what the problem is below.
You aren’t going to try to fix the check engine light by telling it to stop flashing.
You will fix the problem that it signals.
Therefore emotions and the following crying is a natural part of life and they usually signal something that we need to deal with. Or, in case of our children, we need to help them deal with.
Our children are very capable of learning healthy responses to crying and will be able to handle their emotions with more skill the older they get.
However, I often experience that kids are treated much more harshly by adults than they should be. (I am guilty too)
If emotions and crying sometimes overtake an adult, how much more they are able to overwhelm a young human being who has only been on this Earth for a few short years?
Shouldn’t children and even teens deserve more patience and guidance to learn how to control crying and their emotional responses?
I am not talking about suppression either.
Suppressing tears aren’t good for the body.
In an article on WebMD, Stephen Sideroff, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of California says:
“For various reasons, a lot of people push down their tears; they suppress them,” One of the consequences is we sort of deaden ourselves (…)”
In the same article, Jodi DeLuca, a neuropsychologist at Tampa, FL General Hospital, agrees, saying:
Those who suppress emotions and cannot cry may be jeopardizing their physical health.
DeLuca also states, there’s a saying that is attributed to Henry Maudsley, a British psychologist:
“The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep.”
If we don’t allow our feelings to come to the surface and to be resolved, they often internalize and can cause all sorts of illness, like high blood pressure, heart disease, different gut problems and so on.
This is science and not empty opinions.
I don’t mean to scare you or send you on a guilt trip!
What I am trying to do is explain the reasons why I say it is ok and even necessary for children to cry.
With all that said, let’s look at ways we can help our children let off steam and at the same time productively deal with their intense emotions.
What to do instead of saying “stop crying”
Have you noticed that saying “stop crying” has never actually done the job? It usually only exacerbates the issue.
That is because when a child is crying, they need validation first and foremost.
They need to feel that you empathize, no matter how ridiculous you think their problem is.
They need to know that they are heard and accepted even when they are upset.
After all, isn’t that what unconditional love is all about?
If I demand my kids to stop crying, two things can happen.
One is that they actually stop crying and learn to suppress their emotions and problems and as we have learned previously, that is just not healthy.
A second thing that can happen is that they stay upset, but due to the lack of help from our part, they turn to somebody or something else for validation and guidance.
Neither one of these outcomes sounds appealing to me, so I kept searching for a better alternative.
I want to be my children’s confidante, ally, and cheerleader.
I want to be the one they turn to when they need help and I sure don’t want them internalizing their feelings.
For these reasons, I have started doing these 10 things with my children, instead of saying “stop crying”.
1. Validate Emotions
“I hear that you are very upset (angry, frustrated, disappointed, insert any emotion here)”.
This simply lets a child know that you understand that he has strong feelings and that it is natural.
By acknowledging, in other words validating, feelings you may initially see an exaggerated reaction.
That is because when a child is allowed to feel, the emotions will flow freely. And since now you know why that is important, you can freely let them.
2. Show Affection
Hugs, kisses or just sitting close by is of crucial importance when you’re helping a child deal with crying. You can say something like this:
“I am right here when you need me to give you a hug” or “Come, sit in my lap so I can keep you safe while you’re upset”.
I do realize there are children who want us to leave them alone. I have on those introvert, non-verbal children too
I am constantly trying to figure out when do I need to stay and when do I need to leave.
3. Draw Boundaries
Because our goal is not only to help with the expression of feelings but to also teach our children how to handle them, we probably need to state certain boundaries.
“I see that you’re upset, but I won’t allow you to hit”. Or “I hear your disappointment, but I won’t let you talk to me that way”.
This is a kind, empathetic but firm way to let a child know how far they can go in expressing themselves.
4. Ask Questions
I usually ask my crying child, “do you know why you are crying”.
I often found that once they start crying, they are just releasing stress and don’t necessarily remember the trigger.
In these cases I let crying take its natural, calming course and everybody feels better when it’s over.
But how about those situations when you are not sure how to help?
Chances are, your child knows what they want from you, so why guess when you can just ask?
“How would you like me to help you right now” or “What do you think we should do about this” are great questions to ask.
You may need to wait for the child to calm down a bit before being able to rationally talk, but I am sometimes surprised what great problem solvers kids are!
5. Wait Patiently
Whether it’s waiting for the tears to subside or the venting to stop, you will need to be patient.
When I say “stop crying”, sometimes I just want to hurry up and be done with the emotional ordeal.
But processing emotions cannot be rushed in children.
They need to go through the full length of the cycle: from adrenaline rushing through their body causing the fight or flight response, all the way to calming down in order to use rational thinking.
Then, and only then will they be able to discuss the problem and use their brains to learn and problem solve.
This can be very challenging for us adults because it often makes us feel all sorts of emotions when dealing with a crying little human. This brings me to my next point:
6. Keep Your Own Emotions In Check
Maybe you’re in the middle of a store and everybody is staring at you.
Or maybe you were supposed to leave somewhere and you’re running late.
Perhaps you think the reason for their fit is ridiculous. (and it very well may be)
Do you feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, annoyed or stressed due to their crying?
I often ask myself, am I going to model the right way to handle MY emotions or am I going to be just like my child I am frustrated with.
Is it fair to react out of my emotions when I expect them to keep theirs in check?
I found that I also need calming strategies during a crying-spell.
Often times I take deep breaths and repeat a mantra, such as “it is not an emergency”, “this is not my fault”, “my child is trying to work through it”, “crying is not bad”, “this is a great lesson in self-control”, etc.
I try to keep a neutral, or when I can, a smiling expression, so whenever my child looks at me they see my non-verbal cues lining up with my words.
7. Change Locations
If the child is wailing too loud, disturbing others or causing a scene in public, I found it the best to leave or go to another room.
Not only will I be able to keep her safe from harming others, but I will also be able to let her cry in private for as long as she needs.
I will be able to keep my emotions in check and wait patiently when I don’t feel pressured by onlookers.
8. Teach Calming Techniques
When my child seems to have completely lost it, I often whisper in their ear: “you are in control”, “you are capable of calming down”, you’re upset now, but you will soon feel better”.
I also encourage them to breathe and process their thoughts that made them upset: “Take a deep breath, and work through it”, or “keep accepting what I said, you can do it”.
They internalize these mantras and feel empowered to take control and calm down.
Recently, I saw a mom who did an awesome calming technique with her child and I immediately decided to adopt it.
Cup your hands close to your face and pretend you’re holding a cup. Say:
“Here’s some hot chocolate, let’s smell it!” (take a slow deep breath in)
“Oh, it’s so hot, let’s blow it!” (blow air out)
Repeat a few more times.
Your child may not do it after you at first and that’s ok. You’re modeling and teaching a skill which may take many tries before turning into a result.
Our goal is to stick with teaching them, no matter what.
9. Don’t Give In
No matter how long, how loud or how convincingly they cry, don’t give in.
It’s not permissive to allow a child to express their emotions when upset. That should be normal.
To be permissive is to give in due to their strong and enduring expression of upset, forgetting who is actually in charge.
You can be empathetic, kind and encouraging while standing your ground.
Children desperately need to experience security through an adult who is reliable and courageous enough to set consistent boundaries.
Many times, I repeat to my child the boundary I drew or remind them of the problem that made them upset.
I do that to help them work through it and realize it is not changing just because they are upset.
So even as they are calming down, they usually start up again a few times and that is ok with me. I keep repeating my mantras and keep myself calm.
Eventually, they will show acceptance and become ready for discussion.
10. Discuss/Restore The Relationship
Once your child is calm, you can begin to discuss the matter.
Sometimes all is needed is making sure they understand why you had to set a boundary, or why you gave them the answer you did.
Other times, feelings have been hurt or unkind words said which requires the restoration of the relationship.
I strive to do this with lots of cuddles, kind words, and a gentle voice.
This is the time to rationally explain and solve the problem.
This is the time to restore the relationship, which is simply the most important part of this whole process to me.
With children who are less likely to open up and talk, it often takes a very long time to get to the last point, the discussion/ restoration.
There may be instances when you really don’t have the time to sit and wait them out.
On these occasions, I suggest saying something like this:
“I love you and I care about you. I am here for you when you’re ready but we have to go to the doctor now. (or insert whatever the reason why you can’t sit and wait).
Then go about your business without guilt. Your child has heard you and knows that you care. And you can always revisit the issue later.
I definitely don’t do these steps well every single time. I write this post to myself just as much as to you who read it.
I will never be able to say I don’t need reminders and direction changes.
Good parenting is a journey, not a destination you will arrive to and be done.
The question is, do you make steps toward becoming a gentler parent every day?
Are you making progress towards teaching your children how to correctly handle their emotions and crying?
Are you working towards accepting feelings and their natural result: crying?
If yes, then you’re doing everything you can!
I hope these tips inspire you to help your child deal with crying instead of just saying “stop it”!
Tell me, which tip helped you the most? What other solutions do you use with your child? Comment below!
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