Don’t Fear Tears: Why It’s Important to Accept Your Child’s Emotions and How to Handle Them

A natural response

Crying is one of our very first methods of communication. Babies use crying to make sure their needs are being met. Parents, in response, try to meet those needs as quickly as possible so that the crying stops. As a child grows, sometimes we become less tolerant of tears. For some, it becomes tempting to say things like, “You are too old to cry like this” or, Crying is what babies do.” The patience we showed with an infant is not the same we bestow on a now ten-year-old.

Why do the tears flow?

Babies cry for basic reasons such as hunger, exhaustion, discomfort, sickness, and pain. They also cry for connection. Older children cry for the same reasons. So, why do we treat them differently? Although an older child’s options for communication have become more varied, many of the underlying needs remain.

In the end, it is helpful for us all to normalize crying. Instead of seeing this physical manifestation of our feelings as a lack of maturity, it can be viewed from the perspective that it is important, perhaps even essential.

What Are the Benefits of Crying?

According to research, crying has numerous benefits, such as decreasing stress, reducing pain, and enhancing bonding. Most of us can recall a time when a “good cry” helped us feel better. With this recognition, how can we use this knowledge to improve our interactions with tearful children?

A mother comforts her crying daughter.

What to do when your child cries

  1. Accept the Tears

When a child is upset, our knee-jerk reaction is to get them to stop crying. Not because we are inherently mean, but because children are hard to understand when upset. Like a baby who is screaming, we also sometimes want to make it stop for our own ears’ sake. Instead of telling a child to stop crying immediately, we can take a moment to acknowledge what is happening.

An empathetic approach

“I see that you are crying. Are you ready to talk about it?”

Accepting that your child is crying is in no way ignoring it. We can be present and comfort our children while also giving them the space to feel their big feelings.

A personal reminder

I remember one day my first-grader came home and immediately started crying. She pulled up her pant leg and showed me where she had scraped her knee at recess. Although the injury had occurred hours before, due to social pressure, she had not cried at school. The cut did not require my medical attention, but my daughter still needed to cry her feelings out. Accepting that she had a need to cry was more important than putting on a band-aid.

2. Let children be the judges of their own pain

It is tempting to approach tears with judgment instead of curiosity. When a child comes to us with discomfort, we may take it upon ourselves to judge if the hurt is worth crying over. We may say things like, “It doesn’t look that bad to me” or “It’s not worth all this fuss.” Children should be allowed to make the call on how big their feelings are.

Pain is subjective

Because pain is subjective, we cannot feel pain the same way our children do. Their pain must be accepted for what they say it is. Instead of trying to determine if their response is proportional to the cause, we can keep an open mind about the intensity of their feelings.

  1. Resist Shaming

This can be very challenging at times. When a child has a meltdown in the store because we say no to something, we might become embarrassed. Desperate to end the public scene, sometimes we resort to shame as an ineffective tool.

4. Figure out their needs

Just like the infant who cries because they are hungry, your child is crying for a reason. Sometimes we may think it’s obvious, but unfortunately, we get it wrong. A child may have fallen, and you believe they are crying because they are hurt. In actuality, they are crying because they are embarrassed or perhaps because the fall scared them. Taking the time to figure out why your child is crying instead of simply trying to put a quick end to it can be more helpful in the long run.

5. Provide options

Many times, we have a plan to get our children to stop crying and kind of steamroll them with it. “If you stop crying, I’ll buy you a treat.” Instead, we can again approach crying with curiosity.

“What can I do to help you?” “Is there something we can do to make it better?”

If your child isn’t sure what they need, go ahead and give some suggestions that you are willing to follow through with. The act of providing choices can be empowering for your child. When they feel like they have some control over the situation, it can make a big difference.

When should you worry about crying?

There are times when we need to pay closer attention to crying as it can be a sign of an underlying problem. Here are a few instances where you need to dig deeper and figure out the root cause.

  • Unresolved pain or illness
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Decreased energy

If you are concerned that your child is experiencing depression, be sure to talk with your pediatrician as soon as possible. Seek medical attention for pain that does not go away or unresolved illnesses.

Final Thoughts

Crying is a natural and important part of our emotional landscape. It is important to validate and honor our children’s tears. By accepting and understanding their crying, we can show our children that they are heard and loved. We can teach them that it is okay to feel their feelings, and it is even better to share those feelings with someone who loves them.

Looking for more information about how to comfort your kids? Check out these articles: Love your children, trust yourself, how to make listening your superpower, and using constructive feedback with kids.

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