I’ve worked with young children for many years now, and the words of a mentor are still in my head: “it’s okay for a child to cry, there’s no reason to try to make them stop”.
In this particular situation, she was referring to a three year old child who just moved here from far away. New town, new home, new surroundings were all just too much for this little guy. I was speaking to my co-worker, asking her what else we could do to get him to stop crying.
My mentor, our boss, reminded me that the crying wasn’t just something he’s doing because he’s mad or sad, but that it is a way of expressing and releasing emotion. She recommended ways to support him as he struggled to find his way and navigate all of his emotions.
You see, when a child is crying, you have to ask yourself, “what is this child trying to tell me?”. There are times when that cry is to get attention, you know that fake cry that some kids can turn on, right? My kid can anyway… But really, young children cry to express anger, frustration, sadness, confusion, relief, and the occasional “I have no clue” cry. Letting go of the feelings is cathartic and provides relief to children, it’s how they work their way through to the other side of the conflict in their hearts.
Holding in tears, keeping emotions inward or stifling them can be harmful to self esteem, but also to our bodies. The nervous and cardiovascular systems are impacted greatly by stress, as many adults know very well. We want to instill the value of expressing your emotions early so young children develop healthy coping strategies now. (Seriously, crying can lower your blood pressure according to Dr. William H. Frye II PhD)
The other benefit to letting a child cry when they feel the need is the ability to inspire community. When children see that another child is crying, it creates an opportunity to empathize with their peer. Children will reach out to one another, offer hugs, stories, conversation even. It’s a tool that can enrich the classrooms emotional environment.
Please keep in mind that I’m not saying to ignore a crying child. I’m simply saying that trying to make a child stop crying or not allowing them to cry at all is unhealthy. This is something to keep in mind especially as children move out of infancy. Our expectations change as they have more skills and language, but the child will still feel sad. Crying is a natural way of expressing feelings at any age, and regardless of your gender. Remember, boys can cry too.
So the next time you have a sad child in front of you, give them a snuggle and let them cry it out.