Teddy Bear Day Care – Ypsilanti

Teddy Bear Day Care and Learning Center

How Do Adults Cry?

by Leslie - November 21st, 2013.
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Last night I was saying goodbye to a student and his mom. He had a pouting look on his face, so I asked him what was on his mind, and he stuck his thumb in my face. After a short discussion I learned that he had slammed his thumb in the car door and that his thumb nail was going to eventually fall off. Having been through a similar situation, I showed him my thumb that had survived a similar fate. When I explained to him that his thumb nail would also grow back, he replied, “But I cried when it happened!” In an attempt to reassure him, I also shared that I had cried when my thumb was stuck in a door. He looked at me bewildered and asked, “But Miss Leslie, how do adults cry?” It took me a moment to get there, but I soon realized that this young man believed that adults do not cry.

As adults, we often find ourselves hiding some emotions (e.g., anxious, sad, upset, worried, disgust, etc.). The reason being, is that we often think of these emotions as negative. We want our children to know that we are the strong rock that can bring comfort to them when their knees are bumped or when they are scared of the monsters in their closets. I often hear kids refer to their family members as super heroes; so it’s our natural inclination to keep up that tough exterior. But what would happen if our children saw their superheroes appropriately express and cope with their big emotions?

I would argue that it’s important for our children to see their superheroes emote.  Let’s chat first about what happens when we attempt to hide our emotions. First of all, no matter how great of a job that we think we are doing at masking the emotions our children still know that something is wrong. When we feel our feelings, there is not only the outward emotion (crying for sad, smiling for happy) but we also experience a physiological response. For example, when you get angry your muscles may tense up or your temperature may increase. This is your body’s fight or flight response—it’s gearing up to survive a perceived threat. So even if we stop our tears, our children can still sense that we are sad; this stress is easily transferred to our young ones. Children are very egocentric and when they sense that something is wrong and they don’t know why, then most times they will assume that problem is a result of something they have done. Secondly, when we hide our emotions from our children, we are non-verbally telling them that crying should be avoided. I would much rather have a child cry when she is upset, as opposed to her throwing a temper tantrum. Crying can be a great first step in processing difficult situations.

So how can we help our children learn how to healthily process big  emotions? First of all, just like we do when they are infants, talk to them about everything. If you are sad, let them know why and what you’ve done or plan to do in order to fix this problem. Hiding tears when you have obviously been crying will not do you, or your child any favors.

Next, when you see your child displaying a big emotion, let them know it’s OK by saying something like, “It’s OK to be sad (angry, jealous, disappointed, etc.),” while then offering an appropriate outlet such as crying, squeezing a pillow, listening to music, drawing a picture, etc. All these outlets are natural responses. When we have appropriate outlets for these big emotions, it becomes much easier to process if you don’t feel ashamed by it.

Sometimes adults experience big emotions as a result of an adult problem (divorce, death of a loved one, or an argument with a friend). Some adult problems are just that: adult problems. We certainly don’t want to use our children as confidants for these big problems—they’re too complicated of issues for children to understand. When instances like this arise, we want to stress to our children that we’re not upset because of them, and let them know that we are doing our best to deal with it.

Whatever you call them, big emotions or negative emotions, these are all an important part of the human experience. It is my goal when working with children to help make them the happiest and most effective people that they can become. In that process, I want them to understand their own emotions, and the appropriate ways to deal with them–I want them to learn how to feel.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. When you were a child, how did your family teach you about these big emotions? Does this differ from how you handle them with your family?


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