Why I Never Tell My Children to Stop Crying
Parenting is always a divisive topic. Every generation thinks it has found the trick to child-rearing, and every new parent vows to avoid the mistakes their own parents made in raising them. Attitudes towards discipline, attachment, nutrition, education, and play are constantly evolving, but one thing that never seems to change is the idea that crying is a bad thing and that the goal when a child cries is to get them to stop at any cost. This attitudinal hangover from the days when children were to be seen but not heard is incredibly worrying and something we should resist as parents in order to safeguard our children's mental wellbeing.
Don't Make Kids Stop Crying -- Tears Have a Function
Crying is a vital communicative tool for children. They cry because they are hurt, angry, frustrated, sad, unwell, or tired, and often crying is the only way they know to give voice to these feelings. As parents, we are biologically programmed to respond to the sound of a crying child, and as a mother, I understand how traumatic it is to see your child in distress, but I worry that we have become too focused on how crying makes us feel, and have lost sight of the important function that crying serves in healthy emotional development.
When a child is upset, her brain produces the stress hormone cortisol. When she cries, levels of cortisol drop, and she effectively starts over with a "blank slate." When she is forced to stop crying prematurely, that cortisol sticks around, and in the long term, this can have significant consequences for healthy neurological development.
Of course, I would never advocate allowing a child to "cry it out" (in fact, I find the idea abhorrent), but a child who is allowed to express herself freely and is supported through her emotions by a parent rather than being forced to cut them off is much more likely to grow up confident, healthy, and happy than one who is compelled to suppress the urge to cry in the name of teaching resilience.
Crying and Emotional Regulation
Not only is it cruel to expect a child to suppress the urge to cry, but it is also wholly unrealistic. Emotional regulation is a skill that takes a lifetime to master, and the fact that so many adults suffer from poor mental health is a testament to this. How, then, can we expect our children to be fully in control of their feelings at all times when we can't do it ourselves?
It is all very well and good to post "It's okay to not be okay" to your Facebook page, but in practice, this means teaching your children that it's okay to cry when they feel the need. When we tell our children to stop crying, we invalidate their feelings and teach them that being open with their emotions is a bad thing. These attitudes bleed into adulthood and can lead to a life of poor and unchecked mental health. Is it any wonder that mental health stigma remains so pervasive when we are taught from infancy that feelings are shameful?
I am a mother and an imperfect one at that. I would be lying if I said I hadn't pleaded with my colicky baby at two in the morning to stop screaming or snapped at my toddler to stop whining that I had given her the "wrong" spoon. I get that there is nothing endearing about a child throwing a fit in the cereal aisle and that it is important to set boundaries with regards to acceptable and safe behavior.
However, I believe that denying a child the right to express herself (however irrational she is being) sets a dangerous precedent that will have consequences for her future mental wellbeing, and for that reason, I would rather deal with the inconvenience now than the heartache later. I will never tell my children to stop crying -- as much as I might want to.
Lear, J. (2021, July 8). Why I Never Tell My Children to Stop Crying, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, October 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/copingwithdepression/2021/7/why-i-never-tell-my-children-to-stop-crying
Author: Jennifer Lear
This is a beautiful read. It's amazing when we look at some of the things that are so present in our adult lives and trace them to such early roots in childhood. Crying is absolutely a valid and necessary expression of emotion and while it can be tempting at times to tell our children (or our grown selves) to simply "stop crying", it's far more beneficial to let them (and us) experience that release.