Let them cry

I walked across the crowded playground on a recent sunny winter afternoon to spot Miles while he climbed a structure. A tiny tot, younger than three, tripped and fell as I passed. I stopped to comfort him while he was crying and waiting for a caregiver. The adult walked over, didn’t offer any physical touch, and stated, “You’re ok! Look, you’re ok. Wipe it off. Good. You’re fine.”

This is a common scenario at playgrounds. If there are children and parents present (or any form of caregiver, for that matter), stick around long enough and these words will inevitably be heard. “It’s ok. You’re fine.”

Each time I observe this, it makes my heart sink. The child is in pain. The child wants comfort. A hug, words that remind them they are treasured. “Ouch. That looked like it hurt. Are you okay?”

I understand some roots of the response. I don’t believe it’s sparked from a mean spirited heart or place of cruelty. I believe it reflects a desire for all to be well, all of the time. A desire to foster a kid that looks and feels good most of the time. Maybe to save face? Maybe to maintain a reputation? Maybe a subconscious reflection of gender stereotypes? Maybe. I don’t know what it is for any given parent on any given day. I’m sure the reasons are diverse.

I clearly remember a time with my then five-year-old son on my lap while he bawled- wailed, really- for at least five minutes after a fall that didn’t leave nary a scrape. As I held him, I realized I didn’t see many five-year-old boys crying anymore. A little embarrassment crept into my heart. All of a sudden, his wails felt excessive, dramatic, maybe even a little attention seeking. I had the urge to quiet him, to squelch his emotional surge so that I would feel more comfortable.

Were his tears about that fall? Maybe not. He was tired, he was hungry. He might’ve had something else disappoint him earlier in the day that he hadn’t processed. But none of that matters. I want him to be able to freely express his emotions, positive or negative. I want him to know I am a walking warm owie pack, frequently-used-as-a-tissue mom, who will hold him as long as he needs. Even if the tears aren’t about the fall. Even if I feel embarrassed. Even if I think he’s faking it. I want to error on the side of compassion.

I sympathize with the desire to have painful moments quickly roll past me and my children. I want my children to not feel extended moments of pain. I want my children to feel empowered and strong, resilient and able to take a fall.

But the problem is, their lives will be filled with countless moments of pain. The scraped knees of today will be broken hearts tomorrow. The tears because a peer won’t share today will be tears because a peer gossiped tomorrow. Resilience isn’t built without challenge.

If I communicate that I don’t care about the little owies today, I fear they won’t know I care about the wounds of tomorrow. The bulldozer losing a wheel matters to him. Missing the class party is painful. The stakes only get higher, so today I set the tone that I care. I care about their owies. I care about their sadness.

Let them cry. Please, let them cry. Hold them as long as they need. Reflect their emotions. Our children will be so much stronger for it. The child who cries is also the child who is shows compassion. The child who expresses frustration is also the child who celebrates victory. The child who grieves is also the child who heals.


4 thoughts on “Let them cry

  1. Amanda Fox

    Such a great article, Kathleen! I couldn’t agree more, that it is wrong to always tell children to just brush it off, or to think that because their concerns are “childish” concerns, that they don’t matter. I think to balance that approach with helping nurture an inner strength, one that is learning to distinguish between big ouchs and little ouchs and to find strength within themselves and their relationship with Jesus, between big concerns in their world and little concerns is important as well. Navigating this whole parenting thing is so tricky, right? Great job, mama!!

    1. kathleenbeanblog Post author

      It is incredibly tricky. Absolutely. The balance of accepting emotions while nudging them towards courage keeps me on my toes. Thanks for your comment, Amanda. It’s really nice to hear from you. I hope you & yours are doing really well with all your changes!

  2. Tanja

    Yes! I think the same thing whenever I heard parents/caregivers telling their kids that they’re OK when the children clearly are not. It infuriates me, actually! How much better our world would be if we could teach our children to honor their feelings–when we do, they’re able to process it and get over it faster (plus they have a model for how to self-soothe). But by having them “stuff” their emotions, they’re sending their kids down a dangerous path that encourages further disconnect from their bodies/emotions. Eventually, they become adults who are so cut off from their true selves that they don’t know what they want or how they feel–at least until some crisis occurs, forcing them to reconnect with who they are/what they want/what they really feel.
    So yes, I feel passionate about this subject 🙂 Thanks for writing about it!

    1. kathleenbeanblog Post author

      The worst offenders definitely make me fiery mad. It seems obvious when someone is just doing it habitually or having an off day, versus when someone doesn’t really give a shit at all. My bleeding heart wants to go hug those uber-ignored kids after those moments. It is maddening and heartbreaking.

      It feels like the majority of our generation is spending much of their adulthood learning how to identify our feelings in a more timely manner, eh? So few of us were considered in this regard and we’re all figuring out how to do it now! (Or, we’re not figuring it out and we’re coping in other generally less productive ways…) I know my boys will have plenty of challenges as adults, but I hope they can identify their emotions and feel comforted quicker than I can. Upward emotional mobility?


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