Nothing gets a mother’s attention quite like hearing their child cry. She can pick out her child’s cry amongst several other crying children in the middle of a noisy pre-school. She can even distinguish between the cries of her different children. That sound pulls at her heart strings and turns on her instinct to protect her young. I am no different.
So why did I make the decision a few years ago that I would get comfortable with hearing my children cry? Don’t my kids have enough challenges to deal with?
I am talking about a particular type of cry; the cry that comes from sadness, disappointment or frustration and not from physical pain.
For many parents, it’s particularly hard to let their child with special needs cry. They figure their child has enough to deal with, why should they be sad when they, the parent, can do something about it. That something is usually a distraction, giving the child a treat, playing with them, picking them up in a panic and pleading with them to stop crying. Many years ago, it may even have been: “I’ll give you something to cry about if you don’t stop”. What ever the tactic, all these methods aim to make the child stop crying as soon as possible. I believe they are all a little misguided and here is why.
Human beings are capable of feeling and expressing a variety of emotions. Every single one of those emotions is important and serves a purpose. There are no good or bad emotions; they don’t have an intrinsic value, only a purpose.
For some reason, we as a society have decided that some emotions such as joy, excitement and love are examples of “good” emotions whereas sadness, anger and fear are on the “bad” side of the emotional table. We celebrate and encourage our children to express the emotions we have decided are good and discourage the bad ones.
All young children have a lot to be sad and cry about because there is so much that they cannot control. So much that is frustrating, especially when they can’t yet fully express themselves. For children with special needs, this period can extend for a little bit longer. When they cry, our emotional hearts constrict a little and we want to make things better for them. We want to make our kids happy, not sad.
However, when we stop our children from expressing their sadness, we send the message that there is something wrong with being sad. There isn’t. By not letting them cry, we stunt their emotional development. It doesn’t matter that it’s done out of love, it still emotionally disables the child.
How else will the child truly know the full spectrum of emotions that humans are capable of if they are not allowed to express them? Remembering that all emotions serve a purpose in our child’s development, how could we handle their sadness differently?
One way to create a safe environment in which your child can express all their emotions including sadness would be:
- Get comfortable with hearing your child cry, it’s okay
- Let them cry.
- Stay close so they know it’s okay to cry
- Help them label what it is they are feeling, acknowledge it
- Talk about it afterwards. Cartoon drawings are great, let them sketch out how they felt
You are doing your job as a good parent, you are letting them experience the full spectrum of what it means to be human. You are helping them grow emotionally. So, let them cry!