What do you say to your child when they cry? Is it something like ‘Please don’t cry’, or ‘it’ll be ok, don’t cry’, or do you really allow them space to feel what they are experiencing? Throughout my years of parenting I’ve experienced many responses to my child’s anguish, like trying to ‘fix’ the issue for them, being frustrated at their angry outburst, or simply feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing and nothing is helping!
Just recently I’ve noticed something really valuable about crying. By paying more attention to what I feel when I experience tears and comparing this with my child’s emotional experiences, I’ve noticed that crying is just the tip of the iceberg, it’s a signal that something deeper is going on inside us. When we are feeling hurt or we don’t feel like we are being heard, anger and hurt builds up gradually in our bodies and we have to let it out in some way or it feels like we’ll explode. There is nothing wrong with allowing ourselves and our children to cry as a way of letting go of this emotion, this has two positive effects on our minds, bodies and souls, firstly it allows others to see that we are upset and gives them a chance to comfort and support us, secondly it clears the emotion so we are balanced enough to talk about how we are feeling.
How often has your child been inconsolable with tears and all you want to do is help them but they can’t tell you what is wrong because they are too emotionally charged or angry? We get frustrated because we really just want to fix the issue and move on, right? But in this instance holding space for them by holding them if they allow you to or just sitting with a hand on their shoulder and letting them know it’s ok to feel like this and that you’ll sit with them until they feel ready to talk to you will do amazing things for your child and your family relationship. One of the keys to encouraging emotional intelligence in your child and yourself is realising ‘it’s ok to feel like this’! You won’t feel like it forever and when it passes you can work through what the real issue is behind the tears. This is a crucial point, we need to be able to experience the sadness to see with clarity what is really upsetting us so we can acknowledge it and work through it.
So what do you do when you finally find out what the real issue is? Let’s look at an example, let’s say your child tells you that while sitting with her friends at school one of them says something really hurtful about her in front of everyone in the group. This is most likely a common issue that all children may face at one time or another. So how do we support our child through this? As I see it, we can approach it like this.
Step one – ask your child to explain in detail what happened and be sure to ask them how they were feeling throughout the experience.
Step two – give them the chance to express what they already know about problem solving by asking ‘now that you can look back on it, is there anything you could’ve done to try and fix the problem’? Allow them time to think or talk this through with you.
Step three – acknowledge that you understand how they were feeling, this is really important because more than anything they need to feel heard, and that it’s ok to feel sad, hurt or whatever it is they’ve expressed and point out any suggestions you have to help. For example, ‘I understand you’re feeling hurt because of something your friend said. Maybe next time you could let them know that what they said hurt you and it is not ok by saying something like, “what you said wasn’t very nice and you’ve hurt my feelings”.
Step four – In this instance there is a really good learning opportunity to talk about what to do if they witness this kind of behaviour. For example, ‘if you hear someone being mean to your friend like this, you could also say “please don’t say nasty things like that you’ll upset my friend”. If the behaviour continues, encourage your child to say “if you continue to say nasty things to me or my friends we’d prefer not to play with you”.
I know that every issue and situation is different but if we can support our children through each emotional outburst like this eventually they’ll build emotional intelligence and be able to come right out and tell you what is going on for them and they may even say what they did to resolve it. I’m sure as a parent we are all striving for this, as communication is the key to any successful relationship.