A few years ago, when Miss C was only little, something happened to us when we were out and about that I’ve never been able to forget.
The subject matter has been playing on my mind recently with all that’s going on and I’ve been wanting to write about it for a while. No matter which angle I approach it from, this memory keeps reappearing.
She must have been around the age of three and we had just come out of the supermarket. She had wanted a toy, which isn’t unusual for a child when going around the shops, and I hadn’t bought it. Miss C got a little upset and we had a chat and a cuddle but she was still disappointed and still quite teary. At this point there were no outbursts and no tantrums, just a sad little girl.
As we stood outside the shops waiting for her daddy to meet us, an older lady walked by and looked at her. She shook her head and said, quite simply, ‘big girls don’t cry’.
Miss C then looked up at me, mortified, as if she’d just been told off by a complete stranger.
I just looked at my child and told her that of course they do, everybody cries and it’s ok that she was doing because she was upset.
I know that this woman wouldn’t have meant any harm and I truly didn’t want to offend her in any way. She was from a completely different generation and maybe she was taught that ‘big girls don’t cry’ but really, when you think about it, what a ridiculous thing to say!
For a start, the lady didn’t know that Miss C hadn’t just fallen over and hurt herself. Or that something hadn’t frightened her. She just saw a little girl with tears running down her cheeks and felt that it was wrong and had to say so.
I then started thinking about the situations we have found ourselves in over the last few years and what has become the norm about children crying in social situations.
I’ve realised a lot.
I’ve realised how wrong we are sometimes getting it.
I’ve realised that the things I hear people say when children are upset are quite often primarily about themselves.
The truth is, crying children make people uncomfortable. It’s not a nice sound.
I hear adults, as an initial concern, try and get the crying child to stop.
I bet when you think about it, you’ve heard these things too. Things such as, ‘Right, stop that now’, ‘Come on, you’re ok, stop crying’. Or ‘Let’s stop the noise and then have a talk’. Even distraction techniques to help the child focus on something else.
I have done and said all of the above.
Only lately, I’ve been trying to change.
You see, if someone, anyone, is upset about something, why shouldn’t they be allowed to acknowledge that hurt and let it out?
I’m not talking about the fake, dramatic noises that sometimes come out of my children’s mouths, but real, genuine tears about a real sadness.
Even adults need that from time to time.
The message for adults is very different. It’s all about taking care of our mental health and it being ok not to feel ok. And we also know that a good cry can do you the world of good. Adults are encouraged to acknowledge their feelings and not to bottle it all up.
And adults have to be constantly encouraged because the stigma is still there. Maybe it’s still there from childhood? People are uncomfortable when others are crying. But what if we don’t have to say the right thing or do the right thing? What if we just let the person cry?
Personally, I don’t think it’s healthy and I don’t want my children to think that it’s not ok to cry. Or to be shamed for crying or told to stop and ‘be brave’.
What myself and my husband try now is just acknowledging that they’re upset and just holding them. We let the tears flow. We give them the right language so they can learn what these feelings are, talking about how they are so sad about X, Y and Z and how it has made them feel upset. We’re trying to stop saying ‘it’s ok’ because to them, it’s not. It’s hard and it hurts. They are upset.
And they are allowed to cry.
No, it isn’t pleasant hearing children cry. We always want to protect the ears of the people around us. We bring out the ‘fixers’ and the ‘healers’ in ourselves, and we try everything to get them to stop, only sometimes, they don’t need fixing, they just need to be. Usually once they’ve cried it out they’re fine.
Big girls DO cry. So do little ones. And so do big and little boys. And the sooner we realise that that is ok, the sooner the uncomfortable feelings will stop.
Crying is a natural, healthy reaction to a natural, healthy feeling. We are not going to be happy 100% of the time and our children are certainly not. If our girls are sad, they cry and we let them. How other people feel about that is up to them.
Do we always get it right? Of course not. It can take a lot of patience, especially when they’re tired or we’re tired or we’re trying to get stuff done. Those old sayings sometimes come back out. But we are trying our best because we owe it to them.
Talking about and acknowledging emotions is the beginning of a healthy relationship with their feelings. I hope it’s going to stay with them always.