This past summer, my preschooler was running along the sidewalk when he tripped. I picked him up and held him close.The fall didn't seem so bad, but he unleashed fierce tears. I asked him if he wanted some ice or a Band-Aid. How about some animal crackers? I just wanted him to feel better. He shook his head and said, "I just want to cry." His statement was profound, and made me think that sometimes the best way to support my child is not to stop his tears quickly, but to be patient enough to let them roll. I could see he was having a good cry, and thought about how healing tears can be. In fact, studies show crying reduces stress and improves mood.
How can I show my child I'm there for him while giving him the space and power to handle his own hurts?I also considered the importance of children managing their feelings with a certain amount of independence. I hoped my insights would help me navigate the wild world of mothering young children, but still, I struggled. How can I show my child I'm there for him while giving him the space and power to handle his own hurts? How can I comfort him without coddling? If tears from sadness and pain are encouraged, what about expressions of frustration and rage? How can I give him the freedom to express uncomfortable feelings without making fit-throwing commonplace? My desire to encourage his emotional strength gets halted by my fear of being too aloof. And as much as I want to show him that his feelings aren't scary, enduring his meltdowns make my blood run fast and hot. I had questions and luckily I found answers by bumping into Dr. Linnda Durre in Trader Joe's. My cute kids and I attracted her attention, and she handed me her business card, which I made good use of. She is a world-renowned psychotherapist with over 40 years of experience working with young children, teens, and families. She has shared her expertise on Oprah, 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, and the Today Show, among many other platforms. By chance, I got to tap into her wisdom, too. Interested in the balance of being a sensitive, yet commanding mother, I asked her questions like, "How can parents allow their children to express negative feelings without pitying them or inviting tantrums?" She said her go-to strategy for validating the unpleasant emotions of young children is mirroring their words and facial expressions. She advises parents to vocalize the inner voice of the child. She gave an example of what she would say to a child who just had something taken from her, "Amy, I know you're upset. Bobby took the toy that you wanted. You're angry and sad. We're going to go play with something else right now and when we're done, you will be able to have that toy back because we will talk with Bobby and hell probably be finished playing with it."
Kids feel safer knowing they will be kept in bounds. It gives them security, which they all need.When children don't get their way, they tend to say hurtful things, like "You're a mean mommy!" or I wish Bryans mommy was my mommy because shes nice. But parents shouldn't be fooled by their harsh words - kids truly feel happier knowing their parents are leaders. They feel safer knowing they will be kept in bounds. It gives them security, which they all need. Empathetic parents are understanding, but aren't afraid to say no. Children learn their feelings aren't scary, and are free to process them fully. They also learn that tears carry little weight in manipulating a parent who sees crying as merely a normal emotional response. Handing over quick-fixes sends the message that their feelings make us uncomfortable. Letting children face their frustration shows that we trust in their ability to solve problems and cope. As my son revealed when he skinned his knee, sometimes the best way to be there for our children is to give them the freedom to cry.
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