Lately I’ve spent a fair amount of time out and about with my daughter. But with visiting public places comes the problem of hearing things parents say to their children that I’d much rather not hear. And most of the time it pertains to children who are crying. Somehow parents these days (or in our culture) seem to believe children shouldn’t cry. Or that crying should be reserved for really huge things. Like maybe death. Or the cancellation of Firefly. Otherwise, many parents seem to think it’s just not something you do.
My experiences led to my husband and I discussing things we’ve heard either while out as parents or as kids and I thought I’d share them here with my own take as to why they are not things I plan on ever saying to my daughter and why I hope you won’t either.
“That’s nothing worth crying over!”
I realize parents saying this are probably trying to calm their child down, but somehow that doesn’t seem like the right way to do it. First, you’re telling your child that whatever has them upset is nothing. Any time I’ve been told that as an adult, I feel defensive because it doesn’t feel like nothing. If it felt like nothing, I wouldn’t be crying, would I? And I should add that I’m a crier, especially over sports. It’s bad, but when my Sens get knocked out of the playoffs, it doesn’t matter how prepared I am for it or how much they deserved it, I cry. And I do realize in hindsight that it’s “nothing” – my overall well-being has very little to do with the Sens winning the Stanley Cup (in fact, as I would probably celebrate with copious amounts of booze, it’s probably better for my health that they not win), but it feels like hell when it happens. And when I see a child who’s crying because he fell, or because someone took her ball or shovel or pail, I imagine that those are far better reasons to cry than my own. Especially for one so young.
In a similar vein, I sometimes here “That doesn’t hurt” when it’s a child that’s fallen. Really? You know this how? Even if you are 100% certain there’s no physical pain involved, sometimes there’s also the whole psychological aspect of falling, or anticipation of pain that comes into play. Children (and adults) cry when we get embarrassed, which can happen when you’re playing with friends and you’re the one that falls during the game of tag. Or you have to face something that you truly, honestly believe will hurt (hello, dentist!) and so you cry in anticipation. Perhaps the physical pain isn’t there, but you can bet that psychological pain is there and at the forefront of that child’s mind.
“Big boys/girls don’t cry.”
I spent years working at an after-school care program and heard this far too many times from both parents and teachers. I’m not quite sure when we, as a society, decided that only younger individuals are allowed to cry and that being able to repress your emotions is a mature thing to do. I realize it’s definitely something we do as adults, much to our detriment, but I would hope we’d realize it’s a mistake and try to allow our children to express the things we don’t and that eat away at us. I mean, do I want my daughter to be as repressed as I was for years? Never expressing anything until it would manifest physically? No thank you. One of the joys I’ve experienced in recent years (thanks to my darling husband) is the ability to cry over anything and express everything in a safe environment. Even when I’m being irrational, he lets me let it out and then I know enough to say sorry or explain where the crazy came from. I want my daughter to feel the same – that no matter what it is, she can express it to us and we’ll support her.
The other problem with this one is that it puts a negative spin on crying and being a baby. Yes, crying can suck to listen to, but it’s important we don’t dismiss it as something “bad”. It’s a form of communication for young infants that deserves respect. It’s also a form of communication for children, teenagers, and even us adults. And with this negativity comes an implicit negativity about being a baby and that’s also very unfair. Babies rock. Unfortunately society has taken to the view that they are intentionally manipulative, difficult, and interfering with our lives. Not true. So let’s not put them down, even indirectly.
“Only sissies cry.”
(Aimed at boys)
I’m not sure I even need to state anything here as I feel this is so self-explanatory. We’ll start with the very sexist view that crying is a female thing only… I dunno about you, but last I checked crying was a physiological reaction. Here’s a summary of emotional tears:
Emotional tears: It all starts in the cerebrum where sadness is registered. The endocrine system is then triggered to release hormones to the ocular area, which then causes tears to form.
If I’m not missing some major scientific news, males have a cerebrum where they are capable of registering sadness. They also have an endocrine system that also releases hormones. They have an ocular area which causes tears to form. And lastly, they have faces where these tears fall. Did I miss something? How can crying be a female thing when it’s physiologically something all humans can do? Of course I’m aware this refers to the societal view that males be stoic and not show their emotions, but let’s return to the point above about how unhealthy it is to keep our feelings bottled up. In short, not at all.
But then we also get the lovely put down of “sissies” to refer to any boy who dares show his emotion. Because being like a girl is also bad. Even if it’s just physiologically responding to an event that has caused sadness, pain, or both. I honestly can’t help but believe that the higher rates of aggression we see in many young boys today is driven by repressed feelings. The inability to express how one feels would inevitably lead to feelings of helplessness, frustration, and anger. Is that really “manly”? Isn’t it funny how places like Sweden have men who are put down here in North America as being too feminine, yet they have lower rates of violence, mental health problems, suicide, etc.? So can we please cut the crap and stop with the sexist and derogatory statements to our kids and just let them feel what they need to feel?
And the absolute worst in my opinion:
“If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about!”
Although sexism sucks, I think threatening your child qualifies as worse. I admit I’m very lucky to have never heard this uttered to a child because I don’t know what I’d do if I did. However, my husband heard this regularly in his town growing up. I can’t even fathom how a parent could choose to say this. Is crying really so terrible? So awful that you have to make your child stop by making them terrified that something even worse is going to happen to them? And are you really going to follow-through on this? How? Beat your child because he cried?
I honestly don’t know what to say here except I’d like to give parents who utter this intentionally and regularly something to cry about. You should NEVER utter this to your child. If you plan and intent on using this to try and scare your children into not crying, I don’t think this site is for you.
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Crying is normal. Crying is a part of life. No matter what age you are, no matter what sex you are, no matter how insignificant the event may be in hindsight. While mastery of emotions is something that can be good, it’s only good if we still allow ourselves to acknowledge, accept, and process these emotions. In fact, I would argue we don’t master the emotions, but rather the expression of them. When we tell children to not cry when they’re upset, we aren’t teaching them how to master the expression of emotion, but rather to ignore or suppress it. And it doesn’t help them in the moment and it certainly doesn’t help them long-term. So please, when your child’s upset, take a moment and comfort them. It doesn’t matter why they’re sad, but that they need you to be there for them. If their expression seems too extreme or inappropriate, you can always work on ways to express emotions after they’ve calmed down which is when that type of intervention is most effective. At the end of the day, you are a parent and none of these sayings are actually parenting. So please don’t use them.