And if I told you that every time you ignore or downplay your child’s feelings, you make your job more difficult. You very rarely get them stopped anyway, and they are more likely to need more support. If you do not hear the message they are trying to send you, the message gets louder and louder until you hear it. Children are looking for empathy and understanding. If they do not get it, they will keep trying.
It is normal to cry. It is a very healthy and necessary way for children to express their feelings, and we do not need to stop them. By telling them “stop crying,” we send the message that their feelings are not important, not valid, stupid and boring. If we want our children to learn how to regulate their emotions and trust us in their problems and feelings, we can not ignore them when they try to do it!
Crying is always appropriate. Whenever your child is upset, there is a valid reason. It may sound trivial, but a child does not have an adult perspective on the world. Often, people have a hard time letting their children express their feelings in public, thinking that it is not an appropriate setting, and they worry about the reactions or judgments of others. But you must not teach them how to calm their feelings for others. They will eventually learn our non-verbal social rules. One day, they will know how to treat their feelings and express them when they are “appropriate,” but the way we support the development of emotional regulation is through empathy and understanding, not silence.
10 things you should say instead of “stop crying”
Sometimes, even if you know that you should not tell your child to stop crying, it’s hard to know what to say instead! You may feel that you need to say something, but you do not know exactly what. When you were a child, if you were often forced to calm your feelings for others, these situations can be incredibly uncomfortable. Being accustomed to repel your own feelings, a child’s experience that fully expresses sadness, anger, disappointment, or any other negative emotion can be quite triggering. The good news is that the practice is perfect, and it can really heal so that you can support your child through his own emotions.
So what can you say? Here are some suggestions!
It’s normal to be sad.
It’s really hard for you.
I’m here with you.
Tell me what is there.
I hear you.
It was really scary, disappointing, annoying, sad, etc.
I’ll help you sort things out.
I’m listening to you.
I hear you need space. I want to be there for you. I will stay close to you so that you can find me when you are ready.
It does not seem right.
You can not even say anything! Sometimes a mere presence is enough to soothe the child.
What you should not do when your child cries:
Do not distract him. When you do this, you do not allow him to learn the emotional regulation skills he will need in the future. Children need to know that you are able to cope with their emotions so that they feel safe and able to cope with them. It’s also a pretty disrespectful way to answer.
Do not punish him. Punishments are not worthy of a respectful parent. You must never punish, threaten, shame, blame or judge a child for his feelings!
No buts. When you are empathizing with your child’s feelings, do not add “but”. For example, “You are sad because you really wanted another piece of cake, but you can not have any.” “But” invalidates everything that comes before. It is not necessary to do it. Empathy is enough.
Do not ask too many questions. When the child is overwhelmed by overwhelming feelings, they are not able to provide answers to many questions.
Do not say “it’s good” They do not feel well, so even if you try to be reassuring, it minimizes their feelings. A simple “it’s normal to cry” is a better option.
Do not have a time limit. Do not use empathy as a technique to stop crying. It is not the goal! The goal is to help your child feel heard, understood, validated and supported.
The next time your child has an overwhelming feeling, use some of the above phrases and use them with empathy and understanding. Because they deserve it. Feelings should not be avoided, they should serve as opportunities to connect.