“Don’t cry” is a term that many of us have said to our children. It’s also likely to be something we were told multiple times during our childhood. But is it such a good thing?
In the 21st century, we are, thankfully, far more aware of the power of freely showing our emotions. In fact, holding them tightly inside can be extremely detrimental to our mental health. Storing up negative energy might not do anything in the short term, but over time can have wholly unwanted effects.
A study carried out by the Harvard School of Public Health and University of Rochester explains the downside of bottling up emotions. Some of the scary statistics include an increase of premature death by all causes of more than 30% and an increase in cancer diagnosis of up to 70%.
During the crucial formative years of a child, those innocent ‘’don’t cry” comments can play a pivotal role in how your little one understands how to process their emotions. The physical act of releasing our feelings – be it through crying, trembling, laughing or even anger – is the body’s natural way of recovering from a traumatic event. This can be as simple as a grazed knee after falling over or the disappointment of not being able to have that wanted toy or ice cream.
Dumping out the negative feelings allows for closure to the event. In addition, if parents or caregivers actively encourage this to occur it increases the bond between the two of you and allows the child to better understand why they’re feeling that way.
The following are alternative things to say instead of the shutdown comment of “don’t cry”.
1. Reassuring phrases: It’s vital to show your child that you recognise the emotional outburst and that you’re there for them. This would include saying things like:
- I’m here and I’m with you while you’re upset
- You’re safe
- I see how upset you are
- I’m sorry that you can’t have that toy/your friend said/daddy has to go to work etc.
2. Limiting phrases: While it’s really important to listen to what your child is upset about, it’s also vital to limit the situation positively. Once your child has had their initial outburst and has vocalised to you what’s upset them so much, consider saying something along the lines of:
- I need you to go with the teacher/eat your food/come shopping with me etc.
- I can’t let you play with my phone/run in the car park/have the rest of the sweets etc.
3. Attention phrases: Don’t be afraid to draw attention to the issue that’s upset your child. This will further help your child process what their emotion is caused by, as well as confirming to them that you understand what they’re concerned about.
- Shall we have another look at your hurt elbow/finger/knee etc.
- That noise/person/dog etc. really scared you
- You really wanted those sweets/to stay at the party/that toy etc.
4. Hopeful phrases: Positivity is a powerful tool in processing a negative emotion. If you can point out a hopeful outcome then it will encourage your child to also see the same and respond in the same way. You might consider phrases, such as:
- We can go to the park again soon
- Mummy/daddy will be back later
- It won’t be like this forever
- I’m sure you’ll still be able to have fun
5. Phrases to avoid: While it might be difficult in the moment, do try to avoid the following:
- Distraction, such as, “let’s go and get an ice cream”
- Reasoning, such as, “but you had crisps yesterday”
- Punishments, such as, “if you don’t stop we’ll go home”
- Labelling their feelings, such as, “I can see that you’re angry”
- Scolding or shaming, such as, “what’s that noise you’re making?”
Allowing your child to experience their negative emotions and understand what made them feel that way is key to the healthy processing of the experience. Encouraging positive emotional behaviours during the crucial formative years will have a profound effect on how they cope with bigger stresses as they navigate later childhood years, their teens and into adulthood.
Find out more about the Nido difference at https://nido.edu.au/