A few months back, I experienced one of my prouder moments as a therapist/mom when sitting in our living room, my then 6-month-old began to cry. My then 2 ½ year old immediately dropped what she was doing and went over to console him, or so I thought. As if the simple act of rushing to her brother’s aid wasn’t already sweet enough, she put her arms around him and said “it’s okay buddy…you can cry if you want.” My heart swelled.
As I thought about this experience later, what came up for me was a reminder as to what messages are truly important for us to be conveying to our children. As a parents, and people, most would attest to the idea that seeing your child or any child for that matter, cry is a difficult thing to witness. We feel helpless and responsible, sad and anxious, guilty and fearful all at once. Add in my therapist mindset, and I also often find myself wondering whether these moments are traumatic, harmful, helpful, or something entirely different that I have yet to identify. Given the answer may even be all of the above, the overwhelm we feel around supporting our children’s emotional health and safety can be weighty.
In these moments, I find myself stepping back and trying to remember the very thing I often share with those I work with. Hurt and pain is a natural part of life. Our job as a parent is not always to prevent these feelings, but to support our children through them in ways where they know they are loved, safe, cared for, and validated. After all, trauma is not necessarily the event itself, it’s what happens when a “bad thing” happens, and needs are not met. Knowing that, as the song goes, we “can cry if we want to” is a need; therefore, it is our responsibility as parents to make sure this message gets reinforced. Next time your child or someone close to you begins to cry, attempt to keep this in mind before jumping in to make their tears go away. Make clear to them that if they need, they can cry as long as they need, and you will be there with them through their process. Let them know their tears make sense and if the feeling comes up, don’t be afraid to cry with them, too. Ultimately, while we can and should take steps towards preventing the unnecessary shedding of tears, the overall goal is not to keep our children from crying all together, but to make sure they know that the choice to cry is theirs if they need it.
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