Few things are more distressing than seeing a child hurt and crying. The natural response for teachers, parents and other adults is to hug and say: “Hush. Don’t cry. Everything will be all right.” But these words don’t allow children to process their emotions. The message they hear is: “Stop now. There’s nothing to cry about.” This makes the little one cry even more since his inner-self needs to prove there is something to cry about.
Last week as I embarked on my routine grocery shopping experience, I watched two brothers fighting over who got to push the grocery cart for mom. I saw the accident coming as they moved in front of me, behind me and pushed between the carts of other shoppers. The older brother ran over the younger brother’s toes. The screams began and tears flowed down the younger brother’s cheeks immediately. Quickly, the mother picked up the crying child and gently said, “It’s okay to cry. I know it hurts. Cry until it stops hurting.” In an instant, the tears stopped. The mother noticed me standing near and simply said “I found when I give them the permission to cry, it’s often all that is needed to stop the flow of tears.”
In helping a child deal with a hurt, the importance of having a right to her feelings cannot be overstressed. Even the youngest ones pick up unspoken ideas from teachers, parents and other adults. When they sense that what they are feeling needs to be suppressed, the message is given that these emotions are unacceptable and unimportant. Phrases such as “crying is for babies” and “be a big boy” are, unfortunately, sometimes still used, and not only do they show little empathy for the child’s problem, they also do nothing to encourage self-esteem. If children are to grow up seeing themselves as worthwhile people, they need to know at an early age that feelings are neither bad nor good, they just are a natural reaction to something that’s happened, and what’s necessary is to express them and deal with them.
So when a little one in your classroom is crying, whether it’s because she fell as she was learning to walk or because he wasn’t chosen to be the line leader, stop for a moment before you begin to offer comfort. Then remember that the best way we can help these small people handle their emotions is to surround them with love and acceptance, and to say: “It’s okay to cry until it stops hurting.”