“Why are you crying?”

Follow Darius with me for 24 hours. Mom wakes Darius up in the morning. The alarm clock didn’t go off so they are running late. Mom helps Darius put clothes on and get a pop tart for breakfast. Darius has to eat in the car.

There are many factors that can influence a child's emotional  health.

Upon arrival to child care, Mom reminds Darius that Grandma will be picking him up after school. Even though Darius loves his Grandma, he is upset because he hasn’t seen his Mom a lot lately. Darius starts to cry. Mom gets frustrated. Mom is thinking about getting to class, she’s late. She also has to go to work after class. She misses spending time with Darius. This school semester has been very stressful but it’s almost over.

Darius moves his arms and legs when Mom tries to get him out of the car seat. He hits his hand on the door. He cries harder. Mom carries Darius in to the building. She tells Darius she is frustrated. They make it to the classroom. Mom sits Darius down. He is still upset. His teachers say hi. The other children are sitting down for group time. Darius missed free play and breakfast. He is upset because he doesn’t know what’s going on. This isn’t his normal routine.

Mom leaves. A teacher pulls Darius on to her lap and asks what’s wrong. Darius continues to cry. The teacher starts to read a book Darius recognizes. He stops crying. Darius joins in play. Occasionally he looks at the door wondering if Mom will come back. Naptime comes and Darius starts to cry. When he goes to sleep at home, Mom sings him a special song. He misses Mom. The teacher pats his back and says, “Shhh.” Darius cries himself to sleep. Darius wakes up and his eyes hurt. His nose is stuffed up. He looks around and starts to cry. The teacher gets him off his cot and puts it away.

Darius is told to go to the potty. Then he sits down for snack. His Grandma comes while he is eating snack. He cries because she’s not his Mom. Grandma tells Darius to stop crying. The teacher gathers Darius’s belongings and tells him goodbye. Darius and Grandma go home, eat supper and watch the news on television. Mom doesn’t come and Grandma doesn’t mention her. Darius falls asleep. When he wakes up he is in his own bed at home.

This is a scenario that happens frequently in our programs. There are families working so hard to make a better life for themselves and their children. While doing this, they have to make sacrifices. Although sacrifices have to be made, adults can still attempt to understand and empathize. For example, when Darius was crying, an adult could say, “I know it’s hard to leave Mom. Mom is going to school just like you. While Mom is at school, you are going to stay here and play.” The child may continue to cry, but the adult is attempting to meet the child’s needs by validating emotions.

I recently heard an adult say to a child, “You are too cute to be crying.” How exactly is that supposed to be helpful? What exactly does that mean? As adults who are caring for children, we need to validate children’s emotions and attempt to help children understand their emotions. Phrases like “You’re too cute to be crying”, “big boys don’t cry”, “come here and sit like a 3 year old” aren’t helpful. In fact, they can be harmful. If you cry, does that mean you aren’t cute? Is it important to be called cute? If so, why?

As adults, we can say things like, “I see you have tears on your face. Is there anything I can do to help?” “It’s hard to say goodbye to Dad. You can come sit with me if you want. I’ll keep you safe.” “I understand you were in a rush this morning. You missed free play. You will be able to play after lunch. Right now it’s time to sit down and eat.”

Emotions are the foundation of learning. If a child doesn’t feel safe and attached, learning will not happen.