What is your gut reaction when you hear a young child crying? Do you want the child to stop crying? What about when a child cries at length? Do you feel yourself panicking, and search for ways to distract the child, putting toys in their lap, making funny faces, or maybe even coming back into the room when you said you were leaving?
What about when you see an adult crying, maybe your partner? Do you immediately distract them with jokes, ply them with a board game or shove their favorite DVD in their face? Or do you ask them why they are crying and listen to what they have to say, letting them cry?
My instincts tell me to stop the crying child. I think this is because I live in a culture that fears the raw emotions of children and sees their expressions as a nuisance. Perhaps even worse, in this culture adults who have children, or who educate children like me, are held responsible for controlling the child’s emotional expressions. As if we should be able to ‘fix’ their feelings, so that they take up as little space as possible and be seen but not heard.
Wisdom has taught me that crying is a healthy part of life. Crying is an important form of communication for all humans, and especially little children who have so many feelings and so few words to describe them. Crying is real and it is powerful. I have learned to give children the space to fully feel and express their emotions, even if those feelings make me uncomfortable. I tell the children that it is OK to cry, and that I will be here with them while they cry. I do this because I wish that when I was a child someone had told me that it was OK to cry, and that they would listen to me.
At Elm House, you might see me or the other teachers sitting off to the side of a crying child, or we might have crying children in our laps. These children might even be crying for several minutes, and it might look to you like we are stuck, don’t know what to do, or that we are ignoring the child. The truth is that while we always offer children hugs or to join us in an activity, sometimes they let us know that what they want is to cry and to have someone who cares listen to them and simply be there with them while they let it out. We connect through crying.
We ask that you please understand, if you see or hear children crying, that this is all part of a journey of understanding ourselves and each other. And rather than trying to fix the feelings, you could let them know that you hear them.