Not long ago, I saw a child about 7 years old trip and fall while walking with his mother and was quite shocked when she yanked him up by the arm and screamed, "Stop that crying, stop it, stop it right now."
The boy tried to oblige her as he limped on scraped legs and rubbed a sore spot on his head. But the tears kept streaming down his face, and his little chest kept heaving with pain.
So his mother walked off and left him. "You're nothing but a crybaby," she said.
I guess most mothers and fathers want their sons to be tough when they grow up, but this kind of attempt to suppress emotions can do more harm than good. In the long run, blocking a child's natural efforts to deal with discomfort may cause him to become callous and cold-hearted.
A constantly wailing child is understandably a gross irritant. But parents, being adults, should take time to think -- about how many more men, especially black men, die, for instance, from stress-related disorders than women.
Wonder, if you will, what women do that most men don't?
One obvious answer is: cry.
"Some psychosomatic problems tend to disappear when we cry," said Robert Sandoff, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. "Holding back tears tends to keep people from properly expressing their emotions, thereby allowing abnormal or more self-destructive effects."
Said William Frey III, a noted expert on crying: "Men in our society have long been taught to suppress tears. And they also have a higher incidence than women do of many stress-related disorders and live shorter lives on the average."
In an issue of the Psychoanalytic Quarterly published several years ago, Dr. Gert Heilbrunn noted that tears and amniotic fluid (which surrounds the human embryo) are "strikingly similar in sugar, protein and sodium chloride content." Thus, Heilbrunn theorizes, the warm, wet sensation of tears simulates the reassuring conditions of existence before birth.
I don't think a lot of fathers are going to buy that one -- especially if all they want is for the child to shut up. But there is no denying that crying makes you feel better, which is why so many mothers cry.
Now I have seen men cry, too, but because they have spent so many years suppressing their tears, they tend to do it at the wrong time.
Maybe it would helpful if parents understood that there are different kinds of crying, that what a child does after falling face down on a sidewalk is different from what he or she does on the way to the dentist's office.
Dr. Ray E. Stewart, an associate professor of dentistry at the University of California at Los Angeles, has divided the weeping and moaning of children into four categories. I have taken the liberty of determining the remedy.
Compensatory cry: a low, steady whine used to drown out an unpleasant noise, such as a dental drill. Parents should not try to stop it.
Fearful cry: a constant sob indicating fear of impending pain. Parents should take time to explain away the fear.
Stubborn cry: as in temper tantrum. Parents may feel free to bring out the hickory stick.
Painful cry -- guttural and repetitive, accompanied by many tears, indicative of pain. Parents should administer an anesthetic, even if it's just a hug.
The bottom line here is that most crying is okay -- and among boys, it is time that it be encouraged.
"Boys are told as children that 'big boys don't cry,' or they're taunted by their peers when they do," Frey said. "They then make a conscious attempt not to display emotion. What happens is that, at first, they try to hide their true feelings from others, but eventually they hide them from themselves."
And that is a crying shame.