A: I think you know how I feel about rhetoric like this: I am not in love with it. Is it abusive and is your husband the worst parent ever? No, not even close. But I like to ask a basic question to assess if a parent should move forward with a technique: How’s it working for you? Are your children actually asking for things more “nicely”? Has everyone stopped crying? I’m guessing no, so we can stop using these phrases based solely on their ineffectiveness.
But let’s dig a little deeper into why these phrases are problematic, the first being “no more crying.” Young children cry. A lot. Four- and 2-year-old children easily frustrate, and when this frustration becomes more than they can handle, they cry. Although exhausting for every parent, this is how children mature. When children cry about what they cannot change (going to bed, not getting a toy, etc.), their brain says: “Hey, you have hit this boundary. This is the deal, buddy.” The tears seem messy, but they are the body’s way of processing a tough reality, so we want these tears.
There can also be tears associated with whining, begging and anger, and although it’s not ideal, these are also typical parts of being a preschooler. Preschoolers cry, beg and push because this is developmentally appropriate. (Read that again, please.) Their immature minds have one perspective: their own. And so they aren’t able to be considerate, patient and thoughtful. Just think of the deficit of language alone. Their inability to verbally share all of their feelings is enough to push them to tears.
So, we take this utterly natural process (crying), and now we add a parent who cannot handle the tears. Without going down a psychoanalytic hole, having your main attachment reject you or ask you to stop doing what you cannot help doing leads to a dissonance in the child, and if the feelings cannot move out, they will need to go somewhere. In my experience, children who are not allowed to cry are quick to either act violent or worse: have a complete shutdown of emotions.
I promise, I am not trying to freak you out, but when I see that you can make a powerful change in your parenting life when your children are so young, I truly want you to do it now. By allowing the tears to flow in your home, you are sending a powerful message. You are telling your children that all feelings are welcome. And although this may not sound profound, I will confidently state that many of our adult problems stem from a lack of emotional safety with our main attachments. No pressure.
So, what can you do? Encourage your husband to seek parent coaching, parenting classes, therapy, books, workbooks or whatever is needed to allow the tears to fall. I’m guessing his discomfort with tears stems from his own childhood, and so I have nothing but compassion for how threatening it is to listen to these children cry. I am also guessing that allowing the tears may feel like the children are “getting away with something,” so some good, old-fashioned support may help your spouse feel more confident in his parenting.
For a more science-based understanding of your children, I would recommend Daniel Siegel’s book “The Whole-Brain Child,” and for a deeper understanding of the importance of tears for the young mind, I would pick up “Rest, Play, Grow” by Deborah MacNamara. (And I hope you won’t mind me recommending my own book, “Parenting Outside the Lines,” for a reminder that you are human like the rest of us and that you are still doing a good job.) Good luck.
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