Let our kids cry
I think people should apologize when they smile.
I know that sounds silly but we do something all the time that is just as ridiculous: we say “I’m sorry” when we cry.
We live in a culture where we are made to believe that expressing all of our natural moods is unacceptable. Happiness – no problem, excitement – that’s fine, sadness – oops, we’re treading into uncomfortable territory.
Here’s a simple representation of our basic range of emotions (courtesy of brainpickings.org):
Most of us spend our normal days fluctuating somewhere in the middle – going back and forth between blue (feeling a bit sad or blue) and yellow (feeling content or somewhat happy). From time to time, it is expected that we’ll temporarily tread into the purple (profound sadness) and red (supreme joy) regions.
Even though this is all part of the human experience, somewhere along the way, we got the message that expressing anything left of the blue region makes other people uncomfortable. And if you’re a man, expressing this range of your emotions makes you a “wimp” or a “p*ssy.” In fact, many boys are taught that they shouldn’t cry. So, when the times come where they experience the natural blue and purple side of themselves, they turn to anger to express it. Since it’s socially acceptable for men to get angry, they’re generally not discouraged. As someone who has seen a lot of angry men in therapy, this isn’t typically a productive alternative.
So what do we do about it?
Here’s a suggestion: let our kids cry.
Perhaps start by not telling them to “suck it up” or “stop crying” or taking action to fix the situation that caused them to feel that way. Instead, encourage them to express their sadness just like you would expect them to show their joy. This will teach them that their sadness is normal and acceptable.
Think about the above chart again. If you teach a child to not allow themselves to experience the purple and blue end of their feelings, they learn to not experience their emotions. That may lead them to train themselves to also be numb to the other side of the range, their “positive” side. A life without joy is not what any parent wants to their child.
So the next time your child has hurt feelings or is simply sad, tell them it’s okay. In order to know joy, we need to know sadness. Imagine what kind of parents we would be if we told them to stop smiling.