Parents almost always have good intentions when they tell an upset child, "Don't cry."
We are usually trying to soothe the child, although if we are painfully honest with ourselves we may admit that we want it to stop for reasons of our own, often some combination of the following:
Your tears and emotions freak me out because I feel so powerless to help you or make you feel better.
I feel so agitated when I witness strong emotions being displayed that I don't know what to do with myself.
This is embarrassing - what must other people be thinking?
This is not enough of a big deal to warrant such a noisy and emotional display.
However, crying serves as very important discharge of accumulated tension and stifled emotion. It's not a problem, it's a solution.
So please don't tell a child (or anyone else) not to cry. Instead, just keep them company while they clear out some static from their system.
You don't need to intervene, help, fix, smooth anything over, or convince them to look on the bright side. Just stay close, and offer gentle, respectful, comforting contact if that feels appropriate.
Keep your words to a minimum, maybe just a few quiet soothing murmurs. Your loving attention and acceptance during the release is a very powerful and nurturing gift.
The crying will stop all on its own, even without intervention. No storm lasts forever.
When you can stay lovingly present with your child throughout the process, you'll get to see that after a good hard cry, your child is usually thinking much more clearly than before, and feeling much more connected and affectionate and kind.
When you see the outcome of letting it run its course like this a few times, your confidence in the effectiveness of the natural process of discharge and release grows. Soon you will start to welcome the tears because you know your child will feel so much better afterwards.
For further wisdom and inspiration on this subject, look no further than former football player and all around big, cool dude Rosie Grier:
PS: it's alright for adults to cry, too ... being present this way for a crying child can bring up "stuff" of our own, so it can be really helpful to find another adult who can be lovingly present with us when we need to discharge with a good cry.
For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit www.karenalonge.com