Q: My ten year old daughter cries at everything and is not very good at sharing. She's not as emotionally mature as her 8 year old sister. Every time they are in a conflict, my younger one gives in so that her older sister won't cry.
Also, she has friends but is always being left out. Every time there is a group activity, she is the one without a group and has to be assigned. She is very sad about it.
Do you have any suggestions?
A: With just this little bit of info to go on, the best I can do is offer a hunch for you to consider, and perhaps some ideas for you to experiment with.
It's kind of interesting how aversive crying can be for us. We may find ourselves giving in a lot more than we'd like just to avoid the noisy, messy discomfort of someone crying in our vicinity. This can get sort of tricky, because in a certain way, this gives 'the crier' a bit too much of a handle on the situation. If a child senses that the people around her would like to avoid upsetting her, a few things can happen for her internally.
One, she may wonder what is so scary about her emotions, and may start to become worried or fearful about having big feelings.
Two, she may wonder who's really in charge here and where she can find the safe container she needs to release all this big stuff without freaking anyone out.
Three, she may start repressing those big feelings because they seem unwelcome or unsafe. And of course, the repression leads to an eventual explosion, which scares her and everyone else all the more when it finally comes, and the cycle begins again.
Four, the built up backlog of unexpressed emotions may start to leak out sideways, and make her sort of generally unpleasant to be around. (Not being included by her peers can be one of the consequences of this ...)
So what's the solution?
Whenever you can manage it, let her cry.
Don't try to avoid upsetting her. Let her experience the natural flow of emotions - intensity builds, peaks, is released through a good cry, and then dissipates.
When we see crying as a problem rather than a solution, and try to smooth things over so crying doesn't happen, kids miss out on the relief of the fresh, clean, connected feeling that comes after the storm.
There's an important caveat to this 'let her cry' thing. A few caveats, actually.
One, crying alone is not nearly as productive as crying in the presence of someone who loves us. The most helpful support you can give her is to stay close and calm while she sobs and rails and does whatever else she needs to do to purge the emotional static from her nervous system.
This leads naturally to the second caveat - it's VERY hard for us as parents to be that calm, close, attentive, loving presence for our kids until we've dealt with our own unexpressed emotions! There are lots of ways to do that - counseling, therapy, lots of venting and uncensored talking with friends, etc. But it's pretty critical that we do whatever it takes to offload the gunk that crying stirs up in us, including our fears about what it means when our child is crying.
For example, if we think that when our child cries, we have somehow failed as a parent, that's probably a pain we will jump through a lot of hoops to avoid. But when we've faced that fear and looked it right in the eye, our child's upsets no longer hurt us. We can see crying for what it is -- simply a purge -- and we don't take it personally anymore. We can allow the river of emotion to flow freely without trying to dam it up. The water stays a lot sweeter and clearer that way.
So job one may be to talk and vent and share your own fears and feelings with a supportive adult until you feel more comfortable being present with your daughter's upsets.
Job two might be to say to both of your daughters something like this: It's okay to cry. It's normal, and we feel better afterward. So we aren't going to try to stop that from happening anymore. If any one of us needs to cry, that's fine.
This will take the pressure of the younger sister, which will be a relief for her. And it will discharge some of the power of the tears, which will be a relief for all of you.
There's so much more to this topic, and I really admire the way it is addressed on the www.handinhandparenting.org site. Here are a few links to get you started:
please feel free to keep in touch and let us know how things unfold from here!
For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit www.karenalonge.com