Most of us would find this statement hard to believe. As a society, we see crying in a bad light. We believe it signifies weakness or is used for manipulation. Hence, when anybody cries, we feel helpless, frustrated and uncomfortable. With children, we try to stop the crying by either distracting, threatening or shaming. But does crying serve a purpose?
What Science and Research say about crying:
When we are in difficult situations, certain glands are activated which release hormones and chemicals into our bodies. In earlier times, humans had to be fast and strong to survive predators. These chemicals helped our ancestors protect themselves.
Our body still functions by secreting these chemicals when we are stressed, though situations have changed. We don’t need an adrenal rush in every stressful situation, as we don’t need to protect ourselves like cavemen. Hence if our body gets over flooded with these chemicals we tend to have problems like high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.
Crying can protect us from all this! William Frey a biochemist in his book- ‘Crying: The Mystery Of Tears’ says that stress hormones are found in our tears. When we cry these hormones are discharged from our body and this keeps us healthy. Hence in stressful situations, crying is useful as it helps in healing emotions like sadness, irritation, fear, guilt, anger, and frustration.
How crying helps a child:
In his book 'The Making and Breaking Of Affectional Bonds’, John Bowlby says crying helps deepen the bond between a parent and child. The child is able to trust the parent and reach out for help. This strong bond gives the child a sense of safety which aids their development.
Aletha J. Solter, a Developmental Psychologist in her book ‘Tears and Tantrums’ says accepting your child's crying develops high self-esteem. A parent who sees crying as positive will not put down, shame, threaten or punish a child for crying. When we accept the child for their crying, the child, in turn, is able to accept himself.
When children are allowed to cry and release their inner turmoil, they are able to cooperate with us. Amar cried bitterly when his favourite car broke, his mother held him and named his feelings in gentle words. This helped Amar calm down and also share his toys with his friend.
Crying helps in better learning too. Preethi was struggling with preparing for her board exams. She tearfully shared her stressful state of mind with her parents and they listened with understanding. This helped her move on and be more engaged in her studies. Having the space to share bottled up feelings at every age gives the child a feeling of security which frees up the brain for learning.
How can we respond to crying?
We can support a crying child with a cuddle, hug or an arm around their shoulder. We could listen to their woes and show them that we genuinely understand what they're going through. Sometimes we may need to hold a younger child gently but firmly when they get physically violent. Each one of us must discover a unique way of calming our child and offering them the release they require.
Can we make a shift in our beliefs and accept that ‘crying is beautiful’? When we are able to view our children’s tantrums as a means of releasing their big feelings, then it will help us to be calm and support the child through a crying bout. Crying actually helps our children become emotionally strong. Crying is therefore beautiful!
Author: Sunitha.R, is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.