February 9, 2014

The Crying Game: Why We Should Always Honor Our Children’s Tears. ~ Wendy Haley

girl crying licking tears

The day was starting out right.

I had a great workout at the gym today. I ran 25 minutes on the treadmill with the help of Lady Gaga, Maroon Five and J-Lo. I did some bicep curls and tricep extensions, then ended the workout with some relaxing yoga poses. My daughter had a fun time in the gym daycare. I was feeling great from my workout induced serotonin boost. We walked outside in the bright sun and were trying to decide what to do with the rest of our day.

It really was too early to go home, but too late not to get my daughter something to eat. Unfortunately for my her, I am not one of those moms who makes sure to have snacks on hand at all times. I am embarrassed to admit that I have resorted to going through the McDonald’s drive-thru way too often lately.

I decided I was not going to cave into peer pressure from my recently turned five-year-old and I made the decision to first stop by a friend’s house before we headed home for a healthy lunch.

As we were getting closer to my friend’s house, my daughter was signing the word friend.

In her own unique way, she was telling me that she was not done being social for the day and wanted to go find some more friends to play with. I knew exactly what she wanted, and I knew she would not be happy when we arrived at the destination, which did not include friends her age.

We quickly jumped out of the car and rang my friend’s doorbell. She wasn’t home, so I left a note on her doorstep, under her kitty’s water bowl. My daughter began to cry.

This was definitely not what she was asking me for when she signed friend to me five minutes earlier.

We got in the car and I told her we were going to go home. She was clearly disappointed. She started to cry more. I was told her it was okay and that we were leaving now. She still cried. I felt the urge to tell her to stop crying so that I would not feel stressed or upset. It’s hard to hear our little ones cry.

Then I decided to just let it go and validate her emotions.

I told myself, out loud, “Wendy, it’s okay that she’s crying. The world is not going to end if she is crying because she is disappointed.” She, of course, stopped crying as soon as we were on our way, but it made me wonder more about the function of crying.

Sometimes, as parents, we want to stop our children from being upset, so that we feel relief but are we doing them a disservice if we silence their tears?

Like any good modern mama, I took my questions to Google to find out what the best response is to my daughter’s tears.

A study done by Dr. Oren Hasson showed that crying promotes vulnerability between two people and connection.

“Dr. Oren Hasson, a professor at Tel Aviv University, recently conducted a study in which he studied different types of crying and the benefits of crying. He speculated that the evolutionary advantage of crying comes from crying with your peers.

When you cry, you show vulnerability because your vision is blurred. This allows someone who cares about you to take care of you while you are in a weakened state. According to Hasson, this is beneficial to both the caretaker and receiver because it creates a stronger relationship bond. This means that a positive comes out of the negative situation which caused the crying in the first place.”

So, if I’m going to apply Dr. Oren’s study to my personal situation, if I don’t attempt to quiet my daughter’s tears, I am teaching her that it is okay to be vulnerable with me, that I am a “safe” person. And, when I comfort her, we will experience even more of a bond then we already have—that sounds pretty good to me.

As I continued researching, I found that there is a difference in the ingredients of tears which depends on the reason for the tears.

The tears that are brought on by emotion (as opposed to agitation) contain a natural pain killer that makes the crier feel better.

“According to a discovery by Dr. William H. Frey II, a bio-chemist from St.Paul Ramsey medical center in Minnesota, the composition of tears caused by emotion differs from that of tears as a reaction to irritations, such as onion fumes, dust or allergy. Emotional tears are composed of more protein-based hormones, such as prolactin, andrenocorticotropic, and leucine enkephalin (a natural pain killer), which is suggested to be the mechanism behind the experience of crying from emotion making an individual feel better.”

As parents, we are bombarded with so many “parenting philosophies,” it can be overwhelming.

If we let them cry too much, we can feel guilty, if we don’t let them cry enough we can feel badly. After learning about the importance of tears, I have decided that I will never allow this ‘moral dilemma’ to plague me again. Tears are so important for bonding and emotional relief.

Let the tears flow.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Colby Stopa/Flickr

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