Oh my. I went and said it. Words tumbled out before thinking.
It all started with a long day. Our son just didn’t get to do what he felt like doing. We ran a lot of errands and because his sister wasn’t feeling well, we didn’t spend time outside playing with friends. We went in the basement for some running and to PLAY before bed and a few minutes in, he stubbed his toe on the concrete. What started with tears of pain quickly morphed into a hysterical melt down. Before long, it was evident he no longer knew WHY he was even crying anymore.
Various tactics to distract, comfort and soothe failed. At some point, I decided it was time to calm down and told him so.
He tearfully stammered, “I. Can’t. Stop.”
For whatever reason, that was the last straw. Out of my mouth came words I thought I’d never say…
Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about”
He looked at me quizzically, sucking air and actually attempting to stop crying. His gaze begged the question – what on earth does that mean?
Words escaped before I considered their meaning. What DID I mean? And how was I planning to follow through with that threat? Did I want to punish him for crying? Is not being able to calm down a punishable offense? Or is it even an offense?
All I knew is he was making a ruckus and I was grasping at straws to make him stop. Honestly, I was tired of listening to it and ready to move on.
Why WAS it so important that he stop? Sure, it was LOUD, but we were at home, inside, and his crying wasn’t really hurting anyone but him. He was going to pay the price of this tantrum – with lost play time, puffy eyes and a stuffy nose.
Him. Not me.
Why do I need him to stop crying if something in him makes him feel like crying something out? What if this emotional expression doesn’ NEED to be fixed but rather needs release?
Why ask him to STUFF his emotions if they are so powerful he can’t sort through them any other way? I DO NOT want him to stuff tears simply to avoid punishment. Nor do I want him to be afraid to show emotions in front of me or to pretend to be OK for my benefit.
I DO want a child who is who he IS and is comfortable in his own skin – happy or sad.
I want him to feel safe and to be himself in our home. If that means he releases emotions with crying when he has no other way, it needs to be OK. Hurrying and judging his emotions did not work and caused escalation. Next time I need to just let him cry it out. We will continue to teach him to seek solace in family, friends and the Lord when he feels down.
He needs to know it is OK to be upset, disappointed, or to just feel like crying even if he does not know why – it is OK to just cry.
I’m not saying we should create an environment for temper tantrums defined by disobedience, stomping feet and screaming. We will continue to teach him that it is ok to be upset but it is not ok to break rules just because we’re emotional.
But once in a while, this kid just needs to CRY. And who doesn’t? There are days when all I need is a good cry. Although I prefer not to do so…I feel better when I’m done.
On this particular day, loud overnight storms had interrupted his sleep, his dad was out-of-town, and the day was packed. I know he was disappointed by the lack of play time and friends. By the end of the day, his body and emotions were exhausted. A stubbed toe sent him spiraling into an emotional release of epic proportions. This wasn’t a tantrum laced with disobedience – it was simply alligator tears and body shaking sobs.
His confused response to my words revealed his need for grace and to be allowed to get it all out. Even if it takes longer than I prefer.
How do you guys deal with this? Sometimes maybe we just need to wait until they are ready to move on. If we’ve done what we can to help and nothing worked…it is time to just wait.
After processing the confusion of my words, he returned to crying, warily eyeing me to see if I’d follow through.
Instead of acting on those careless words, I apologized, sweeping him into my arms. We just sat together and he cried until he was done. I’d rather be soaking wet in tears and deaf in one ear from his loud sobs directly in my ear than give him something else to cry about.
As he calmed down, he snuggled in, finally at rest in my arms. Subdued. Grateful for my presence. Relaxing in the arms of someone who let him just BE. What a glorious picture of how our Father in heaven longs to envelop us in His arms and comfort our very souls.
Instead of giving something more to cry about, lets extend grace and patience. Instead of teaching them to stifle emotion, lets give freedom to express what cannot come out any other way. Lets give them room to figure out how to stop on their own – when they’re ready.