Monday, November 30, 2015

"I Just Have To Finish My Cry"

When our daughter Josephine was four, she was struggling with some of her friendships. Specifically, she was feeling rejected by a girl who she adored. It wasn't anyone's fault. From where I sat, Josephine was being a little too pushy, a little too fast, while the other girl just tended to reject everyone until she had sufficient time to warm up. It's the kind of social misunderstanding we spend our lives having.

As her father, however, it broke my heart that she was coming home from school in tears. I did everything I knew how: consoling, coaxing, making suggestions, and offering philosophy. One afternoon, I had followed her into her bedroom where she was crying on her bed, face in her pillow. After a few minutes she lifted her head and through her tears said, "I want you to leave now! I just have to finish my cry!"

It was an empathy epiphany for me. She didn't want me to fix anything. From that moment I learned that my role when she cried, indeed, when anyone cried, was to just be there with them as they cried. And as a preschool teacher, you spend a lot of time just being with people who are crying. I might offer a hug. I've learned to repeat the exact words children say to me so they know I've heard them, that I understand. I've learned that the goal is not to "finish" the cry quickly, but rather to finish it completely.

Other people's strong emotions had always set me into action, but through that moment in our daughter's bedroom, I came to understand that the best thing I have to offer is simply my presence without judgement or advice. Fixing it can wait until another time. The other day, I came across this wonderful, short animated video on empathy from Brene Brown and wanted to share it with you.

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Anonymous said...

no simple explanation - i think I'll have to hear it more than twice - thanks for the video!

Laura said...

"I've learned that the goal is not to "finish" the cry quickly, but rather to finish it completely." Beautiful.

Unknown said...

This is such an important message! I often see new/inexperienced (and cranky burned out) teachers trying to get children to stop crying when they're upset. I've also been scolded for "not doing anything" when I am sitting quietly next to a crying child holding their hand or rubbing their back. I think it's important to allow children all of their feelings on their own terms. Our role is not always to "fix things" in order to stop the tears. Thanks for articulating it so well, Teacher Tom!

Maiz Connolly said...

This is a lovely post. It reminded me very much of this poem by Galway Kinnell that I have read a few times to my children:


Crying only a little bit
is no use. You must cry
until your pillow is soaked!
Then you can get up and laugh.
Then you can jump in the shower
and splash-splash-splash!
Then you can throw open your window
and, "Ha ha! ha ha!"
And if people say, "Hey
what's going on up there?"
"Ha ha!" sing back, "Happiness
was hiding in the last tear!
I wept it! Ha ha!"

Pelayan Keheningan said...

Sadness is not punishment, it's a moment to peel yourself deeper