Managing Tears

Managing tears

There is one sure thing about children that I can tell you right now:


At first, their cries will point towards physiological needs:

  • Hunger
  • Tiredness
  • Physical discomfort related to temperature, pain, or how full their diaper is.

As their emotional selves grow, so does the complexity of reasons why tears are flowing:

  • Frustration
  • Grief
  • Disappointment
  • Overwhelm
  • Pain
  • Resistance to change
  • Anger

and much more.

We have been programmed to respond to our baby’s tears with a solution. That’s what a good mother does. We try with food, fresh diapers, an embrace or a pleasant environment that should help them sleep.
But even small babies will have episodes of unbearable, helpless cries that no milk and no nap can fix.

And when these start, especially as new parents, we will feel like failures.

These emotions that arise in us will be directly linked to our history (how our parents and mentors responded to us when we cried) and how advanced we are in our empathy.

If we are in a stable frame of soul, when our own needs of love and belonging are met, we are much more likely to receive our children’s cries (if they are not caused by reasons we can fix, such as hunger, thirst or tiredness) with compassion and understanding. We are much more likely to listen attentively, reflect their feelings, and comfort with our presence rather than our actions.

Let me give you an example, as I am now in the middle of a fascinating time called “the terrible twos” which appear to be lasting at least six months before and two years past their 2nd birthday.

Over time, I’ve had different reactions to my children, based on how I judged their tears.

With my first child, I was razor-focused on problem-solving. But there were times when she couldn’t pinpoint to a specific issue, or when her focus of frustration and demands moved from one topic to the next. She would start the cries wanting a stuffed dog, then the center of grief transferred to the color of her doll’s hair, then a request to obtain new truck from the shop RIGHT NOW, then asking for a snack, then another, and then another.
Here was how I was rolling:

I would immediately execute the delivery of the stuffed dog, then promise a new doll with a different hair color, a trip to the shop in the very near future, then offer her requested snack, a second, a third and a fourth option and then give up and lose my patience when none of the tears stopped. I then blamed myself for not knowing how to make my child happy, then I blamed her for being so difficult, then I blamed my husband (who wasn’t even aware of these small incidents or my feelings around them) for transmitting such flawed genes to our offspring, then my parents for not teaching me how to cope with my own moods and the lady in the bus for looking at me with what I perceived to be judgment.

It’s been years since and I am now in the position to do it again. This time, double the dose.
As I have educated myself in regards to expression of emotion and I’ve done the hard work of mindfulness and paying attention without engaging, I have a different approach.

Let’s assume, for the sake of simplicity that the scenario is the same.
It starts with frustrated tears, usually accompanied by snappish tone of voice.
“I want the stuffed dog!”
I offer the stuffed dog, tears continue.
I now recognize that this conversation has nothing to do with stuffed animals. If my kid wants a toy, he knows he can get it himself. I know that he needs to unload whatever big feelings he doesn’t understand or he is unable to have words for.
“I want a doll with rainbow hair.”
“I know honey; I’m so sorry that this one only has brown hair.”
More tears, more passionate display of emotion.
“I wanna go to the shop to buy a new truck.”
“I know you do.”
More tears, this time with hiccups.
“I want a cookie.”
“We will eat a bit later.”
More tears, more helplessness.
“I want an apple.”
“I know baby.”
More tears.
“I wanna go eat ice-cream.”
“I know you do.”
And so I’m there, in the middle of their meltdown, knowing that it has nothing to do with dogs, dolls, trucks, cookies, apples or ice-creams. I know it has to do perhaps with the fact that they just started school, or possibly their sibling has been sick and received more attention.

There are many reasons why we feel this way, and we don’t always know how to behave gracefully through these emotions.

What every single human being craves is the non-negotiable feeling that they are loved, accepted, and they belong. And if they don’t belong in our arms, especially when their soul hurts, where else should they go?

So next time you’re in the middle of a parental struggle, with your child demanding stuff, consider for a second that the only thing they might need is just an excuse to unload their feelings. What do you need to do for yourself so you can hold that space for them?

Need some help with your inner dialogue during tantrums? I’ve made a list of 12 Mantras I use when I find myself in the middle of emotional meltdown. Enter your name and email below to get it straight in your inbox.




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