|Subject: Dad praises son for not crying
My youngest of three children has had to begin
attending a sitter as my wife has returned to work after being home with
him for the last 3½ years. The sitter is the wife of a friend and only
has her two children and mine. I feel very comfortable where he is, but
there was a problem. After being home with since birth the drop off was
hard on him. He cried every day. I knew that children his age didn't
have the ability to understand that mom was coming back to get him. I
struggled for about two weeks trying to think of a way to get him to
stop crying when he was left in morning. I knew he liked his sitter and
their children, because he talked about them and what they do all the
One Sunday, about a week ago, I was trying to
prepare him for Monday morning's event. I asked, "Do you like
Kelly?" The answer was yes. "Do you like Thomas and
Torry?" Once again the answer was yes. Then I got hit by a
lightning bolt. "James," I said, "Do you know what would
make daddy really proud of you? If you don't cry when you go to Kelly's
tomorrow, I will proud of the way you are becoming a big boy."
When I got home from work and coaching the next
day my wife and son had an announcement to make to me. "Tell daddy
how many tears you cried today when you went to Kelly's," my wife
said. "ZERO!" said James with the biggest smile on his face. I
picked him up and gave him a great big hug and kiss. I was so excited
that I wanted to get him something as a reward. But then I thought
again; He's still young and I don't want him to start looking for
rewards for everything he does. I decided that his reward, if he doesn't
cry anymore, is to help his big brother go out and get the mail every
This is the second week and we are still tearless
on that morning trip.
Thank you for writing and for visiting the Natural
Child Project site.
I applaud your efforts to find a creative solution
to this situation. It can be difficult for parents to think of creative
solutions when they see no alternative to something that is causing
unhappiness for their child, such as your wife's return to work.
At the same time, it seems unfortunate that,
perhaps unintentionally, a child is being given the message that crying
is to be withheld in order to gain a parent's approval, instead of
having his reasons for crying (in this case, his natural desire to stay
with his mother) fully validated and dealt with more directly. It is
only natural that a young child will find it difficult to deal with
lengthy separations that started suddenly when his mother started a new
job. Even if he "likes" his caretakers, he obviously misses
his mother deeply. This is normal, and in fact shows a healthy bonding.
If it is at all possible to rethink this situation
and perhaps postpone - or reduce - the mother's work until your son is
truly ready, I urge you to consider this. These days there are more
opportunities for mothers to work at home than ever before.
Whenever we change a behavior without dealing
directly with the underlying cause, we accomplish little of lasting
value, because the original problem that brought the tears is still
there, though buried. We may have accomplished a surface, short-term
goal, but long-term, an even more difficult situation may arise. Crying
is a vital release (there is a vast difference in chemistry between
emotional tears and the tears shed when slicing an onion, for example)
and should always be allowed, with understanding and comforting.
Even better, we should always strive to prevent
the tears by meeting the child's needs as well as we can. When we are
unable to do that, we can at least accept the child's feelings and
expression of those feelings. It's hard enough for a child to deal with
a frustrating turn of events, but to have to deal with it without the
benefit of an emotional release only adds to his sense of helplessness
and frustration. Buried feelings, because of their very nature, can be
easily overlooked in these cases, and can give a false picture of the
child's true state.
Tears are significant both as an emotional release
and also as a signal to the parents that an important matter needs to be
addressed. Ignoring or "training away" crying instead of
dealing with the underlying feelings is like putting soundproofing on a
smoke detector, instead of looking for the fire and dealing with it.
Training a child by rewards or praise not to cry only means that he is
learning to withhold the underlying emotion and to label his feelings as
"good" or "bad". Feelings are neither good nor bad,
they are natural, human, and legitimate, and should always be treated
with understanding, respect, compassion, and an attempt to help the
child come to terms directly with the situation that brought the tears,
and an attempt to change the situation when possible.
I know you mean well, and your primary desire is
for your son's happiness. Still, there is a big difference between a
child who has stopped crying because his needs have been met and his
feelings have been validated, and a child who has stopped crying in
order to please us. At the same time, it can be difficult for us to
recognize the importance of these issues, particularly if our own
emotions were not validated in childhood.
Having a "tearless" child is a natural
desire on the part of parents, but it is not necessarily the wisest goal
for us to have. Our society already has far too many men - and women -
who, because of their childhood experiences, find it difficult to
recognize and accept their own emotions, and consequently find it
difficult to accept and comfort the emotions of others. Many adults have
found it necessary to seek the help of a counselor in order to recognize
and accept many important feelings that were buried in childhood. In
this sense, "a stitch in time" truly does "save
For specific suggestions on dealing directly and
effectively with a child's emotional responses, I recommend these
Don't Really Feel That Way!"
Children Resolve Emotional Hurts"
You are very wise to say you don't want your child
to "start looking for rewards for everything" he does. There
is probably no more important area to remind ourselves of the dangers of
using rewards for changing behavior, than in this critical area of