Monday, November 16, 2009


People have always said, "Don't cry" to other people for years and years, and all it has ever meant is, 
"I'm too uncomfortable when you show your feelings. Don't cry." 
I'd rather have them say,
"Go ahead and cry.  I'm here to be with you." 
-Fred Rogers

There were a few sad toddlers today during Together Time.  That fifteen minutes when mom or dad went next door for the parent discussion seemed like an eternity to some of the children.  These one-year-olds are new to a group play experience, and many have not experienced being left by their parent very much yet.  Moms and dads at this stage are often not very comfortable with the separation yet either.  But they bravely trust us with their precious child, square their shoulders, say goodbye to their little one, and go to the next room for what may seem like the longest fifteen minutes of the whole day. Many of the children are perfectly fine, but it's unpredictable! You just never know how it's going to feel.

Today, this endless separation didn't feel great for several of them. There was quite a bit of crying. Since our class is still rather new, everyone is still getting used to each other and to the routine.  The parents whose turn it was to stay in the classroom with me and the children today were very determined to help ease the pain. They tried cuddling, distracting, holding, singing, toys, books, and of course the "big guns," WATER PLAY. (If anything is going to make a toddler feel better it's turning on the hose. If that doesn't help, nothing will!)

The three or so sad children responded in various ways to these attempts to cheer them up. Sometimes the crying slowed down for awhile, and a few times it actually stopped.  But what the children really needed was simply to cry. Crying is the best way these young toddlers have to express their very strong feelings.  When their parent left for those few minutes, they probably experienced many emotions, such as anger, frustration, fear, sadness, loss, and others. They are not very verbal yet, so they don't have quite as many avenues for expressing themselves. Crying is an important way to get their message across, as well as to bring their feelings to the surface.  Crying helps them to cope.

As much as possible, I try to tell toddlers that it's ok to cry, and that if they want me to, I can help them cry or they can sit on my lap while they cry.  And I try to remember to tell them that when they are all done crying I'll help them find something to play. They tend to need that reminder that they won't feel this bad forever.

I have learned never to say, "You're OK" to a child who is upset.  Obviously, the child is not ok.

Yes, children do need to be reminded once or twice that Mom will come back. And sometimes they need to be reminded briefly about all the fun options available for them at school, so they don't get stuck in their sadness. But over the years I've really learned that there is not short-cut for crying when you're sad. Distracting children away from their feelings isn't the best approach. Experiencing real emotions, and coping with them with the help of loving and supportive adults is the best way for children to mature emotionally.

When I got home from school today, still thinking about all of this, I found that my best friend had sent in the mail a book of quotes from my dear Mr. Rogers.  (Thanks Bethy! Perfect timing!) The first page I opened it to was the page with the above quote about letting people cry.  What a helpful and gentle reminder for all of us.

At every age, people need to cry, to be sad, to be angry, to be upset, and to be scared. Sometimes the most helpful thing we can do is to sit beside them and let them know we care.

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