Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Thing About Crying...

 "Let the child be the scriptwriter, the director and the actor in his own play." -Magda Gerber

We talk a lot about crying at Tumbleweeds. Mostly about children crying, but sometimes just about crying. We talk about why children cry and how we can best support their crying. Yes, you read that right- support their crying. It can be difficult to imagine crying as something that needs to be supported, but that is how we look at it here. This is fueled largely by a desire for anti-shame but even more by the message that stands behind that anti-shame: Crying is Healthy. Janet Lansbury relates nuggets of wisdom from Magda Gerber in a post from about a year ago on her blog. One of those nuggets is simple and fits the purpose of this blog perfectly: "Allow the child to experience conflict and work it out for herself; let the child experience pain or sorrow, and let her choose when and if she wants to come to you for comfort."

Wow. It amazes me. "ALLOW the child to EXPERIENCE conflict and WORK IT OUT for herself." Even this piece of the statement alone is revolutionary. Many of us at Tumbleweeds are also parents. As parents we love our children immensely and we want to protect them. We have an insatiable desire to protect them. Often we are so busy protecting them that we don't realize we are instead harming them. We are taking away teaching moments. We are taking away ownership. We are taking away personal responsibility. We are sending the message that everything will be okay as long as I, the parent, am here to help you. It's a powerful message that we are sending to our children when we choose to intervene rather than wait for their cue.

The rest of the statement is equally provoking, though. "Let the child experience PAIN or SORROW, and let her CHOOSE when and IF she wants to come to you for comfort." 
Sometimes I sit and hold my son at night before bed. I hold him close and I sing him a song that is just for us. It's a little ditty that I made up on the spot one night. It's very simple and he fills in the words if I pause. And sometimes I have class. I'm not there to sing him his song. It's not a big deal, really, but it's something I have a lot of guilt over. I'm not there to comfort him or to hold him close. I'm not there to sing him his song. As I read this, it dawns on me that I won't always be there. Someone won't always be there. If for no other reason than this, we should invite and encourage our children to feel their emotions and to work through them on their own so that they know they can. We should give them the power to feel and the power to own those feelings as their own.

At Tumbleweeds, we work hard to let children experience a wide range of emotions. We try hard to not intervene and instead to be close and near. We want to provide children with the knowledge that we are there if they choose to need us, but we also want to make sure they are the ones making that choice whenever possible. We let children cry after they are hurt. We let children cry when they are angry. We let children cry when they are lonely. We let them cry because it is healthy to own their feelings in this way. We let them cry because crying is how you give those emotions a voice. It's how you let them out of your body. It feels good to let yourself cry. It is a gift to let yourself cry.


  1. Nicely said and an important reminder for all care givers, parents, grandparents, friends and teachers. Too often have I seen children "encouraged" not to cry because it is uncomfortable for the adult.

  2. We have been dealing with your right to be angry/sad/frustrated does not supersede our right to peace in the environment. It's a bit of a challenge. Some displays of emotions are permitted in the outdoor extension, rather than inside the Casa's four walls. This is not because the feelings are invalid, but rather because the method of expression has disrupted everyone else. Children are invited to express themselves outside until they may be softer and more respectful of the rest of the room.


  3. Mac- that's an excellent observation and we definitely encourage children to be aware of their surroundings at all times- even when they are upset. I could write an entire post (and indeed we here at TIH and TPH have written many a post about interaction, the RIE effect, and safety) but let me just say this: we all need to display emotion and it can be done in a safe manner. Outside is a great place to yell and scream, but sometimes we need to express emotion inside, too. When our expression disrupts the rest of the classroom it's a valuable learning moment for everyone involved.

  4. "Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself. On the other hand, that which we allow him to discpver for himself will remain with him visible for the rest of his life" Piaget

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