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What to say instead of ‘don’t cry’

As many millennial parents can attest, the authoritarian parenting of our childhood has made it difficult for many of us to regulate our own emotions and respond in a supportive and nurturing way to our children’s emotions. Just think of how easily triggered we are by our children’s tantrums, and even further, their resistance when we ask for something to be done? Tell me you were expected to be ‘seen and not heard’ as a child without telling me… 

The way we were parented often involved suppressing our emotions for the benefit of the adults in our life. As a result, we became adults uncomfortable with emotion, so at the first sight of tears, we may encourage our children not to cry. The problem is that, even if we’re saying it as a means of offering comfort, asking a child to suppress emotion can create the same negative relationship with emotional expression as many of us have, and the cycle continues. 

Emotional expression is a natural and necessary part of the human experience. By allowing our children to express ALL their emotions, we are helping them to build a foundation for emotional regulation and a healthy relationship with their feelings. Here are some alternatives to consider instead of telling your child not to cry: 

  1. Acknowledge their feelings: Let them know you understand and care about what they’re feeling.
  2. Offer comfort: Give them a hug, hold their hand, or offer words of support.
  3. Listen attentively: Allow them to express themselves without interrupting or minimizing their emotions.
  4. Validate their experience: Let them know that it’s okay to feel sad or upset and that their emotions are valid (even if they’re coming out as you hold a boundary)

Want to learn more about responsive parenting for sleep and beyond? Click here.

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