We live in a culture where crying is often seen as a sign of weakness and vulnerability -- traits most parents don’t want their kids to associate with them. Parents may try to suppress their emotions in front of their children in an effort to appear positive and in control. However, letting your kids see you cry when they’ve hurt your feelings is not necessarily a bad thing. Parents can use their tears to teach their kids important lessons about empathy, emotions and the consequences of their actions.
Letting your children see that they have upset you will help them develop empathy, an important factor in becoming a responsible and moral adult. According to Perri Klass, MD, Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at New York University, "the capacity to notice the distress of others, and to be moved by it, can be a critical component of what is called prosocial behavior, actions that benefit others: individuals, groups or society as a whole." Crying in front of your kids not only gives them an opportunity to understand why you are sad, but a chance to make you feel better. This, in turn, will help your kids to feel better. Your child will be less likely to hurt your feelings next time around if he clearly sees that it made you sad.
We're Only Human
Children can find it reassuring to know that their parents are human and capable of sadness, just like them. Crying is a natural thing to do when you are hurt, or when your feelings are hurt. By crying in front of them, you teach your kids that it’s okay to express your feelings, rather than bottle them up. Children are perceptive. If you try to hide your tears, they will most likely know that something is wrong anyway.
Let's Talk Tears
It can be confusing and upsetting to kids to see their parents cry. In their eyes, their parents are typically strong and in control. When they see you cry, all kinds of doubts are raised about their own safety and happiness, because you -- their all-powerful parent who can fix so many things -- are weeping. If you do cry in front of your child, it’s important to talk to him about why you are crying, what you are feeling and how it makes you feel better to get it out. The conversation that comes after the tears is an important teaching moment. It is also important to let you kids see you recover from your sadness to reassure them that you are okay.
Debunk the Boy Code
Our society commonly considers boys to be less emotional and empathetic than girls. As parents, we may feel like it’s okay to cry or express our emotions in front of our daughters, but not in front of our sons. When discussing feelings, it’s important that parents treat boys and girls the same way. According to Jerry L. Wyckoff, a psychologist and coauthor of Twenty Teachable Virtues, "We set up this 'boy code' that goes on and on throughout their lives — 'I gotta be tough.' But if we're careful to teach them, boys can learn empathy just like girls."
- New York Times, Health & Science: Perri Klass, MD
- Twenty Teachable Virtues: Practical Ways to Pass on Lessons of Virtue; Jerry L. Wyckoff
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