“It’s no use crying over spilled milk”

The meaning behind this saying expresses an important life lesson…In order to move forward in life we need not dwell on the past, continually getting upset about things that we cannot change.

For the purpose of this post I’ll ask you to play along and look at this statement a bit more literally.

Like me, I’m sure many of you have seen your little one cry over spilling their milk.  In fact this recently happened to me… The cup crashed to the floor and the tears began to flow. I immediately tried to soothe the little guys emotions while wiping up the mess by explaining that it was not a big deal. I said, “don’t cry, it’s ok, there’s no need to cry it’s just spilled milk.”

The little boy, who we’ll call Max, still crying, responded, “I can’t stop the tears.”

Well, this pulled right at my heart-strings and got me thinking, what message am I sending to him about the “ok-ness”of expressing emotions by telling him not to cry?

After pondering this question for a bit I came to the conclusion that by telling kids not to cry, even over the small stuff, we are telling them that crying is not ok.  This statement attaches a negative association to the act of crying ultimately labeling it as a “bad” thing.  It sends the message that big emotions need to be stuffed down and bottled up.  Little Max clearly needed to cry and so my next response was, ” let it out, cry as much as you need to.”

Spilled milk is no big deal to us adults but from a child’s perspective there are lots of things running around in their little brains. My milk is gone! The loud noise was scary! Mom’s gonna be mad!  With all these thoughts popping up it’s no wonder the tears start welling up.  The other thing to consider is that they could be crying over something totally unrelated to spilling their milk.  Maybe another child was mean to them at school, or maybe they simply feel sad.  We’ve all had those days…heck, on an off day I can get teary eyed over a commercial  on T.V or sad song on the radio.  It happens to all of us…

As a society we look down upon crying, people feel embarrassment and shame and try to choke back the tears.  Crying in public or in work setting? Forget about it!  That is considered to be unprofessional and totally inappropriate.

Recently I read an article in Elle called, Crying Game, that offered a new perspective. The author, Marisa Meltzer wrote about how she has not cried in years and in fact did not cry even when her bull-dog died when she was 16.  She goes on to talk about a shift in how people view crying and that everyone seems to be embracing a “good cry”.

One of the important parts of her article for me was learning that there is a sort of biological motivator behind crying.  She quotes William Frey II who has researched crying and is a professor of pharmaceutics and a faculty member in neurology, oral biology and neuroscience at the University of Minnesota, “People may feel better after crying because they’re removing chemicals that build up during emotional stress.  So it’s the secretion and excretion of tears that are important.”

Wow! Releasing chemicals that build up during emotional stress through  crying sounds like a pretty positive, not to mention natural way to deal with feelings in emotionally stressful situations. So why do we fight one of our bodies natural ways of dealing this stress? Seems silly to me…

Another piece of information that was eye-opening for me came from Ad Vingerhoets, a professor of medical and clinical psychology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands and author of Why Only Humans Weep: Unraveling the Mysteries of Tears. feel the least amount of shame around crying

This means that our feelings around crying and our frequency OF crying can actually affect our level of happiness.

As caretakers, parents and nurturers this is some insightful information.  I believe we need to hold space for kids to express their emotions in a way that is not only understanding but effective in the sense that kids learn how connect, understand and move through their emotions in a positive way. No more hiding or stuffing down emotions, let’s send the message that big emotions are OK and give children the tools they need to be emotionally intelligent, resilient human beings.

 

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