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What to do when your child is crying in public

(Probably THE most important post I've ever written - so it's the most important one for you to read!)



CASE STUDY: The Dad at the Skating Rink


A thoughtful dad had dressed up his 4 year old daughter with snow pants, skates, and all, and brought her to the rink. After a friendly conversation with a couple of other men there, he proceeded to attempt to teach his daughter to skate.


She felt uneasy on the slippery blades, it didn’t feel right to her, she started to express her discomfort, and then fear. She shouted “No!” All the while dad kept cajoling her, as the other man on skates was sailing around telling her she was a better skater than he was! (Talk about confusing!)


She fell and started whining. Dad pulled her up and started pulling her along on her skates. Her legs went limp and the tears started.


Back on the bench the crying continued. Dad was frustrated that things weren’t working, and even more frustrated that she was crying. Here is the conversation I overheard:


“No one else here is crying. This isn’t a place to cry.”


“You are 4 years old now, too old for crying.”


“Just stop it! This was supposed to be fun.”


“What are you even upset about?”


“What are you crying for? There is nothing to cry about!"

(Probably all things he had heard as a child!)


Soon after, floppy feet meant dad could not get her boot on and things just kept escalating from there... she was falling off the bench, getting snow on her socks, etc. You've probably been in a similar situation with a floppy toddler!


Clearly this strategy wasn't working for either one of them. I’m going to MAKE IT MAKE SENSE and illustrate how things could have be SO much different, using Language of Listening®


Here’s what was happening: Dad put a lot of effort into doing something special for his little girl.  After all that work she was scared of doing this thing that was “supposed to be fun”. BECAUSE HE KEPT CROSSING HER BOUNDARIES and not listening or validating, she started to feel more and more powerless. To the point of tears. BECAUSE WE ARE SENSITIVE TO THE EMOTIONS OF OTHERS, especially those we care about, dad started to feel powerless too. (You can research mirror neurons to learn more about this)


Instead of realizing he was connecting with her feelings of powerlessness and using that to CONNECT with his daughter’s experience, he FOUND something to feel powerless about: that his plan hadn’t worked and now he had a crying 4 year old on his hands. Add the embarrassment of all of this happening in public and having no idea how to get her to stop crying and dad is having an incredibly frustrating time trying to feel in control again!


What could he have done instead??


1) Reacted with respect and gentleness, acknowledging her boundaries around being on the ice with skates on. (This would have calmed her nervous system, and helped him stay on her team so they could work together towards a solution.)


2) Validated her emotions as they showed up so he could understand her experience and instill self-trust. Self-trust is what allows children to move from where they are into problem-solving. (Making the emotions wrong, leaves children stuck, trying to prove they are right about what is happening inside of them. It really isn’t about whether they should feel a certain way or not, it’s about the fact that they already are.)


3) Then, together they could have found a way to help her feel comfortable learning about skating… even if it was to simply sit and watch others skate. (This would have made the trip a success on some level, and made it more likely that both parties would WANT to come back again sometime soon!)


Overall take-away:

Make the tears wrong and you only increase the child’s feelings of powerlessness which is what triggered the tears in the first place. This will extend the length of time the child cries, drive a wedge in the relationship, and leave the problem unresolved.


Validate the emotion, and you end up on the child's team, preparing both parties for problem-solving, creating a closer relationship, and having the issue already handled for next time!


Experiencing feelings of powerlessness as parent is common, especially when we have unmet needs left over from our own childhood, BUT it doesn't have to stay that way! I have a 12 week program for parents ready to ditch the powerlessness and the stress and get to a place where they LOVE the way they parent! For more info or to book your free connection call with me, an authorized Language of Listening® parenting coach, click HERE (To see what my clients have to say about working with me click HERE.)



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