Miller and I went to the Children’s Museum this morning and spent time in a mock construction area. A family of three played near the slide, while three boys built a fort in the back of the room.
The boys, I’m guessing second graders, were on a field trip. Any time they wanted something Miller and I were playing next to (not even with, just next to), they asked if they could have it. I was impressed with how respectful they were, especially considering there was no chaperone or teacher anywhere in sight.
After ten minutes or so of fort building, one of the boys started crying. I looked. The other boys were still playing, and he just sat there, crying.
It’ll pass, I thought.
Still he cried.
Any minute now, he’ll stop…
His cries grew louder.
The other mom in the room eyed him. Maybe she’ll help him. Wait, should I go help him?
He kept crying. Real tears. Lots of them. Runny nose. Sleeve wipe.
I approached him. “Are you okay?” I asked.
“He called me a cry baby,” he said, pointing to one of the boys.
The accused interjected something defensive. I don’t even know what he said. I wasn’t interested in figuring out what happened or who was “at fault”.
Turning my attention back to the boy who was still crying, I asked, “But you’re not hurt?”
He looked at me. His teary eyes said it all.
He’s not hurt physically, but that doesn’t me he’s not hurting, Jamie.
“Your feelings are hurt?” I asked.
He nodded yes.
“What can we do to help you feel better?” I asked.
He looked at me unsure of how to respond.
I get it. It’s an odd question. Kids are used to being dictated to. But I didn’t want to force apologies or smooth over the scenario. I wanted to help him work through his emotions.
“How about we find something else to do for a little bit so that you can have some space from the boys. Does that sound good?”
We went over to the magnetic wall covered with gears. I showed him how they work, how, once they’re touching, one turns the next. We moved gears around to make a bigger network. His tears stopped. His started rearranging on his own and then tested his work.
I backed away and watched as he turned gears clockwise, then counterclockwise. After another thirty seconds, he went back to his friends, good as new.
All too often, we, as adults, find out whether a crying child is physically hurt. If they aren’t, we move on. But let’s face it – life comes with all kinds of upsets beyond kicked shins or pinched arms.
When a child cries, it’s an opportunity to help develop his or her emotional well being. Help them work through their tears. (By the way, telling a child to “be tough” or to “stop crying” doesn’t teach them what to do with their feelings. Worse yet, it can actually shame them for crying.)
If you’re unsure of what to suggest might help them, ask yourself what would help you.
Would taking some deep breaths help?
How about walking away for a little bit? (Depending on where they are, they could walk to their bedroom, to a bathroom, to a water fountain, or in the case of today, a different play area.)
Would being left alone help so you can be upset for a little bit?
What about a big ole hug?
Admittedly, when the boy started crying today, I was afraid of being the interfering third party. After he cried long enough, I ran the risk of becoming the bystander who does nothing to help. He needed help.
If asked what happened at the Children’s Museum today, I don’t know if he’d remember crying in the construction room. I doubt he’d recall some lady approaching him asking if he was okay. The next time he finds himself upset, I don’t know if he’ll remember that walking away is an option.
But I do know that the next time I ask if a child is hurt, I won’t be referring just to his or her physical well being. I’ll be asking about their feelings as well.