Why are you crying??
Have you heard those words coming out of your mouth lately? They are rarely said in a gentle way, but usually barked in a harsh, impatient voice.
I heard them recently on a camping trip with some friends. I was in the bath house showering, and the people in the campsite next to the bath house had just arrived. I past them on the way in, and I saw that the two women there had 3 very small children.
As I took my shower, one of them started crying, for reasons unknown to me. He sounded like he was about 1.5-2 years old. Neither of them women tried to calm him or help him adjust to the unfamiliar situation. They were too busy setting up the tent, etc.
This didn’t stop one of them from repetitively demanding of the child, “WHY are you crying??” Telling him to, “just stop it, right now” that he was being a pain or a brat, etc. etc.
But it was the constant demanding of an explanation for a child who was not much more than a babe-in-arms that really made me want to scream at this woman.
I’m sure you’ve been in similar situations, and probably even, like me, catch yourself doing the same thing at times. But please, catch yourself when you hear yourself demanding an explanation from small children.
Even older children (and even grown-ups!) can have a hard time articulating why they are upset about something. But people even ask their babies impatiently what’s the problem?? So why do we do it?
Often, our reasons are highly suspect. If the child doesn’t have a “good” reason for being upset, we dismiss their feelings, and possibly even try to squelch them. I’m sure you’ve heard the injury assessment that, if it’s not bleeding, “you’re fine. Stop crying.” But add a little blood, and the parent will be properly (even excessively) sympathetic and offer (or insist upon) first aid.
There is also the parent (who is all of us sometime) that will not offer comfort for emotional injury, only for physical injury. “If you’re not hurt, stop crying.”
Sometimes kids don’t want comfort. They want to be left alone. This is mostly when they are older. They might get mad about something and cry, but they don’t want you (the perpetrator of their pain-in their eyes) to hold them. But they also don’t want to have their pain rationalized away or be told to (essentially) shut up or go away.
“Why are you crying” can still be a useless thing to ask, even when you are really concerned and want to help. Caleb HATES to answer questions about how he got hurt, and I didn’t really understand this until one day when my mom was visiting us.
Somehow (I forget how) I banged my head really hard on the door frame, and I was in huge amounts of pain. My mother and Caleb kept asking me what was wrong, what happened, what was wrong?? They were honestly concerned, but I was hurt! I didn’t want to answer their questions! They couldn’t do anything to help. I gasped out that I hit my head, and escaped upstairs until the pain subsided.
Now I try to hold my tongue when Caleb comes to me with an injury. He’ll tell me when he’s ready.
As an unschooler, I believe that my son’s knowledge (or lack thereof) of an area is none of my business. That I don’t have a right to go poking and prodding him to trot out his knowledge (or exposing his lack of knowledge) on command. The same principle can be applied to your child’s feelings.
I have no right to force him into telling me what he’s upset about. WHEN HE’S READY, he’ll tell me, if I am receptive and if he wants me to know. I can ask him (gently) once, if he doesn’t want to share, then I need to respect that, and give him what comfort or space he needs.
Babies on the other hand (and I include 0-4 years in this general grouping) do not even have the words to answer your questions. I have to refer you to Carrie at The Parenting Passageway on this one. I love how she constantly exhorts us to avoid lots of words and long explanations when dealing with our kids.
When it comes to small children (or even big children), the why questions should rarely be addressed to them. Open your eyes and your heart, and see if you can figure out the problem.
Think about how annoying it is when you get that same question from your spouse, “Why are you so upset??” With the implication is that you shouldn’t be, there is nothing to be upset about, and you are being unreasonable. This is not a question that leaves you feeling that they will be receptive to anything that you say.
Storms of emotion come and go, and the things we say during them can be worse than doing nothing.
As our parents liked to say to us, be careful what you say. Guard your tongue. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.