Psychologist Debbie Glasser advises parents not to say “Stop crying” or “Don’t be scared” when dealing with their toddlers. She says, “It’s natural to want to protect a child from these feelings, but saying ‘Don’t be’ doesn’t make a child feel better, and it also can send the message that his emotions aren’t valid – that it’s not okay to be sad or scared.”
We at Practica would like to add to this: when you give an instruction to your child that involves his body, such as: “Don’t touch the hot stove”, your toddler has a choice between two actions. He can either touch the stove, or not. Both these options are within his control.
On the other hand, when it comes to feelings, a toddler really doesn’t have a choice other than to give in to the emotion.
Your toddler is still in the process of learning other ways of dealing with intense feelings.
Interestingly, the way your toddler will learn how to soothe himself and deal with his own emotions in a more mature way is being shaped by the way that YOU deal with his big feelings now! When you soothe him, he learns to self-soothe and your compassion teaches him self-compassion.
In other words, when you say “Stop crying!” you are asking your child to do something that is developmentally still beyond his ability. When you treat his feelings as natural, soothe and hold him, and validate his feelings, you are modelling to him how to do these things for himself one day.
Before you know it your child won’t be a toddler any longer and he will be able to deal with big feelings in more mature ways.
NOTE: We are not saying that all crying is equal! This only applies to situations where a toddler has a valid reason for crying, e.g. when he is scared, frustrated, over-tired or angry to the point where he is overwhelmed by his emotions. It doesn’t apply to situations where your child is using crying to manipulate you and get his way. Read about the two kinds of tantrums here
Words: Lizette van Huyssteen