back to list of e-newsletters
Another mystery of childhood revealed!
Why do kids look to see if you're watching before they cry?
My friend and colleague Pam Leo, a parent educator in Maine,
explained something to me recently that had always been a
mystery. Have you ever seen a child fall on the playground, and
then look around to see if anyone saw them fall before they
decide whether to cry or not?
Most parents seem to think that these tears must be fake, or
manipulative, since the child can turn them off or on, depending
on what the response is. If they can hop back up to play if no
one rushes over to see if they are OK, or if they look around to
make sure you're watching before they break out the sobs, how
can the feelings be real? Pam suggests that there is nothing
fake or manipulative about this kind of crying, and in fact,
that it shows how smart children are about their emotions.
Children, she says, know when they need someone to listen to
them. If no one acknowledges seeing them fall, they often don't
cry, because they know there is no one available to hold them or
listen. We all know it is better to cry with a friend (or with
Mommy) than to cry alone. On the other hand, if we DO
acknowledge seeing them fall, then they will often cry and cry,
far in excess of what that fall warranted. That's because now
that there is some attention for their feeligns, they are
emptying out old stored up hurts along with the current little
hurt. Pam told me that she always reminds parents, "it makes it
easier to listen to children crying if we can remember THIS IS
NOT ONLY ABOUT
In other words, childrens' tears are always real, and they are
always important enough for us to listen to, even if they seem
out of line with the tiny injury received. Children often use a
little scrape and the fact that we are paying close attention to
them, and offering them affection, as an opportunity to let out
the feelings that they put aside all day or all week until they
were ready to burst. Pam adds that the same basic idea is true
for tantrums as well. Usually a tantrum is not only about the
little thing we DID see happen, but is the result of an
accumulation of little frustrations and disappointments we
DIDN'T see happen. At some point a hurt will be the last drop
that spills over the whole cup.
So next time your child looks around to see if you are there
before bursting into tears, don't just shout out "You're OK"
from across the playground, come on over and see if they have
any feelings they need to share before they can get back to