This week, I had a 9-year-old boy cry in class.
In the past, I would freak out, try to comfort the child quickly and keep the class moving forward. Doesn’t work.
I see parents freaking out too when their child starts to cry. I totally understand this response. Being a parent too and loving all children, it’s heartbreaking to see a child in pain. In most cases, however, our “freaking out” response causes the painful emotions of the child to intensify.
Some parents or teachers may even say something like, “it’s okay. don’t cry”. The problem with this is, the real issue is not being addressed. It’s not okay or the child would not be crying. This approach as well doesn’t work.
Others may try to use shame to stop the crying and defuse the situation. “Come on! You know this. Just be a big boy and remember what I told you before!” This approach is the most painful one for the child. What we’re saying is, your feelings are not important which often can translate to, you are not important.
Okay, back to my crying child in the class.
Instead of doing the above when the boy started to cry, I said that it is perfectly normal to cry and please take your time to let it all out as I handed him some tissue. This approach creates some space for the child to process his emotions, buys me some time to figure out what’s really going on here and shows the child I respect him. It’s also a demonstration for the other children in the class on emotional and social intelligence.
then I explained, as you attempted your presentation today, in your mind, you were saying something like, “I don’t fully understand this. I never really practice. The other boys are better than me., etc.” Is this true? The boy nodded his head and I could tell he was with me, and we had rapport (なかよし).
Then I said, as you think these thoughts pressure builds up in your chest and head then to release the pressure we cry. This boy’s face lit up like a lightbulb and looked at me with a face that said, “Wow! Someone understands me!”
What I explained was his learning strategy or the process he goes through when trying to learn. I’d cry too!
So I explained that when you have a presentation, you focus on one word at a time until you are finished then I did it with him so he could know what it felt like from a physical, logical and emotional stand point. I also said that if any thoughts come like, I can’t do this, etc., just let them pass like a cloud and stay focused on one word at a time.
By now the crying already passed and we’re moving forward.
Later on in the class, we played a word game. Before this boy would not try to read the words like the other boys, he would just depend on everyone else to give him the answers. This time was the first time, he was trying fully with ease to read the words, on his own. This was a breakthrough and the earlier cry was the opening.
When a child cries, there is a HUGE opportunity for growth and learning.
For parents or teachers reading this new to doing on-the spot-interventions, just do the first part which is the most important part. Let the child know it’s okay to cry and let all that out while you hand them some tissue. Forget about what others will think, how it’s an inconvenience, etc. Create some space for your child to be okay with not being okay.
Being okay with not being okay in life, is an extremely good skill to have. It’s also a good thing in the class room.
One of the first lessons I teach is being okay with not knowing something. Why is because if we are okay with not knowing something, it creates space to let the answers in.
One of the worst things we can do to a child is to attack them for not knowing or for crying. If they don’t know, we need to find a different approach that makes sense to them or leads them to the knowing.
here’s a huge insight… be perfectly fine and at ease, with any uncomfortable emotions, your children may experience. This creates space for them to process their emotions and transcend them.