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Crying

Air Date: 06/28/11 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723 or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net   Wouldn't it be lovely if life with children was lollipops and birthday parties and smiling faces all the time? If you're muttering "yeah, right" to yourself, that probably means you have a genuine, flesh-and-blood child and know that in the real world, parenting is fraught with challenges, stubbed toes, disappointment, and occasionally, real misery. And that's just for parents.             I was talking the other day with a mom and dad whose primary goal in life is to get their eight-year-old daughter to sleep in her own bed. She's been sleeping with them (and kicking and snoring) since she was an infant, and mom and dad are longing to have their privacy and comfort back. When I asked them why they hadn't taken steps to move their child to her own room, they looked at each other and sighed.             "Actually," the dad told me, "we've tried a couple of times. But she always cries." Mom looked at me and nodded glumly in agreement. When I asked, gently, "so?" both parents looked stunned.             As anyone who's ever seen a genuine human child knows, crying is a common occurrence. In fact, crying is a child's first language, one she learns long before she learns words. A baby cries to let you know she's hungry, wet, or lonely. She cries when she's tired or frustrated, or when she's sick or in pain. Babies actually cry to self-sooth; in other words, when a baby is over-stimulated and needs to rest, she cries, and the crying helps her release energy and calm herself down. After a while, parents learn to differentiate the cries a baby makes and can respond to the baby's cues more quickly and effectively.             As children grow older, crying remains a primary form of communication. Crying is, above all, evidence of strong emotion. Children cry when they're angry or sad or frustrated. They may cry when they're afraid, or when they're exhausted. And yes, a child cries when she doesn't get what she wants.             It may be helpful at this point to remember that there is a difference between wants and needs. A child needs shelter, food, and connection with caring adults. She may want everything from pizza for dinner every night to a new toy every day-to sleeping in your bed instead of her own. If she doesn't get what she wants, she is likely to cry. And now you, as her parent, have a choice to make.             I believe that, with the best intentions in the world, many parents are choosing happiness (which is often momentary and fleeting) over health for their children. Because parents love their children and hate to see them cry, they make parenting decisions based on the absence of tears-and sometimes, that's just not a good way to raise your child.             In case you haven't already figured this out, crying is not fatal. While it may be loud, messy, and irritating, no one will die-even if the crying goes on for hours. Remember, children are still learning to recognize and manage their emotions and crying is their native language. Crying tells you that your child has strong feelings, but it does NOT tell you that your child is in danger, that her self-esteem has been destroyed, or that she will actually die without the toy she has set her heart on.             More important, children are gifted observers. Once your child recognizes that you cave in when she cries, you can expect the waterworks to begin as soon as she really wants something. Children are not the best judges of what is best for them-that's your job. Your child may truly want things that simply are not good for her. Which means sometimes you just have to say "I love you and the answer is no" and then help your child learn the difficult art of calming herself down and dealing with disappointment. It also means you must be able to keep yourself calm even when your child is sobbing.             Many good, loving parents struggle to say no, mean it, and follow through in the face of a beloved child's disappointment or fury. But giving in to a child who cries is setting a dangerous precedent for the future, and actually robbing your child of the opportunity to learn to handle disappointment and challenges without falling apart.             If your child bursts into tears, consider it an opportunity to practice good communication and connection skills. Take a moment to breathe and calm yourself. Then tell your child, "I know you're really disappointed right now. What would help you calm down and feel better?" Then follow through with dignity and respect. It may not feel good at the moment, but you are helping your child learn self-control and emotional regulation. And over time, you may find that you actually have less crying to deal with. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.