It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Good, Bad… and nothing in between?

tearsYou’re not nearly as rational as you think you are.

That’s okay. Neither am I. None of us are. Even those who are sure we go through our lives guided by only the most rigorous of analytical thought have merely suppressed their emotions. Just because they don’t acknowledge them doesn’t mean they’re not influenced by them. In fact, given the suppression, I’d say it’s more likely they’re affected. They just don’t know it.

But really, that can be said of any of us. Research proves over and over that “feeling actually happens prior to any conscious thought and because it comes first, it shapes and colours the thoughts that follow.” It’s what we all learned in Psych 101: we have the emotional reaction first, and then we plug our reasons into it. This happens at an unconscious level, mind you, which is why some of you out there are even now denying this with firm assurance that YOU are a rational person. We’d like to believe this — I know I do — but we’re just not so reasoned as we’d prefer to think. Our conscious mind is blissfully unaware it’s being emotionally manoeuvred.

Moreover, if our Gut response is “Yeah! Good thing!”, we minimize all risks associated with it. If it’s “Boo! Bad thing!”, we exaggerate them. The idea that something can be unpleasant but beneficial is as foreign to our Gut response as it is to the toddler you’re trying to siphon those antibiotics into. In our Heads we know better, but Gut steers the psychological ship far more than we’re aware.

Here’s an example. Crying. Crying, particularly the tears of our children, is a Bad Thing. Therefore it is Bad for the child, and there is no benefit to be had from it. Therefore, tears are to be avoided at all costs.

And where does this “reasoning” lead us?

To the idea that children are psychologically damaged if they are allowed to cry now and then. To the idea that the parent-child bond can be torn asunder if a parent doesn’t always leap to close the floodgates. To the idea that anyone whose child cries is a Bad Parent.

But what this reasoning completely and utterly misses is this ironic fact:

If you avoid your child’s tears at all costs… You create children who cry more.

I have a lot to say on this topic. I’ll be back!

February 20, 2009 - Posted by | controversy, parenting, power struggle, tantrums | , ,


  1. yay! Mary’s back! Mary, I so loved your contribution to partners in parenting and similar posts on this blog. As much as I also enjoy reading about the kiddos, this is stuff that gets me going and I’ve missed it. Do you guys ever think about continuing with the partners blog?

    I know I need to post more of this stuff. Thing is, it takes more time and thought — I have the thoughts, it’s the time that’s at issue! I will make more of an effort, though. I know people enjoy them. As for PiP? I doubt it, but who knows?

    Comment by Meesha | February 20, 2009 | Reply

  2. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this. It’s been my experience that most of the “avoid tears at all costs” people just aren’t getting the idea that this CHANGES as the child grows. Letting a two year old cry because she’s mad she can’t have a cookie is NOT the same thing as letting a two week old cry because the clock says it’s not time to feed her yet.

    Oh, good point! I’ll (try to remember to!) incorporate that into my posts on the topic.

    Comment by Trish C | February 20, 2009 | Reply

  3. Oh man – the people upstairs from me really need to read that statement. They’ll do ANYTHING to avoid their son’s tears. Coddling, scolding, distractions…you name it. He’ll be 4 this Sunday and he still has rage-filled shrieking temper tantrums and cries long and loud while Mum and Dad scuttle about the house looking for distractions for him to make the noise stop.

    And why would he stop? There’s such power in continuing! But is he happy? ‘Course not.

    Comment by rambleicious | February 20, 2009 | Reply

  4. Of my three children, Al (middle child, elder son, younger at the time I’m speaking of) rarely cried but if he did it was for a reason and he didn’t stop until it was put right, when he did straight away. So it was simplest and kindest to put things right. The other two, best to leave them to cry sometimes. That was the way they learned they didn’t always get their own way. Al didn’t expect his own way, his was a cry of real distress.

    And if I’m not as rational as I think I am, I’m truly irrational. Because I think I’m a bit peculiar at the best of times.

    Your comment reminds me of something I read in which a mother was deploring one of her daughters’ behaviour patterns. A friend asked her if she was treating the girls the same. Her response was, “Why, no, of course not. They’re not the same person.” There’s a tendency to equate “justice” with “identical”, and it just isn’t so.

    Comment by Z | February 20, 2009 | Reply

  5. Younger of two, that is, at the time. *sigh* My command of the language isn’t that hot.

    Comment by Z | February 20, 2009 | Reply

  6. I feel like I was fighting this particular battle last evening. Our darling 3 year old decided to have an enormous fit over taking his shoes off when we got into our house. I quickly tried to reason with him, when that didn’t work I gave him a time out. Much screeching and kicking accompanied me in this task. All of this? I can handle. It was when he looked up at me and the tears started to roll down the cheeks… that I so badly wanted to cuddle and tell him it was okay.
    However. I don’t play that way and seriously? he had kicked me. I eventually left him alone to cry it out until he asked to be released and decided that taking his shoes off was worth being able to participate in all the fun parts of the evening.
    The only bad part is that it completely took a toll on my mood for the evening. He bounces back quickly. I don’t bounce quite as fast.

    Sounds like you handled it perfectly. The fact that he bounced back more quickly than you proves what I often find myself saying: Adults tend to feel these things more profoundly than their very young children. (And yet somehow, it never occurs to us that we’re being psychologically damaged. Because we’re not, of course. Any more than a child is when he/she sheds those tears. It may not be pleasant, but that doesn’t make it harmful.

    Comment by Dani | February 20, 2009 | Reply

  7. Wow! This sums up daily ‘moments’ with our 3.5 year old. I can’t wait to read more. I can handle the tears, but have said that if they’re the instant reaction to ‘no’ then they must be shed in his bedroom because we won’t all be subject to that behaviour and noise. What I really need to figure out is how to teach our son how to deal with things that he doesn’t like without bursting into tears.

    Keep doing what you’re doing. It’ll work, in time. If his response is immediate tears, your response is an equally immediate dismissing him to his room. He can come back when he can talk calmly. He’ll get it in time. With a child of this age, I will (some other time, when he’s calm) explain that I am allowed to say no, and he is not to kick up a fuss. When I say no, we might be able to talk about it — but only if he can do it without yelling and wailing. Then next time I’m about to say no, I’ll remind him of this. Sometimes it works right away; sometimes it streamlines the process… and sometimes it seems to have no effect at all, but it’s worth a shot, right? 🙂

    Comment by Tricia | February 20, 2009 | Reply

  8. Urgh, I am so hating the big put-on dramatic tears we’re getting these days, though. They totally set my teeth on edge, so our current response is something like, “If you need to cry that loudly, can you go in the other room, please?”

    She’s what, three and a half, four? What you’re doing is pretty much exactly what I do. “If you’re going to cry, cry quietly. Otherwise, you can go cry where I can’t hear you.” (Which is the Quiet Stair in these parts.) They can learn to dampen the volume. We just have to let them know it’s expected. And, like most things, it takes time.

    Anna and Emily both do the drah-mah tears. Emily gets a time-out, usually, it’s the quickest and most effective way to help her calm herself. Anna, who has a killer sense of humour, can often be nudged out of the tears if I mock her with enough enthusiasm. I’ll throw the back of my hand against my forehead, and howl right along with her. “OH, I KNOW! It’s just so AAWWWWFUL!” I am so melodramatic and goofy that she usually starts laughing. At which point I can tell her, “Okay, silly girl. Now tell me what you want without the hollering, please,” and she can manage it.

    Comment by kittenpie | February 21, 2009 | Reply

  9. […] Gut. Remember Gut? We talked about him a few posts ago. Your Gut, which is faster to react than your brain; your Gut, […]

    Pingback by Your baby cries: Gut and Head duke it out over Tears « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | February 28, 2009 | Reply

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