Teaching Kids to Cry

At the age of eight, I knew more about math than I did about my mom. I could add numbers together, but I could never figure out why she would scream and shout for no apparent reason. Subtraction came easily, but knowing how to navigate the turbulent waters of my mother’s constant mood swings – and all of the emotional turmoil that it entailed? Definitely harder than taking apart a simple sentence or memorizing my multiplication tables.

Milk chocolate malt balls and chocolate-covered potato chips. Living the healthy life at college.

Eating my emotions and living the healthy life with milk chocolate malt balls and chocolate-covered potato chips.

While I understand the importance of standardized testing and intelligence aptitude, it should not take precedence over emotional intelligence. While the United States may not sit at the top in terms of academic performance in comparison to other countries, we’re also struggling in terms of anxiety, mood, and substance use disorders, as well as happiness in general. Studies have also shown that children who can comprehend and deal with their feelings do better on tests. It makes sense; those who are aware of their emotions can spend less time suffering through tumultuous angst and focus on academics instead.

What’s more important, in the end, when it comes to the tougher parts of life? Recognizing a prime number, or knowing how to resolve a conflict before it spirals out of control? With technology on the rise and face-to-face communication losing popularity, the ability to interact with others in an amiable, productive way may start to decline. While better than nothing, it’s not enough to just apply pithy statements like “respect property” or “do not fight.” Like all of the deeper aspects of life emotions can be complex, charged, and uncomfortable.

It is difficult to guide children through their emotions. But that’s the entire point: any type of interaction involves a myriad of social cues and non-verbal implications. It’s just like learning a new language. And like any other language or skill or talent or trade, honing emotional and social intelligence requires that window of opportunity, early exposure, and constant practice. EI may be one of the hardest concepts to understand, but it’s one of the most vital, too.

I guess I’ll never know whether more information regarding emotional intelligence would have helped me out in my childhood. I did cry, just not in front of my peers, and not in a way that was conducive to a healthy upbringing. But I know that, on a base level, some form of acknowledgement or an opportunity to speak out would have helped.

I've also taken to jogging at night now to alleviate angst - one day I will attain a less-covered picture of the majestic moon.

I’ve also taken to jogging at night now to alleviate angst – one day I will attain a less-covered picture of the majestic moon.

Does anyone agree or disagree? Were you taught ways to handle stress and negative emotions when you were in school? I feel like I haven’t proposed that many solutions in this post, though you can find a few in one of the articles I linked to – I need to do more research on this myself. My humblest apologies for not posting often, college has been crazy and I wanted to write about an issue as opposed to another personal post or book review. I hope you are all doing well and later today I will comment on some blogs and respond to some overdue comments on this one. One last note: you can check out my brief thoughts on One Writer’s Beginnings, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince here, here, and here respectively. Once again have a great day and almost weekend!

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20 Comments

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20 responses to “Teaching Kids to Cry

  1. I actually feel like you make a great point. I don’t do well with emotions. It could be because everyone in my family is closed off, we don’t really share our feelings but I don’t think it’s just that. I feel like I shouldn’t express my emotions because they make me weak or because no one would really care. It’s such a complicated mess. I wish that ‘emotional-education’ were more common at school. I mean they tell you how to deal with stress when it comes to work load but never beyond that :/
    Great post Thomas! :)

    • Aw, I’m sorry that you live in an environment in which sharing emotions is seen as a sign of weakness. But it’s great that you’re aware that that is not how it needs to be – by reading a bunch and talking with others you’re developing emotional intelligence too. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  2. I definitely have to agree with your point on emotional competence. I had to figure it out by myself, because while my family is open about emotions, I’ve never felt comfortable disclosing mine. It was a skill that I developed later on when I learned that people didn’t just KNOW what I was feeling (crazy, right?). My mother did give me a great technique for self-soothing. She taught me to breathe.

    She always told me that the key to remaining calm, even in painful situations, was to breathe deeply, through my nose, and just focus on the inhale/exhale motion. Through moments of physical, emotional and mental stress, it has never failed to help me reach a state of calm. I wish more people had this in their lives.

    Thank you for your article. :)

    • Even though you had to learn on your own, it’s wonderful that your mom taught you that technique. I suppose people underestimate the strength that comes with breathing well – thank you for sharing that and for reading and commenting!

  3. Well said! We were actually just discussing this concept in Psych today, heh. The prof mentioned emotional intelligence being not only being able to identify proper emotions in oneself and others, but being able to express them, and therein being able to express them in a way that was appropriate for the given situation. So it really is, as you say, a really complex issue – we shouldn’t be surprised our own brains are keen to make it simpler than it seems, lazy things ;)

    I know I definitely could have benefited from a healthier knowledge of emotional intelligence when I was younger, and I still can’t share anything personal unless I’m behind a keyboard. ‘Bottling things up’ is a popular phrase for a reason, and I think you bring up an excellent point in acknowledging how, um, not okay that is – we as a society ought to value our emotional contributions as much as those contributions produced through other forms of intelligence. Whether that means more respect for enthusiasm, an openness to the process of grieving, healthier methods of expressing anger, etc, there’s really no doubt it could do us all a lot of good. At least in college, I’m finally starting to feel like an acknowledgment of our humanity, especially in this way, is a GOOD thing. Now if only we can start teaching that when we’re little tykes, then we’ll all be set…

    • Thanks Elaine, I’m glad we agree on this! Continuing the positive thought process here, I feel like emotional intelligence is becoming more and more respected in academia, the workplace, etc. While mental health still has its stigmas (that issue could provide for a plethora of posts on its own) it’s great that we as a society are slowly making progress on this front. Here’s to hoping that through the next four years we’ll become more and more emotionally intelligent, whether that be through openness, understanding, etc.!

  4. You have hit upon a very important topic for discussion that de dort deal with well, particularily American males. I firmly believe that emotional and intelligence is as important as any other aspect of out lives. I believe in empathy and want to see it’s use become a movement. The result of emotional neglect is all over the news. I have yet to hear of a serious crime committed by someone who is emotionally healthy. I do see encouraging signs. Physical affection such as hugging is becoming more acceptable even among straight guys. There is the backlash against emotional repression seen among emo or scene guys built on a subculture that is rebelling by being open about their emotional needs. Unfortunately there has not been a response that offers emotional support, other than girls who encourage them to kiss each other as a real life fulfilment of a romantic fantasy.
    My generation has by and large, failed yours emotionally. The hope lies with increasing support for close friendships that has been reported on in the UK and is growing in acceptance here. Yes we need to have professional counsellors for those who are broken but ultimately it is friends helping friends and sharing feelings and emotions unashamedly. There are good parents who are present emotionally for their kids. Just as there are teachers, counselors and coaches who get it. Empathy is slowly catching on and with it a new generation is throwing off old shackles, like homophobia, that get in the way of emotional closeness. So please, keep on exploring this issue and reaching out. You may be part of the answer yourself. Hugs!

    • sorry my keyboard kicked in some new words like “me dort” which should have been “we don’t”

      • I love your detailed response and how you discuss that sharing emotions is becoming a more acceptable and common behavior. With time and activism and openness we will make progress in the vein of emotional intelligence. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  5. Peter

    Beautifully written. There’s also – a lot to be said about the healing qualities of literature. Reading books and poetry has helped me a lot. Go to David Copperfield, for instance, and find out how he survived the most awful childhood. The best writers give you a complete picture, built slowly step by step: a shelf of good books equals a powerful life survival kit.

    • Peter, you are 100% right – one should never underestimate the power of literature. Books form the backbone of my life and I’m glad you feel the same way, that good stories and characters can truly keep one alive.

  6. Hi there, thanks for posing such a great question. I have a nine year old son and I am trying to give him the tools and the space to know his emotions and how to deal with them. Having grown up in a family with toxic secrets and shame, it is so liberating for me as a parent to do things differently with my son and a big part of that is talking about feelings. But in our culture, I still feel that most boys and men are not adequately supported to deal with feelings and are expected to ‘be a man’ – to me, this is creating a crisis of masculinity in our times. By speaking up on this, you have created the space for others to do likewise – what a wonderful gift that is!

    • It makes me happy that you are able to provide an emotionally sensitive and aware environment for your son – a plethora of children do not have that privilege. Hopefully more and more men (and women) will speak up about this issue and our voices will combine to create a tangible difference! Thank you for reading and commenting.

  7. Sad Little Panda

    Your posts are beautiful to read :o
    I think I’ve forgotten how to cry. Any wild emotion I felt disappeared after leaving junior school. I’ve cried once since then (and it felt so alien to me). We don’t express our feelings in my family as it’s implied we get hurt by doing so and it gets you no where. Which is true by the result of my childhood. Although, I am highly considerate to other people’s emotions. I just don’t pay attention to mine. And it’s getting easier to do so. Which makes me feel detached from society tbh.. Depression is the only feeling I can come close to. :o I like this post Thomas. Very thought provoking. I don’t know why though… ha :3

    • Thank you for reading and commenting as always! I’m sorry that expressing your own emotions feels so strange to you – perhaps this marks a point in which you start reflecting upon yourself more? Is there anything in your life that causes this depression? If you ever want to talk, you can always comment here or message me privately; I hope that you find a good book to read, or some place to exercise, or any method to help you cope with your feelings.

      • Little Panda

        Noo.. what am I talking about!? xD I’m not depressive. I just let introspection get the better of me sometimes. I have no reason to be emotional. ~only from my childhood. Oh.. er I haven’t read a book since school. And even then I read at least 4 books within the whole time at secondary school. I never found a book that holds my attention. I’d love to give reading a go though.

        • Introspection is healthy in doses, but sometimes it can lead to unnecessary sadness. As for books, have you ever tried the site Goodreads? It has a great recommendation system and the community is a fabulous place for book-lovers in general.

  8. Pingback: Men Must Challenge Sexism | dancingwiththebeloved

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