It's Okay to Cry When You're Frustrated.



Photo Cred: Esther Beazer

We were in the car on our way to church. My littlest girl had forgot the colouring book and bag of crayons that she had painstakingly packed all by herself.

When we told her we couldn't turn around to get them, she lost it. Tears and agonized wailing ensued. We tried everything to reassure her that it would be okay (I had crayons in my purse!) but there was no way to stop the tears as she mourned the fact that we were not going back to get her precious crayons. Then she decided she could use the ones in my purse and was okay, just fine, right as rain. Sheesh.

While thinking about the situation later, I was reminded of a section of Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate's book "Hold onto Your Kids" that I found particularly fascinating. It was the section on futility and the adaptive process.

(Forgive me as I try and explain it in my own, meager words... the book explains it so much better, buuuut I can't copy and paste a whole giant chapter/section here, sooo...)

The basic idea is that children have to run up against reality sometimes, not as a debatable parenting philosophy, but as a necessity in human brain development and maturation.

Apparently kids need the times when they realize that their efforts to catch the moon or avoid their bath time are straight-up futile, not going to happen. It gives our brains the feedback we need to realize that thing will not work, to let go, then to regroup and try another way. In short: facing and understanding futility is necessary for our brains to learn the process of how to let go of things, then to change and adapt, to pick ourselves back up and try something new. This allows us to grow cognitively through problem solving and creativity...while also adding to our maturity and understanding of the world.

Neufeld suggests that we as parents need to help facilitate this process by helping children reach the point of futility---walk them to the brick wall---and then being there to comfort them in the inevitable fallout, but with the understanding that this is a natural and necessary learning process. If we "save" them from that experience or radiate a sense of hopelessness and panic right along with them, they will only learn to fear the pain that comes from growth instead of developing the maturity and understanding to know that the only way to grow is to walk through it.


"The parent needs to be both an agent of futility and an angel of comfort. It is human counterpoint at its finest and most challenging...
"A parent must dance the child to his tears, to let go, and to sense the rest in the wake of letting go."
-Gordon Neufeld, Hold onto Your Kids


But also, this: when we humans reach the point of futility in any given situation, at any given age (but especially as children), our brain triggers us to...cry! For some reason, whenever our brain senses we've reached a brick wall, that it just how our physiology deals: we cry! It's not weakness, it's chemistry.

So my take away is that it's okay---even essential---to let my kids be upset and cry when they realize they've hit their own brick walls. To help them realize that talking to me that way will not get them what they want, that hitting their brother will not solve the problem, that they can't have that chocolate bar from the store, that we can't turn back to get crayons when we're late for church. I'm there to both help them realize it and to sit with them in the pain of it with compassion and understanding...then to stand back and marvel as their brains naturally learn to let it go and get back up again, over and over. I also get to watch as the process gets swifter and more automatic as they are allowed to mature through these experiences. SO AMAZING.

And also? That it's okay for me to cry when I hit my own brick walls, too.

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