Crying over lost change: Accepting an emotional child
How do you accept an emotional child? Is it by shouting, threatening, forcing consequences? Learn a new way here.
I was pretty poor growing up in the seventies. My parents worked hard, but didn’t get far. We survived on food stamps and dumpster diving. We had Christmas late one year because we couldn’t afford a tree. My dad waited until trees were discarded by the curb, grabbed a few, and took the branches from each that were still green. He then fashioned us a suitable tree to put our few gifts below.
The thing is, looking back I know we were poor, but growing up in it, I didn’t feel “poor.” It was just life. Everyone else around us was in the same boat, so it was hard for me to know we were living in poverty. It was the norm and was just a way of life.
But, I did know that money was hard to come by. I assumed it was so for everyone, except for the rich. As a result, I became very entrepreneurial. I bought candy at discount prices and sold it to my neighbours. I put on shows and charged ten cents for admission. I had yard sales and lemonade stands. And, when I got my hands on money, I stashed it aside, not knowing when I’d get more. I had a little cigar box my dad had given me, where I would keep my money. I hid it in the ceiling panels above my bunk bed.
I recall one day playing in my neighbourhood when I was about seven. I found 70 cents and I couldn’t believe my luck. Those two quarters and two shiny dimes would have meant at least three candy bars for many of my peers. To me, though, these were treasures I would add to the growing treasure box I slept beneath.
I didn’t have pockets in my shorts that day, so I carried my prize in my small, soiled hand. When I got home, I saw a friend playing on the sidewalk. I put my coins on the post of the rickety fence that surrounded my yard, and invited him in to play. We chased each other on the brown weeds that were meant to be a lawn, and climbed the tree in my yard.
After my play-partner left for home, I went back to retrieve my coins. They weren’t there. I was sure where I had put them. They’d been right here on this fence post. My friend and I had been playing the entire time. He couldn’t have taken my money. No one else had been around. No one had walked up the alley by my home. I felt for my pockets, but remembered I had none. I looked on the ground by the post. I checked the other posts. I scoured the entire fence…nothing.
Had I left the money where I had found it? No, I couldn’t have. I remembered placing it on the post? What happened to it?
And, that’s when I started crying. The tears poured out as if I had lost my favourite toy or one of my family’s three dogs, not spare change, less than a dollar, that weren’t even really my coins to begin with.
It wasn’t like I had earned that money. No one had given it to me. It was someone else’s and I had found it. In essence, I was crying for the loss of someone else’s change.
Crying over lost change
To many, I think I would have appeared to be a bratty kid. I was crying over something so small that was never even mine, that had never even made it into my treasure box. I have even judged myself that way for many years when I recall this incident. For some reason, this memory has stayed with me for 40 years. Why did it affect me so strongly? I have wondered. Was I really that shallow, that four coins would cause me to lose it emotionally?
But, as I have become a parent, and have been teaching for 20 years, I have visited that day more and have come to understand those tears better. Although I wasn’t conscious that we were “poor,” I was fully aware that money was hard to come by. It’s obvious because I had created such an elaborate hiding place for it. I knew somewhere inside of me that every cent was important. So, when I got my hands on those four coins, in my mind they were instantly mine. And, the loss of those 70 cents hit me, because it was like offering a starving man a meal, then giving him an empty plate.
I don’t think most kids would have cried. If you didn’t know my background, my mindset, you might have questioned whether I was an emotionally stable second grader or if I had been a privileged brat who got whatever he wanted by crying.
What do you make of a child who seems to be always crying? Find out on the next page....
The emotional child
Twenty-eight years after I lost those coins, my second daughter, Grace, was born, and she was a crier. She cried for so much, more than any other child I had ever known - me, my childhood friends, her sister, any child I had ever taught. And, when she cried, it wasn’t just a few tears falling down her cheek; it was with volume, and it lasted good and long.
She cried when her waffles were cold. She cried when I didn’t understand the story she was telling. She cried when she got a math problem wrong. She cried when her red shirt was dirty. This girl cried and cried, and I judged her as a parent.
This wasn’t normal, I told myself. She’s an emotional wreck, or she’s just a brat trying to get attention. I know we didn’t spoil her. We did all we could to quell the tears. We tried reason, threats, guilt, consequences and rewards. Please, don’t get me wrong. I love Grace with all my heart, but I just couldn’t understand why she cried so much.
And, then one day it hit me… I couldn’t understand why she cried so much, just like most people wouldn’t have been able to understand why I cried so hard when I was seven over two quarters and two dimes.
Accepting my emotional child
Good chance one day Grace was going to judge herself as I had judged myself, thinking something was wrong with her. She didn’t like crying. People don’t like feeling bad. Oh sure, every now and then we may shed some crocodile tears in order to get some attention or comfort, but that wasn’t the case with Grace. I’m sure she would much rather feel happy than sad.
Now, I know she wasn’t crying because we were living in poverty. And, I know she didn’t have her money hidden in a box over her bed. But, I also knew that I didn’t know, really know, all that was behind those tears. There was some rationale for Grace’s tears. She may not have been able to explain it, just as I wouldn’t have been able to explain my crying while standing in my weed-infested yard. Maybe she’d understand once she was grown, as I had.
But, I had to realize that her tears were valid in her mind. Somehow, some way, they made sense to her. And, my job was not to change her or to make her less emotional. My role is to be there for support, to be the dad she could come to when she was feeling sad, without being afraid of being ridiculed or “taught a lesson” on how to deal with a situation.
Once I started to understand that, to know that Grace cried because it made sense to her to cry, I began to understand her better. She felt more comfortable coming to me when she was frustrated, and our relationship grew.
It’s hard having a kid who is emotional, who seems to cry irrationally. And, if we as parents can’t understand why she’s this way, it’s because we can’t understand why she’s this way. This means we need to accept her as she is, unconditionally. Our job as parents is to teach lessons, but even more so, we are there to be someone our children can rely on, someone to comfort them even when we don’t understand them.
When they know that we are these parents, they’ll take these moments, these memories of us, and store them in their own treasure boxes for years to come.