If you grew up in a less emotionally open culture and/or had more traditional parents, it can be difficult to teach your children how to manage their big feelings since you weren’t raised in that type of environment. Here’s a story of a mother’s journey in navigating her past struggles with crying and how she’s learning to embrace those tears with her children. Related: Helping Children with Big Emotions
My parents discouraged me from crying
When I was growing up, crying was seen as a negative behavior that needed to be done in private. Whenever I hurt myself by bumping my head, falling, or getting upset with a sibling, my parents would immediately say the words, “無事”. In Chinese, this means “Not an issue”. Then they would follow up by telling me to stop crying. There was never any explanation why I shouldn’t shed tears. They didn’t tell me to “toughen up” or that “big girls weren’t supposed to cry”. However, the look on their faces explained it all. My crying made them feel uncomfortable and they wanted to nip it in the bud before it got out of hand. This was especially true whenever we were in public.
My mom’s lack of tearsMy mom always had a dry eye. I could never read what she was feeling behind her calm composure and indifferent facial expression. Although she doesn’t know how to play poker, I think she would win many championships. Her father passed away when I was in grade school and my mom mourned her loss very privately. For many nights after his death, I would hear her crying in the bathroom while I was in bed. Then she’d blow her nose, flush the toilet and go to sleep. The next day, her face would be puffy and her eyes would be tired. I could tell she wasn’t her normal self but she never talked about how she was feeling in front of us. She’d carry on the day, fulfilling her duties as a mother and wife without needing a moment to stop.
Culturally, Chinese people are perceived to be stoic, maintaining their composure during adversity. Crying is associated with mental weakness and therefore should be done away from others to avoid embarrassment and making others feel uncomfortable. Being able to hide your emotions and face life challenges without flinching were signs of strength and courage. My parents had limited emotional awareness and lacked the ability to talk about their feelings. Although they shared a lot of stories during family dinners, there was rarely any discussion about how something made them feel. I desperately wanted to be emotionally validated but they never did, not because they didn’t want to but because they didn’t know how and didn’t understand the importance of it.
I know it’s healthy to cry, but I still struggle with it
So for most of my life, I struggled to cry. Whenever I felt that lump in my throat, I would try my best to swallow it down. If I couldn’t hold it together, I would go to the bathroom or some private space so I could cry alone. I didn’t want others to see me crying. However, when I started to learn more about how to manage my emotions, I gradually embraced crying as a normal reaction to big emotions. Crying is natural and can be cathartic. Crying is a sign of courage, vulnerability, strength, and authenticity. Being human means having the ability to express your emotions. Crying is a necessary physiological function with many benefits that can improve your health. Crying can increase your body’s production of endorphins which are also known as “feel-good hormones”. Shedding emotional tears can help reduce the level of stress hormones and toxins in your body. In addition, after crying, your heart rate and breathing rate decrease; your body enters a more calm and relaxed state. It’s been a journey for me to decondition myself from the way I was raised and the beliefs around crying. When I became a mom, I started thinking about what I wanted to preserve as a parent and what I wanted to shed for the next generation.
Tips for teaching kids to express their emotionsCrying was something I wanted to change and break the generational cycle for. Here’s how I’m encouraging my kids and creating a safe environment for them to shed tears.
Don’t punish (or reward)
Although my parents never disciplined me for crying, their judgemental response made me believe I was doing something wrong. As a parent, I try to remain calm, respectful, and emotionally available when my kids cry. I don’t want them to associate crying with shame but I also don’t want them to believe they can use their tears to get whatever they want.
Verbally validate their feelings
When I cried, my parents would minimize my feelings and try to get me to stop. They would say things like “You’re fine” and “It’s not a big deal”. However, when my children cry, I validate their emotions and acknowledge the frustration or pain they are experiencing. Some examples of phrases that I use to help validate their feelings include:
- “I’m here to listen.”
- “Tell me more about it.”
- “It doesn’t feel good.”
- “It’s okay you’re feeling this way.”
- “I know this is really hard right now for you.”
- “It’s okay to cry.”
- “I see you are feeling sad/upset/angry/frustrated”
- “I can help you work it out.”
- “I’m giving you space but I’ll stay close so you can find me when you need me.”
There are also times when I sense my presence is comforting enough so I don’t say anything and stay quiet beside them while they cry.
Don’t interfereThere are times when I want to distract my child when they’re upset rather than help them through their tough moment. For instance, giving them a toy, turning on the TV, or hugging them right away. However, this is quite disrespectful as it shuts down their chance to experience the tears and fully express themselves. Instead of trying to get them to focus on other things, I give them the time, emotional room, and mental space to feel safe crying. I see crying as an opportunity for my kids to learn how to deal with their emotions and self-regulate. Although I don’t hug them immediately, I do offer it after they have calmed down.
Breaking the cycle and learning new ways of parenting
As parents, we want to do what’s right for our kids so they grow up into happy and healthy adults. It can be tough to know what right means when the way we were raised isn’t how we want to raise our kids. Although we cannot change our past, we can change the future. Identifying the generational issues that impacted us and making the decision to do better are the steps toward healing ourselves and creating a world that our children can thrive in. – For more ways to help your kids express their emotions, use our Ultimate List of Feelings to Help Kids Express Themselves. Adults seem torn on how to feel about, and how to treat, teachers these days. We recognize the work they do, how important it is, and that they have inherent value to society…so much so, in fact, that we want them to risk their own health and lives to take our children away from us for a precious few hours a day. Kids, though, have always seen themselves as antagonists when it comes to the teachers they don’t like, though, so it shouldn’t surprise you that several of them have stories of the time they made their teacher cry.
15. They certainly can.
Our form tutor was a kindly middle aged Welsh gal, pure as anything, just happy to be doing her job. But teenagers being who they are, it made her a joke to many. She announced to the class she’d be leaving at the end of the term or year etc, and they all cheered and whooped. She left the classroom in tears. Kids can be a$sholes.
14. This story has it all.
In 5th grade, we had a psychotic substitute teacher, probably in his late 50s. At the beginning of class, everyone was goofing off and he immediately shut us down by screaming “SHUT UP!” at us, shaking furiously. We all stayed silent after that because he legit freaked us out, but we came to the conclusion that he was hearing voices in his head, because about 20 minutes into class, he stopped talking abruptly, and screamed at us again at the top of his lungs that we would regret being so loud, but no one had uttered a f%cking word. He then stomped over to the desk, violently swept everything off, muttering the entire time to himself, then went to the back of the room and turned all of the lights off. We were all terrified at this point. He silently paced around the back of the room for a while, then went back to the front and slapped the chalkboard. His next words were what I remember the most clearly. He was violently shaking as he yelled, “I’m going to tell your teacher how horrible of a class you all are when she gets back, and I’ll make sure she burns you up… To hell with all of you!” He threw himself back into the teacher’s chair, and started sobbing. One of my classmates managed to sneak out and get the principal, he was escorted from the classroom a few minutes later, and we all had to individually go into the principal’s office and recount what happened. Apparently he had just gotten a divorce and he had lost it. He was fired that same day. Honestly, I don’t think we actually did anything to warrant his initial reaction. He just snapped.
13. This breaks my heart.
I had a french teacher once. We were her first class since becoming a teacher, lovely woman but many of us suspected she has mental health problems, always very quiet and mousey and she always came in looking a bit messy ie. Hair not brushed and makeup a bit smudged. There were these 2 girls who would just torment her, they hid pickled mussels around the classroom and were just these loud obnoxious arseholes. Long story short, turns out the teachers mum had just died and on top of the stress of managing a class with some real horrible kids she had a nervous breakdown and never came back. About 2 years later I was going to a concert and saw her begging for money outside a train station. Just felt so horrible seeing what she had been reduced to all because of some nasty fu**ing kids that just pushed her and pushed her.
12. Sometimes kids are okay.
I’m the teacher who cried but I guess I can still share something lol. My class noticed one morning that I wasn’t myself and one kid asked me during recess whether I was okay. Normally I wouldn’t share about my personal life but I told my student that my grandma had passed away that morning. At the end of the day before I dismissed the class, the class committee handed me a sympathy card with really sweet condolence messages from every student in my class. I couldn’t keep it in and started bawling.
11. You have to rule with an iron fist.
Yes, in Year Five (9-10). We had this small, pretty cool teacher take over our class because our usual teacher was out doing something. One day, we would not shut up (something happened that got us kids all excited) and I was just doodling. looked up to see the teacher just run out the class in floods of tears. I then realized just how little attention the class was given her and how much they cared because it took several minutes for everyone to notice she was gone then went right back to talking. I felt really bad for that teacher because she was the only teacher in our year who got no respect from the students.
10. He deserved what he got.
History teacher had a teenage son who committed suicide. Took some time off and came back to work. Standard class clown kid started acting up in his class, teach asks him to go into the hallway so he can speak with him privately. We heard their exchange get a little heated, but this kid just cranked it to 11 and insinuated teacher’s kid was right to kill themselves with a father like him. Heard that kid bounce off some lockers about a second after. Teacher came back into the room with angry tears and told one of us to call the school resource officer. It became a big hullabaloo and teacher ended up suspended for the rest of the year. At the time I thought it was crazy he’d shove that kid like that. 15 years later and some real world experience later, I’m surprised that’s all he did.
9. Crappy kids are part of the job.
I remember in high school getting a teacher fresh out of uni. He was the best – super passionate about teaching, and would often incorporate music and comedy into his teaching to make it more interesting, almost everyone in the class loved him because of it. There were 3 footy players who would always play up in class though, and the teacher spent extra attention on them, trying to get them just as excited about learning as the rest of the class, but they were simply “too cool” to pay attention in class. One day they took it too far, I can’t remember the exact details, but I do remember that one of the footy players threw a chair “as a joke” – either at another student, or at the teacher himself – and it just broke the poor guy. He lost his shit at the unruly students, and you could see the pure frustration in his face. He just wanted to teach, but these few students were hellbent on ruining it for everyone. He ended up just leaving the classroom in tears, and everyone in the class quickly turned against the kids who threw the chair.
8. You never know what’s happening behind the scenes.
I’m a college teacher in the UK. Absolutely love my job, love helping the kids I teach and love helping them reach their uni courses. Never really had many issues with most of my classes, but I had this one class that was real lazy, never did their work etc. They got a real shit result back one lesson, average mark was like 30%. I said something in passing and a student made a comment about how I shouldn’t guilt trip them. I explained how I felt like I was working harder than they were and I felt like I cared more about their result than they did, despite they would be going to uni. At the time I was going through a break up and was living in my car for a few days and I cried then in front of that class. Awful moment, professionally speaking.
7. What a horrible situation.
Teacher here. I was witness to the death of one of my former students (pedestrian hit by a car right outside my apartment). This was pretty common knowledge to my students, and during a Kahoot game one of them put her name as their nickname. Couldn’t help tearing up, and I let the waterworks start during my prep period.
6. That poor, sweet man.
This is a long one, but here goes. When I was about 14/15, my school had an awesome young science teacher. Fresh out of university, eager to do well in his first job, passionate about his subject, and always staying late to help out the kids who needed the extra help. Unfortunately he was super timid and shy, and not very good at handling behavioral issues. Naturally the shittier kids (and even the ones you would expect better from) found it fun to completely take advantage of this, and it soon became a common ‘game’ to just see who could do their best at making his life hell. I never saw him cry myself, but I did see him get pushed to his limits, and one day I heard he had a bit of a breakdown. I can’t remember exactly what I was told happened, but he fled a classroom on the verge of tears and some of the other teachers needed to step in to get the class back under control. Anyway, one Monday we found out he had passed away the day before from an undetected heart problem. His father went to his house the previous Sunday morning when he didn’t turn up for their golf session, and found him dead in his bed. He was 24. Needless to say, all of the kids who tormented him felt absolutely awful about it. One girl in particular confided in me about how she felt so terrible. She knew he was a great teacher, but she joined in with the pack and now she had to live with knowing this young, kind teacher died and all she had ever done was contribute to making his life difficult.
5. Sometimes you gotta let them have it.
Multiple times, we were a terrible class. She was our sixth grade teacher. Our school had this odd system where you had a home room teacher for most of the day, but then rotated around to other teachers for just a few classes. Our home room teacher was also the music teacher, and for some reason during music class all hell would break loose. She went on vacation for a week and came back with a bad sunburn around the eyes, so we would only call her Mrs. Racoon. It caused her to get more tanning done. During one music class she really had to go to the washroom, so she left for about 4 seconds and a fight broke out between a boy and a girl. The girl took the boys head and threw it through a snare drum. He got stuck in there. She came back to thinking he was dead. Eventually she had a mental breakdown mid class and ran out into the hallway crying. The 7th grade teacher saw this and instead of consoling her walked in and just let. us. have. it. I’ll never forget that day, he said we were spoiled asshats for treating a teacher who only ever wanted to help us like trash. He screamed that if he had a teacher like her when he was a kid he would do everything he could to keep her. Yelled that if we kept acting this way we were in for a life of disappointment brought on by our own rampant incompetence. It worked. Some of us cried, but everyone felt horrible and we were all nice to her for the remaining year.
4. Middle schoolers, man.
In middle school science, I had a teacher who was always so sweet. She was an older woman, and she always made sure we had materials for her class, often at her own expense. I remember she went out and bought like 20 plastic pencil cases and filled them with pencils, rulers, erasers, everything we would need for the class. One day, some of the kids decided to throw a few of the pencil cases across the room, they snapped some of the rulers and just generally broke a lot of the things she provided for us while she stepped out for 5 minutes to talk to another teacher. When she came back, she started crying and I remember feeling so bad for her. She gave the class little pieces of candy after, apologizing for losing control and getting emotional. We were the ones who should have been apologetic. she was so sweet to us even though the class was full of demon children.
3. She should have called the police.
We had a substitute once, and one of the football jocks went behind her and pretended to hump her. She glared back at him and began bawling. Poor lady.
2. That sounds awful.
Elementary music teacher here. The art teacher next door was having trouble with her classroom behavior management. The assistant principal entered her room while she had a class and completely undermined her. Assistant principal told her she didn’t know what she was doing in front of the kids and redirected the class to “show” art teacher how it’s done. Art teacher threw a fit, cursed her out, and left smack dab in the middle of the school day. Luckily my instincts kicked in and I told my ap to just bring the rest of her classes to me that day, and I had two classes at a time that day. I get that she needed to fix her management skills, but it’s like teacher code… you don’t undermine another teacher in front of students.
1. The sweet ones are the best.
The whole class knew our teacher loves us so much. On her birthday, we decided to surprise her once she enters the classroom after the flag ceremony. We divided into two groups. Some of us are together with the teacher during flag ceremony and some are waiting for the flag ceremony to end and are trying to hide in certain places in the classroom. The teacher had no clue of what was actually happening and when she arrived together with some of our classmates, we started singing happy birthday to her, she was so shocked you can clearly see her trying to hold her tears. It was the class’ most successful birthday surprise.
I definitely don’t condone this behavior as an adult, but it is true that not everyone got into teacher because of a higher calling. Did your class ever make the teacher cry? Are you a teacher who was made to cry? We want your stories in the comments!
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