The Gift of Tears

Tears and Tantrums, by Aletha J. Solter, Ph.D. has proved to be a very informative book which I wish I'd read 20 years ago! She explains that crying and raging (throwing tantrums) are necessary bodily responses to external physical or emotional stimuli. To supress this natural response is physically and psychologically unhealthy and can be a source of major health problems later in life.

In Part I she describes society's harmful attitudes toward crying and raging. There are several ways human beings release stress. One way is through talking out the problem. Another way is through laughter and symbolic play. Giving children permission to act out an event in which they felt frightened, helpless, angry, etc. and laughing, squealing and giggling help the body and mind to deal with the event and release the feelings associated with it. The fourth and last way children eleviate their stress is through crying and raging. Studies of tears reveal that hormones are acutally shed in the tears, a sort of catharsis. She goes on to explain the physiological process of dealing with stress and describes how a failure to release the hormones which build up during the process can be unhealthy and dangerous to the development of human beings. In the same way is it unhealthy to supress a sneeze, hold one's water for too long, supress ovulation, coughing, vomiting, or any natural bodily function, it is unhealthy, not just emotionally, but also physically, to supress the body's natural response to stress.

Stress comes in three forms: hurts by commission, physical or emotional from outside sources--usually other people; hurts by omission, unmet physical or emotional needs, including touch, empathy, and autonomy; and situational hurts caused by life circumstances, like a traumatic birth, overstimulation, natural disasters and disappointment or unexpected occurrences.

The acceptance of crying is important to the attachment relationship between parents and children. Children who are allowed to cry and compassionately supported while they do have higher self-esteem, are easier to live with, and become better learners. She helps parents realize what their reactions are to crying and raging and discover why they react that way so that can learn to respond in a way that is healthy and supportive. Quite different from manipulation, crying is a necessary release mechanism, and when parents understand it as such, they can respond compassionately to their child's needs without feeling manipulated--without feeling the need to either give in, or stop the "manipulative" behavior.

In Part II & III she specifically addresses crying in infants up to one year, and crying and raging in children one to eight years old, respectively.

Part IV is devoted to applying this new information practically. By understanding the reasons children cry, how to support their crying, and help them channel the body's natural response to stress in ways that are not hurtful to others or themselves, we can help our children thrive, growing up to be emotionally secure, and physically and psychologically healthy adults.

I recommend this book for all parents who have trouble understanding their children's crying and raging, and to adults who have trouble crying themselves. I further recommend that we invite our children to cry, but not alone--cry with them. Try a beautiful movie, with a happy ending, but which brings on the tears, like Savannah Smiles. This is a beloved movie from my own childhood that deals with attachment, insecure attachment and loss of attachment. It has a happy ending--well, bittersweet, but satisfying--that's sure to bring on the tears!

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Catholic Attachment Parenting

A philosophy of parenting modeled after the self-donative love exemplified in the relationship between Mary and Jesus.

1 Jn 4:18

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love."

Luke 1:17

" turn the hearts of the parents toward their children..."