If You Liked ‘Inside Out,’ Get Parenting Book ‘Tears Heal’
I hadn’t expected the emotional punch, or the tears that followed, when I watched Inside Out for the first (and tenth) times. The emotion, Joy, with her exuberance and compulsions, insisted on blocking or distracting or denying Sadness any connection to the child, Riley.
Yet, in the end, Riley could only move through her struggles once Sadness was allowed in.
I loved this. It felt like a revelation for my own emotional growth.
Kids cry all. the. time.
So, when I read Kate Orson’s new book, Tears Heal, the same thing happened. Even shed a few tears when I read about the ways she was able to connect with her daughter. It brought to mind all of the struggles I’ve had with my highly sensitive, intense 5-year-old.
Only this time, the story was geared toward helping parents deal with the most difficult part of raising kids: Dealing with our children’s emotions.
Kate was a mom looking for answers during early parenthood. She found Hand in Hand Parenting and, at the time, there was no book on the subject, she decided to write it.
I’m so glad she did. As a mom of two kids I do know this. Kids cry all. the. time. There are memes about it. There are websites about it. Some are really damn funny. But living with the tears can feel like torture.
We start to hear words our parents said to us as kids flying out of our mouths.
-Crying isn’t going to help.
-Go in the other room if you’re going to cry.
-Knock it off, it’s not that big of a deal.
-It’s a stupid cup. Who cares if it’s not blue?
But what if you found out that tears actually will help? What if you found out tears have a scientifically quantifiable healing properties?
The Power of Tears
The key is this, as her book title states, tears heal us. They help us release stress. Some scientists have said that tears shed for emotional reasons contain stress hormones.
“This suggests that when we cry for emotional reasons we are literally releasing stress from our bodies and that crying is an essential part of the recovery process from stress and trauma,” Kate said.
Tears aren’t just evidence of our kids being a pain in the @$$. (though sometimes that may be hard to believe) Tears are a sign for us parents to come closer to our kids. Like a neon arrow telling us that our kids are working through big, confusing feelings and need our help.
Kate gives lots of practical advice in how to do exactly this.
She explains how emotions develop and how children learn to express their feelings and why those expressions are often enough to make us want to pull out our own hair.
But when we see our, and our child’s, tears for what they really are, we can learn how to move through emotional moments, which then helps them, and us, find real, lasting joy.
It’s not just the tears, either. The underlying point, and what is often behind tears, is the importance in making space for emotions. The importance of listening and of being listened to.
It starts with us parents learning how to think about tears and tantrums in a new way.
“When we move through our feelings, rather than stopping them, we will find a much deeper happiness, just like our children do,” Kate said.
How we shove tears and sadness down
Kate explains how, even as adults, we use distractions to look the other way when hurtful emotions rise up.
Hello, chocolate. Hello, wine. Hello, Netflix and Facebook.
When we were kids, our parents often stopped us from expressing big emotions. We internalized the idea that we need to do something else. We will likely, then, respond to our own kids in a similar way.
She teaches us how we can tune back in to our emotions. To recognize how we sometimes ignore what our body tells us. For example, we keep working even though our body has a stiff neck and tells us to move around for a bit. We do the same with our feelings. We can learn how to tune back in to our emotions.
How can we listen to tears?
Imagine this scenario: You and your partner aren’t seeing eye to eye. You’re flustered. You’re talking past each other. Tears roll down your cheek and you’re not sure if you’re angry or sad or both. Your partner sees your tears and rolls their eyes, tells you to knock it off, says you’re crying just to get attention and walks away.
Would you feel connected to that person or misunderstood? Would you feel like your emotions were being taken seriously? Maybe we would feel like our partner just wasn’t listening.
Now, can we transfer this to our kids who have way less capacity for handling their emotions?
How do they feel when the people they love the most tell them the ideas they have are stupid, either by word or deed? How do they feel when we turn them away when we see them cry over a toy they want? What message are we sending?
We are saying, “You can’t be upset. Your feelings don’t mean anything to me because it’s not what I want for you.”
What if, instead, when our kid freaks out because someone else got the princess cup, we don’t tell them to knock it off, or go to their room. We hang out with them for a minute and acknowledge that they feel upset. What if we learned to understand that some tears may come from the straw that broke the child’s back? What if we stopped trying to hush the tears and start trying to throw our kids a lifeline?
It’s really a self-help book for parents
This is what Kate offers. She offers us a chance to see emotion through a new lens, one that takes so much pressure off of us as parents. She offers us a path that is actually, in the long run, easier. Her book shows us the truth behind emotions, how we can actually change how we feel about our child’s behavior and how we can turn our whole relationship around.
Aside from helping parents think about tears in a new way, Kate’s book shows parents how to:
-build connections with our kids by listening to them and helping them feel safe in expressing their emotions.
-set limits for our kids and stick to them.
-understand how emotions work within kids and how kids express them.
-deal with the impossible moments when you’re about to absolutely lose your crap and your kid is melting down.
-handle with bedtime in way that is so much less stressful.
-care for our own emotions, through a new idea of listening partnerships, so that we have the space within us to deal with the emotions of our kids.
Kate gives us the tools to help us help our little ones work through tears, rather than avoid them or do everything we can to stop them.
Just being there, just holding the thought that crying and tantrums are not bad behavior but an expression of feelings is enough. It’s a powerful boost to our child’s self-esteem to sense that we still think they are a good person, even when they’re having an emotional upset. Being a calm presence for our child lets them know that even if they’ve experienced something scary and upsetting, they’re safe now and can let all the feelings go.
Though billed as a parenting guide, and it is a great one at that, Tears Heal felt also like a self-help book–one that can help parents come to terms with their relationship with their own emotions as well as begin to decode the hurt in their children.
You can get even more of a taste for Kate’s philosophy on her blog. She also coaches, in person and online.