My daughter is almost 4 years old, and she had an EPIC meltdown the other morning. I’m talking the screaming, crying, flinging herself on the floor kind of meltdown.
Honestly, I’m not even 100% sure what set her off (there are entire Reddit threads, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages dedicated to why toddlers are crying – it’s one of those laugh/cry things.) I finally got her onto my lap in the rocking chair in her room, and I was trying to get her to take some “balloon belly” breaths with me. She started to calm a little and I asked, “Baby, why are you crying?”
It set her off AGAIN!
“I DON’T KNOW!” she wailed, and another round of tears ensued. Now, I’m a problem-solver, fixer, make-it-better type, so usually I want to get to the heart of the problem. What happened that got us here, how can we avoid it in the future, what do we need to do differently, and on and on.
This time, however, my empathy kicked in HARD and I just gathered her closer and said, “Do you just feel yucky?” When she nodded, I added, “It’s ok to sometimes just feel yucky. Cry it out and get it out of your system.” A few more tears slipped out as we snuggled, and then the “toddler switch” kicked over and she leaned back, clear-eyed and brightly asked for a popsicle.
Of course I was still neck-deep in the emotional turmoil of the preceding 15 minutes and trying to sift through my own emotional response, but as we headed for the freezer, it really made me reflect on how I treat myself when I need to cry it out and allow myself to feel yucky. Sometimes I’ll just wake up kind of cranky and feeling ick. Occasionally, I’ll have a strong urge to cry and have zero clue what’s prompting it. I may find myself driving along and all of a sudden a seemingly-benign song is firing up my tear ducts. But one thing is consistent – whenever I’m feeling anything other than OPTIMAL (perfectionist, much?) – I have a strong tendency to try and get to the bottom of it. I pull out my glasses, calculator and lab coat and analyze the hell out of it, trying to figure out WHY. Why am I feeling this way? Why am I not at peace right now? What happened? Why am I crying?!
The recent experience with my daughter gave me an important insight into an alternative route. Perhaps instead of the investigation and self-judgment, I could just…cry it out. Without the analysis and without an executive summary explaining the emotional experience. Be with it and let it go. Let my body do what it needs to do. This seems like such a very basic revelation, but it’s one of those patterns that feels hardwired for me when I start to have strong emotions that don’t necessarily feel great.
So maybe next time, instead of asking “Why are you crying?!”, maybe there’s really no question needed. It can be a statement instead. “I’m crying.” And… that’s ok.