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Ever noticed a lot of upset  in the late afternoon before dinner and bedtime? You may have had a wonderful day with the children, a few snafoos, but for the most part, a pleasant day.  Late afternoon, just before dinner and what occurs?  Crying over little things – it might be a broken crayon or big sister sat at the dinner table first…

Crying and tantruming are not behaviors parents are comfortable with in their children. From the time our children were babies we’ve been taught to soothe them as much as possible, to eliminate crying, to fix what is wrong.

I invite you to explore the possibility that by eliminating the release of tension and stress that crying allows our children, that we are ultimately encouraging more whiny, demanding, unsatisfied, frustrated, and angry children.

Think about stress and anxiety for a minute. As a culture do we release our stress and anxiety in healthy ways?  The Biggest Loser is one of America’s favorite shows.  America is facing an obesity epidemic.  So, it’s clear that food is one way we may be dealing with our feelings.  Anti-depressant usage among adults, teens, and children are at an all-time high.  We are seeing more and more high profile celebrities becoming diagnosed as sex addicts.  Alcoholism and illegal and prescription drug use continues to be another way individuals cope with their emotions.

What does all of this have to do with getting your young children to sleep?

Everything.

Understanding how young children express their feelings is important knowledge for you to have as a parent so you know how you can begin creating healthy and safe ways for your child to express happiness, sadness, and even anger.

Author and parent educator, Aletha Solter explains that “there are 4 primary ways in which children cope with stress:

  • talking,
  • symbolic play,
  • laughter,
  • and crying (including raging).”

Young children will use symbolic play, laughter, crying & raging as their initial stress-release tools and as they mature, they will talk more about their feelings.

Certainly, parents encourage their children to laugh and play and talk to release energy and stress.  However, parents are not as comfortable with their child’s crying and raging because there is a false belief that their child will feel better if they would only stop crying.

“Children will not feel better until they have been allowed to cry and rage as much as needed.” ~ Aletha Solter

Okay, I know what you’re thinking here. You’re thinking, “are you crazy? I’m not going to let my kid scream his head off because his crayon broke.”

Whining, frustration, hitting, biting, defiance…hmmm…is it not interesting to think that these negative behaviors are linked to a child’s pent up stress?  Let’s think about this as it applies to your own life.  You’ve had a horrible day, nothing is going right – your computer crashed, your car won’t start, you feel a head cold coming on, then, your 3 year old is joyously running through the house with a full glass of milk and spills it all over the couch.  You hit a wall on a day like this when you just explode – you, in a very real way, have your own tantrum.

Well, young children, even when a day has gone well (from our perspective), are experiencing stresses and anxiety.  They’re learning new things, short separations from their caregiver, over-stimulation from an outing or from media,  experience an undesirable consequence, lack of attention, illness, getting hurt…

You do the best that you can to create a stress-free, simple childhood for your kids but the sources of your child’s stress are not always easy for you to detect. You don’t know until a crying jag or tantrum that a change in routine or a new friend could have caused your child anxiety or stress.

So, a typical time of the day for your child to release these tensions through, specifically crying, is between 4pm-8pm.  Instead of punishing or shaming your child for crying, let it run its course.  Accept the crying as part of the release.  Respond in a way that allows the child to fully release.  Once you’ve met their basic needs, recognize that allowing crying to occur will bring better, less restless sleep.  You want to your child to release feelings through healing tears.  Firm, but loving holding is a great way to help your young child to let go.  It’s much more comforting and nurturing than sending your child to their room or to the corner for a “time-out.”

From Parenting With Presence:

“I prefer to support my nearly three year old daughter to vent her feelings daily, often in the evening before she goes to sleep. When she doesn’t have a cry for three or four days, she starts showing that she has unexpressed feelings. She takes a long time to go to sleep even when she is tired, and moves a lot during the night. During the day she seems agitated, gets easily frustrated, and avoids being close. On the other hand, when she has a cry every day or two, she easily goes to sleep lying beside me when she is tired, is relaxed throughout the night, and happy and alert during the day. She concentrates for long periods and enjoys cuddles and closeness. Time and again the differences reassure me that crying in my arms contributes significantly to her daily well-being.”

Do you have questions about this theory? I will be sharing with you more about it and how it can support your intentional mothering ways.