I usually have a little ‘debrief’ with the Toddler about special fun activities we have done. Birthday parties, days out, visits to grandparents, toddler group, stay and play at the children’s centre – on our way back to the car I will ask him: “Wasn’t that fun? What did you do at [activity]?”

First, the Toddler will tell me about everything he has eaten. Then he will tell me about all the times he cried. Then, if I’m lucky, he will tell me about some of the fun activities that one would more usually include in a report of a special day. His reflection on a friend’s third birthday party went a bit like this: “Yummy food! And sausages, and chicken, and cakes, and squash. And slide, and fall over, and S cry. And big ball. Little boy take. S cry.” When prompted about some of the fun he’d had, he added: “Bouncy castle! Heeeeeeel leuk! [Looooooots of fun]”

It makes me quite sad to think that his distress at these little mishaps must be so deep that they are in the forefront of his mind when asked about his day. What really gets me is when he tells me about all the times that he didn’t cry. One day we were playing with chalk on the pavement outside our house. Predictably, I had to write all the numbers from one to ten for him. There were some other little boys playing outside, and they came riding past on scooters, one of them accidentally driving over a piece of our chalk. It was completely squashed. The Toddler stared at the broken chalk. I looked at the Toddler, holding my breath.

He didn’t cry. He did exclaim about it a lot. And then he started telling me, over and over: “Little boy squash chalk. S not cry.” I can’t quite describe why this was so heart-breaking: something to do with his awareness that he might have cried, but that it was an achievement not to, even though he wanted to very much.

Long preamble, but my poem today is about how very real and deep toddlers’ feelings are.

Not Cry

Your life is on a different scale
you cry
you wail
when the breadsticks have gone stale
when your plans and projects fail

A snatched toy causes genuine grief
its return
real relief
Childhood sorrow – is the adults’ belief –
may be intense but it’s only brief.

But we are wrong and you recall
that wrong
that fall
the time you almost lost your ball
or I didn’t answer to your call.

Your body may be only small
but your feelings are life-size
your spirits plummet
and they rise
and any grown-up would be wise
to comfort a toddler when he cries
to soar with him whenever he flies
so to win the precious prize:
to be an equal in his eyes.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

Linked up to Prose for Thought.

Prose for Thought


11 thoughts on “Crying

  1. A wonderful poem, Judith. It is so important for us to recognise their huge emotions are as valid as our own. A squashed piece of chalk, a small thing to us, but just huge to them. And that ‘not cry’ is more heart-breaking than the ‘cry’, as it marks a maturity and how the world is teaching him already to hold feelings in.
    Just a lovely poem acknowledging this xx

    • judithkingston says:

      Thank you. And yes, it makes me very sad that he is already starting to feel the pressure not to express his sadness. I should make sure I am not playing a part in that, by inadvertently applauding him being a ‘big boy’ for not crying – don’t think I do that but not sure now…

  2. What a great poem Judith :). It’s something tht we can scoff at or belittle but toddlers feelings are as real as our own. On the same scale but with different life experiences and situations. It’s so important to remember tht their feelings are important too. Thank you for linking to Prose for Thought xx

    • judithkingston says:

      It can be hard to remember when the reason they are crying is that they asked for some apple juice, and you have given them apple juice but put it on the table whereas they wanted to drink it on the sofa! But then you need to take a deep breath and think they are probably having a tough day and were looking for something comforting which you denied them. Just have to keep learning and being ultra-patient, I guess!

  3. I love this – its so easy to dismiss our children’s upsets as minor – but its amazing how deep their feelings run. I have a sensitive little boy who takes everything to heart so I can really identify which your words x

    • judithkingston says:

      It’s quite nice, having a sensitive boy. I think I’d rather that than one that was teflon coated.

  4. Oh wow! Great writing and a lovely post. The thing abotu little ones and their emotions can be quite emotional for us parents. Perhaps S is just learning about emotions and how to express them? I hate to use their word, but perhaps it’s a ‘phase’ to go through? I don’t know, I just know how these things affect us parents! Hugs 🙂

    • judithkingston says:

      I do think he is learning about expressing emotions – he will tell me he is “too sad” to do something, which will swing instantly to “S too happy” when a fun activity is suggested. He also likes commenting on how characters in books are feeling, looking at the illustrations. In “Monkey Puzzle” he always needs to interrupt the story to tell me “slake [snake] cross, Mummy”.

  5. Barbara says:

    Such a beautiful poem and a lovely blog, it is very easy to forget that what distresses a toddler is just as real and hard to deal with as our hurts and sadness.I believe that supporting them in their pain is a great way of recognising the validity of their tears it is OK for boys to cry sometimes! It is sad that part of growing up involves learning not to cry!

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