Movies that make my six year old cry: Wreck it Ralph, Up, Real Steal, Home Alone, Transformers, any Toy Story movie, Despicable Me, How to Train Your Dragon, and Return of the Jedi (But, Mom… Why did Luke’s daddy have to die??!??) Add to that… any mention of the Muppet Movie makes Jalen well up. In addition, some episodes of Pokemon and Ninjago, a few commercial featuring horses and puppies, the closing credits of Legend of Zelda, and the song Wrecking Ball.
J’s just a sensitive soul. Has been since the day he was born. From the earliest moments, a harsh word would make him reach for his eyes and try to push the tears back in. We’re not talking wailing crying here, or temper tantrums, but soul rending, quiet, sad tears.
At the outset, this would drive us crazy. “Come on J, toughen up!” “Don’t be such a baby!” “Hold it together, kid!” But, we rapidly learned this parenting strategy was not working.
By no means is Jalen an unhappy child. Quite the opposite, he’s one of the happiest, funniest kids I know. He loves people and loves talking and loves playing and making jokes. But, Jalen has big feelings. Jalen doesn’t cry like a baby, he doesn’t cry because he’s not tough, it’s quite the opposite.
Jalen cries “grown up tears.” Jalen cries for loss, regret, true friendship, love, family, raw human emotion. He cries when friends are mean to each other, or when someone loses a loved one. He understands the feelings behind these actions and is mature enough to know what is heartbreaking.
How do you embrace the emotions of a sensitive little boy? Boys are supposed to be hard. Boys aren’t supposed to cry. How do we equip our child to have healthy feelings and good self-control?
More recently, we’ve tried something new. We’re teaching Jalen to not be embarrassed by his tears. To know that it’s safe to cry around family and friends. To know that people will appreciate his sensitivity and compassion. To tell him that some day he will be a great Daddy, because he will understand his child’s feelings.
But, we’re also teaching him when it’s appropriate to weep. And when it’s not. How to understand what triggers the tears, and how to expect them and prepare for the emotion. How to explain to grown ups why he’s crying without feeling embarrassed. And how to hold in the tears when it’s not the right time.
This has been good for J. He’s learned to laugh about his sensitivity, and hold it together when he needs to. When I heard they showed Wreck It Ralph in his K2 classroom, I was concerned. but then J beamed at me and said, “And, Mom, I made it through the whole thing!!!” And, he’s able to tell us when enough is enough, or sit through the tough parts with tears in his eyes. He’s aware enough to know that he’s not ready for E.T., and relishes sitting on my lap and bawling together through Toy Story 3. He knows how to talk about his feelings, and put words to his emotions and he’s able to come out the other side cleansed and happy.
As a grown woman, this is all so fascinating to me. I’m a woman who keeps my emotions under wraps, who prides herself on holding it together. And this sweet little boy has taught me so much about emotions. He’s taught me how to embrace your feelings, how to have a good cry, and how tears don’t show weakness but tremendous strength and compassion.