6 Oct 2016

Parenting: When is it okay for kids to cry?

From Nine To Noon, 11:28 am on 6 October 2016

"Please parents let's not create a generation of girls that have the belief that if they cry Mummy will fix it" wrote Rhiannon Johnson in her Facebook post Is it okay to cry?

After 15 years teaching dance in Victoria, Rhiannon knows a thing or two about managing children's (and parents') expectations.

What exactly did you post on Facebook?

Rhiannon Johnson: It wasn’t even really intended to be an article. It was just a post explaining to parents what had been going on in classes. We’d just gone into concert preparation, and that is when children need to attend classes and make sure they’re working hard, and for four weeks in a row we had tears because people were taken out of minor sections of the routine because they weren’t picking it up or for whatever reason. Small reasons, but we had tears. I was actually quite shocked.

The group I’m looking at with the tears is 8 to 12 years old. I’m now looking at my 17 year old group and I’m thinking ‘You guys never cried’. If you were taken out of a part you didn’t get upset about it. You just said ‘I’m struggling with that bit, Rhiannon. Thanks for taking me out of it’ and that was it. Or they’d say ‘If I school to school and I practise for such-and-such and I get it, can I have another try?’ I’d say ‘Of course. Go ahead.’ We’d always talk about it and there wasn’t any problems chatting to them, even when they were eight and nine. But nowadays it seems to be – quickly, run to Mum – ‘I’ve been taken out of the concert!'. And it’s drama and drama, which is… not the case.

And it’s within the last decade or so that you’ve noticed such a change?

Rhiannon Johnson: It is. I’m looking at my 17 year old class – average age 17 – and comparing them to when they were 8 to 12, and it just never happened. I never once had a parent say to me ‘Can I pay for some extra privates so we can try and get her back into that section?’ or whatever. The student would talk to me. But that’s not the case at the moment. I wrote the article so that parents knew what we expected, what I expected.

What reaction would you get from the parents when someone was upset this way? Would the parents wade in, as well?

Rhiannon Johnson: At the moment it’s closed rehearsal so parents aren’t in the room, they can’t see what’s going on. The parents that have been at the school for a while their reaction is usually ‘Suck it up, get it right, speak to the teacher’. From the new parents, the ones who haven’t been around very long, I’m getting the reaction ‘What’s going on? She’s out of the concert. She’s really upset.’ I’m like ‘She’s not out of the concert, she’s out of a small section of the dance.’

What happened when you posted the Facebook post? What was the response you got?

Rhiannon Johnson: The response from the parents at my school was the first response I got – and that was probably all I expected to get – was ‘Yes, Rhiannon. I’m so glad that we’ve got you putting these values into our girls’ and that kind of thing. And then I started getting shares and comments from people all over the world. I was really shocked, and also I guess I felt good that I was able to put into words something that a lot of people were wanting to be able to put into words.

Because I certainly don’t think of myself as an author – I don’t usually write anything. If I’d known so many people all over the world were going to read it, I perhaps would have gone over my grammar. I was really surprised. So many people were ‘Amen, thank you. Thank you for putting this into words for me’. I’m glad that I was able to do that, but it was still a big shock.

How would you sum up what you’re seeing that’s slightly worrying you?

Rhiannon Johnson: I can only talk about dancing, that’s all I know about. But I’m seeing children, rather than speak for themselves and be confident in themselves, they’re going to their parents to do that for them. So that, I think, is concerning because growing up I would have always talked to the teacher myself. I wouldn’t have gone home to my mum and said ‘I didn’t get a role. I didn’t get this or that. Can you please deal with it?’ That didn’t happen. I dealt with it myself.

That just seemed normal to me but it doesn’t seem normal to kids nowadays. They go and talk to their parent first, and their parent has to speak for them. I think an 8 to 12 year old should be able to speak for themselves.

Sometimes kids will cry in what circumstances do you expect that and that’s in line with what you’ve always seen?

Rhiannon Johnson: Girls can cry for any reason because there’s always hormones. I’ve seen so many students over the years get emotional in a routine because they get so into it they just cry at the end of it. And that’s okay, that’s fine. And it’s okay if you’ve hurt yourself or you’re really happy with yourself. But to cry because your friend gets a bigger role than you and you’re disappointed or you’re jealous, that’s not a good reason to cry.

I think that girls should be… I’m saying 'girls' and I shouldn’t just be saying 'girls', but the article was written about girls because that’s who I was having an issue with. We’ve had lots of boys through the school as well, but never have I had a boy cry, which is perhaps an interesting fact and maybe something else I could write an article about one day.

I think the girls need to be proud of one another and support one another. If your friend is not doing well perhaps  say to them ‘Do you want to come over on the weekend and I’ll help you with that choreography so that you’ve got it next week?

It’s the 8 to 12s where you see a change?

Rhiannon Johnson: Often teenage girls, they can’t help it, they just cry. I’ll say to them, ‘I was quite an emotional girl and I understand I expect people to cry. But why are you crying? Are you crying because you didn’t get the biggest part? You could be saying to your friend ‘You did so well. I’m so happy you got the front row. That was really great’.

Are you seeing something in what the parents are doing and saying that you think is a factor in this? Do you see parents sometimes try and intervene and ‘fix’ things?

Rhiannon Johnson: Yes, we definitely do. ‘How many more private lessons could I pay for to get them back into that part?’ And it may just be that we don’t need that many people in that part. It doesn’t matter how many extra lessons you do. There’s not always a way that you can fix it.

Usually, though, once I have explained things to parents they get it. And they say next time ‘We’ll do it this way, we’ll talk about this way’. But I’m sure there’s probably lots of scenarios where that doesn’t happen.

Is there a healthy amount of self-reliance and resilience that you’re worried these kids are missing out on?

Yeah, that’s right. You don’t get a job at McDonald's and get told your hours have been cut and say ‘Mum, can you please call?’ You have to deal with it yourself. You can’t have your mum call. You’ve got to know how to deal with it. And if you’re not learning those skills from the younger ages, how are you going to know what to do when you’re 16, 17, having to do it yourself?

*This interview has been condensed and edited.