Today’s big idea comes from my teenage daughter, Lilli. I told her I was wondering what I should cover on the podcast and I asked her if there were any situations where she wasn’t sure how to be a better person. She didn’t have to think long to come up with, what do you say to someone who’s crying. Which, I mean, 13 year old girls and their hormones mean there are lots of opportunities for tears, am I right? But tears definitely aren’t only for adolescent girls. We will all be in a situation where we’re talking to someone who is sad. So let’s talk about how to be there for them.
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This first step is nearly always to validate them
That lets them know that a) you’re on their side and they are safe and b) that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with crying. To do it, you can say, this is hard. Or, I get why you’re feeling this way.
It’s also helpful to ask a question that will get them to vocalize what’s troubling them. Because that will help them raise their awareness of what’s really going on and also help them get it out. Ask something simple, like, “What happened?” Or “What’s the matter?” Or “What’s going on?” Of course your tone is so important here. Keep it gentle and inquisitive.
If they say sorry for crying–which is a habitual response–reassure them that it’s OK to cry. There’s no need to apologize.
You really can say it will get better and not be lying. Because in those moments of tears things often feel hopeless, and the truth is, everything changes. And crying does make you feel better. It’s not a platitude.
And then you can ask them if they’d like a hug
You don’t need to be particularly close to this person for that to be comforting. Once, after a good friend of mine from high school died in his early 40s, I was dropping my son off at daycare. I was headed back out to the car when one of the women who worked there was heading in. She asked me how I was and I just started bawling–grief can fall on you like a ton of bricks that way. And even though I didn’t know her particularly well she asked if I’d like a hug and I nodded yes and just that moment of knowing someone else was there really helped. And if they say no, that’s totally cool too.
Just remember that it’s not your job to make things better for them. It can be hard to resist the urge to want to fix things, but that’s really not your role—your job is to let her know you’re there, you care, and you’re willing to listen. In other words, bear witness to her struggles.
Daily Tiny Assignment
Your tiny assignment is to think about a time you cried in front of someone else and remember what they said or did that helped. I’m guessing that they were just there, and made you feel safe to feel how you felt. Remembering a time when you were comforted by someone else will help you be that comfort to someone else when the need arises.
Come back tomorrow when we’re talking about how to apologize when, in the immortal words of Elton John, sorry seems to be the hardest word.