I have chosen not to work with children or adolescents mainly because I am unable to deal with outbursts of sudden and/or extreme emotions which are common in these age groups.
For instance, I am not sure how to approach a toddler who is currently throwing a tantrum; I believe that discussing this calmly has little effect, and violence is no longer a legal option.
Similarly, I find it difficult to relate to the average teen’s difficult emotional state which varies on a spectrum from clinically depressed to unable to concentrate due to intense sexual arousal. I too was a teenager, and I certainly don’t want to relive this disturbing experience over and over.
So I chose to work with adults, to avoid this kind of situation. This is not to say that adults don’t need a good cry on occasion, I too enjoy a good cry once in a blue moon, but I like to do this in the privacy of my own home, with the kind of ambience required and with all the necessary tissues such a leisure time activity may require.
However, it has become painfully obvious that adults, from time to time, feel the need to cry in front of other adults in social situations that are not necessarily the best time to do so. Like in the middle of the day, in a public space, thus demanding that someone react to this behaviour.
Now, what to do? Do I need to act empathetic and give hugs, or is this a time to show tough love?
What is one to say? Should I be giving my opinion in the form of advice? Should I say something to describe the situation, such as “I understand that this is upsetting you.” Or can it be a simple “There, there.”?
How many tissues are appropriate? One doesn’t want to limit the crying by not offering enough, yet one does equally not want to encourage prolonging this interaction by providing tissues plentifully.
Well, here is my advice.
- A hug is not always the best reaction. It can make things worse. The provision of a tissue shows both acknowledgement of the situation and caring understanding while maintaining a healthy distance from all the bodily fluids that have just come into full flow
- If you say nothing at all, it will become awkward and embarrassing for the crying person. It is good to say things like “it must be awful” or “I understand”, even if the situation neither awful nor understandable in reality.
- A good strategy is to start with one tissue, while keeping the rest of the pack within visible reach, as to not cut the crying person short, and handing fresh ones out as a tissue visibly becomes insufficient.
With these nuggets of wisdom, you are all set for the next emotional breakdown!