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I admire Nursery School teachers. For the first few weeks (or up to Thanksgiving so I’m told by an expert), these stoic educators deal with tears…sad tears, angry tears, and perhaps in private, their own tears. They deal with the “contagious floodgates” – one child cries, which starts another crying, and pretty soon half the class is in the depths of despair. They deal with children with red faces and swollen eyes, and with children who have lost control of their bladders because they are sobbing and they just…can’t quite…hold it…. These teachers deserve giant gold stars!

There’s a Nursery School in the church, which my Little Guy attended for JK. Both teachers are incredibly kind! I have never once witnessed them losing patience with even the unruliest child. They remain loving and steadfast in the face of wide eyes and quivering lips.

A few years ago, one of the teachers came up with an “out of the box” solution to all tears…a crying box. A simple square made of masking tape on the floor of the main room with a box of tissues. The box is separate from main group, but studiously supervised, and while the teachers are always careful to acknowledge a child’s feelings (leaving Mom or Dad is traumatic), they don’t tolerate on-going crying for the sake of crying. They’re experienced enough to understand the difference between kids that are sad and kids that are crying because they are angry. And they recognize that some children just need time…to cry. And it works! The kids learn early on that the crying box is a safe place for them to go and let their feelings out. When they’re feeling better, they can return to the group.

Last week, one of the teachers told me about a child who was trying to “keep it together”. They could see the tension building and tears starting to form, and before long this little girl would sprint to the box for a good cry. Then she’d clean herself up, and return to the group. In a little while, the tension built again and she’d sprint to the crying box again.

It may seem unconventional, however:

  • It gives the children a safe place to express their emotions; it is also a space respected by the teachers and other students;
  • It acknowledges the children’s feelings without allowing the feelings to control their behavior;
  • It teaches them that they are in control of their emotions, not the other way around;
  • It teaches them how to gauge their emotions and to judge when they need some time out to regain control; and,
  • It minimizes the “cascade” effect in the classroom (i.e., when one child cries, the others start crying too).

Within a week or two, as the children adjust to separation from caretakers and adjust to routines in the classroom, the crying box becomes obsolete. I think it’s brilliant!

How much more pleasant life would be if there were “boxes” in the community. You’re a road-raging parent in the school parking lot – please step into the box, have your rant, and then join the rest of civilized society peacefully. You have one nerve left and your co-worker is straining it – step into the box and breathe deeply until you are no longer seeing red and then go about your day with a clearer head. Your husband…oh, let’s not go there!

But do you see my point? Sometimes we need to take a “time out”, have a good cry or a spirited rant separate from everyone else, before we head back into the fray. And as adults, I don’t think we always do a good job of it. We think we “can’t afford the time” and instead end up hurting those we love the most, and teaching our children that it’s Ok to act like a “bull in a china shop”! We let our emotions and our circumstances control our behavior…and it’s just not a good thing for anyone.

I can’t draw actual lines on the floor with masking tape (how weird would that look to guests in your home, for example), but I’m going to try to make a mental “crying box”. That way, when I have that check in my spirit that says it’s time to step in the box for a moment or two, I’ll be prepared. And perhaps, someday, my “crying box” will become obsolete too.