Search icon


12th Jul 2022

‘Boys don’t cry’ as a phrase is so harmful – here’s why I am raising a crier


I am a crier.

I cry at happy movies and sad movies. I cry at babies being born and children singing Christmas carols and I cry in empathy with people. I cry at moving books and glorious sunsets and every time I set foot into an airport arrivals hall and see families and friends reunite after being apart.

And not only do I cry, but I firmly believe that crying is all sort of good for us. And that not crying when you feel like crying is actually really, really harmful.

Which is why I have a major problem with the notion that men – or boys even – should not cry.

My eight-year-old boy was recently upset after having taken a ball to the face during a soccer match. He was sitting on the grass beside me, and I stroked his back as he cried a few tears and refused to go back on the pitch. Another parent walked over to see how he was doing – and – probably thinking it would be helpful – uttered the words: ‘Ah, come on now – get back out there – sure big boys don’t cry.’

Needless to say, I calmly informed him that boys do indeed cry – and that I would be far more concerned if he took a ball to the face and did not cry.

Then I told him to please leave as I comforted my little boy – who, of course, was ready to play again in no time once his tears had dried and he had been met with kindness and compassion when he felt sad – instead of being told to ‘man up’ and ignore his feelings.

The power of words

I am under no circumstances a perfect parent – nobody is – but what I am, is a firm believer in the power of words – and how we use them to raise our children. Because words can make or break things. Relationships, careers – even people.

And when it comes to feelings – and showing children that expressing their feelings is OK – in fact, encouraged – words become even more powerful.

Research has shown us that the words “don’t cry” can be emotionally damaging to children.

Because boys do cry, girls too – and they should. We all should.

Why? Because crying is healthy and normal and actually all sorts of healthy for us.

Crying has some major health benefits

Emotional crying (as opposed to tears from chopping onions) provides a healthy way for the body to process intense stress and/or emotions. According to the Natural Parents Magazine, researchers have discovered that the chemical makeup of these tears is different from non-emotional tears.

Emotional tears actually contain:

    • Stress hormones (one of which is cortisol)
    • Prolactin
    • Natural painkiller (leucine encephalin)
    • Manganese, which is a natural mood regulator

    This chemical makeup of real tears is exactly why you feel better after a good cry. As the stress hormone leaves the body, the mental attitude frequently improves, and the crier feels relieved. When we tell boys not to cry, we are cutting off a healthy way for them to process emotions. As the stress hormones build up without release, it sets the stage for rage, anger, and depression.

    Crying can actually prevent mental illness

    This benefit of crying may seem a bit alarmist at first read; however, Harvard professor William Pollack presented his research at a conference on youth violence prevention hosted by the New York Academy of Sciences.  Pollack presented his case that the anger and disconnect of young boys are at the heart of the increasing diagnoses of ADHD and depression.

    The idea that boys should be “tough” and independent (too early) often causes an emotional clog, which can lead to depression, anger, and rage. The solution? Teach your boys how to handle emotions and how to cry. Boys don’t need to “toughen up”. They don’t need to stuff their emotions under a rug.

    To those fearful of perpetuating the tea cup generation: Experiencing emotions does not create the tea cup generation. Experiencing emotions is a part of what sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. When we embrace our emotions and learn to regulate them, life has a new sweetness to it. So the next time, your little boy cries, fight the urge to say “Don’t cry.”