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Health & Fitness

Showing emotions in front of children Ok

negative emotions
It is better to express negative emotions in front of children in a healthy way. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Parents usually strive to provide a “perfect” world for young children, with the aim of cushioning them from emotional turmoil.

Whenever they encounter life problems or stressful situations, many tend to suppress their feelings and act normal or disaffected in front of their offspring.

Unknown to such parents, such coping mechanisms could be causing more harm than good to children.

New research from the Washington State University (WSU) shows that it is better to express negative emotions in front of children in a healthy way, than to tamp them down.

"We wanted to look at how we suppress emotions and how that changes the way parents and kids interact," said Sara Waters, a lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development at the Washington State University.

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"Kids pick up on suppression, but it is something a lot of parents think is a good thing to do."

The research, which is published in the Emotion Journal, was conducted among 109 mothers or fathers with their children in San Francisco.

First, the researchers gave the parents a stressful task: public speaking with negative feedback provided by the audience. This put them in a bad mood.

Thereafter, the parents were given an activity (Lego toy project) to complete with their children.

Some were told to suppress their emotions while participating in the activity, while others were advised to act naturally.

"The act of trying to suppress their stress made parents less positive partners during the task. They offered less guidance, but it wasn't just the parents who responded. Those kids were less responsive and positive to their parents. It's almost like the parents were transmitting those emotions," Waters said

According to her, there are dozens of studies, which show that kids are good at picking up “emotional residue” from their parents.

"Kids are good at picking up subtle cues from emotions. If they feel something negative has happened, and the parents are acting normal and not addressing it, that's confusing for them. Those are two conflicting messages being sent."

Instead of suppressing emotions in front of children, Waters suggests that the best course of action is to let kids see a healthy conflict from start to resolution.

"Let them see the whole trajectory. That helps kids learn to regulate their own emotions and solve problems. They see that problems can get resolved. It's best to let the kids know you feel angry.”

Since stress is a constant in life, it is impossible for parents to always protect their children from stress. However, they can help them develop healthy ways to cope with stress and solve everyday problems.

As kids usually look up to their parents, it is important for them to model stress coping mechanisms for children.

These may include calming strategies like meditation and effective breathing exercises to calm the nerves.

Other stress management techniques include sharing problems with trusted friends or relatives, maintaining a positive attitude and having faith that the challenges will eventually come to an end.

Instead of indulging in destructive habits such as alcoholism to “escape” problems, parents should teach their children to embrace constructive activities like partaking in physical exercises and hobbies or interests that can help prevent them from overthinking or worrying too much about stressful situations.

Since the research team managed to get an equal mother-father split for the study, they were able to make further discoveries based on gender differences.

“It turns out that emotional suppression made kids more sensitive to their mothers. The children showed less change in their responses when a father was suppressing his emotions,” stated Waters.

She, however, noted that more research is required to determine the cause of this disparity.

"We just don't have much research on dads because it's really hard to get dads to participate in research projects," Waters said.

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