Most adults feel they have to monitor their behaviour in front of children: no swearing, no angry arguing about the dishwasher and no talking about sex.
But a new study has found that parents shouldn’t bottle up their arguments for a showdown when the kids have gone to bed – that it is actually better for children to see a display of candid emotions.
Researchers from Washington State University said that ‘healthy conflict’ (perhaps best to leave out the profanities and name calling) is preferable to suppressing your emotions, which will only teach children to do the same.
Sara Waters said: “Kids pick up on suppression, but it’s something a lot of parents think is a good thing to do.”
The experiment looked at the stress levels of 109 mothers and fathers by forcing them into two anxiety inducing situations.
First, they had to speak publicly to an audience who gave them negative feedback. Next, they were told to assemble a Lego kit with their children.
The children, aged from 7 to 11-years-old, had instructions on how to build the Lego but weren’t allowed to touch the blocks. The parents had to assemble the Lego but couldn’t look at the instructions. Throughout the experiment one half of the parents were told to hide their emotions while the others were instructed to act naturally. Both the parents and the children were hooked up to sensors measuring heart rates and stress levels.
The team found that parents who were forced to conceal how they were feeling were ‘less positive’ and gave fewer warm gestures saw as eye contact, nodding and smiling to their children. Which of course they picked up on.
In turn those children were then less responsive and positive towards their parents. “It’s like the parents were transmitting their emotions,” says Waters.
She added: “If they [children] feel something negative has happened, and the parents are acting normal and not addressing it, that’s confusing for them. A better way to manage emotion is to acknowledge it.”