- Elizabeth Foster For the AJC
Parents having a bad day shouldn't try to be all smiles for their kids, a new study shows.
By hiding anger, frustration and sadness, and projecting only positive emotions, parents can actually hurt their own emotional health and weaken the bond with their children, researchers at the University of Toronto Mississauga found.
"Parents shouldn't attempt to put on a happy face when they don't actually feel happy. ... When they are not being true to themselves, that actually prevents them from experiencing closeness with their child," Bonnie Le, the lead study author and PhD student at the school's relationships and well-being laboratory, said in a news release.
The study, published in the March edition of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, was done in two parts and surveyed 280 parents.
In the first part, 162 parents were asked to share three caregiving experiences in the past four weeks when they suppressed their anger, frustration or sadness. The parents were 35 years old on average, with children between ages 4 and 12, according to Yahoo! News.
Among the responses: Parents hid their negative emotions when a child misbehaved in public and tried not to act worried when a child was ill. They also said they pretended to be excited to play with their child even when the parent was tired, bored or stressed, according to the news release.
"For the average parent, the findings suggest when they attempt to hide their negative emotion expression and overexpress their positive emotions with their children, it actually comes at a cost: Doing so may lead parents to feel worse about themselves," associate professor of psychology and study co-author Emily Impett told Yahoo! News.
In the second part of the study, 118 parents filled out surveys for 10 days about their daily parenting experiences.
Questions included: "How satisfied did you feel with your relationship with your child in general today?" "How much conflict did you have with your child in general today?" and "To what extent do you think you met your children's needs in this situation?"
The results were similar to the first part of the experiment: Faking positive emotions tended to hurt a parent's emotional health and weakened the connection with their children.
"They also felt a lower quality of bond with their child, and felt less satisfied with that bond," Le told Yahoo! News. "They felt less able to respond to their child's needs."