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Protecting or Damaging Your Children?

Content warning: This article discusses topics of mental health which could be distressing to some readers.

Carers that hide their feelings from their children.

distressed woman

"Not in front of the kids." Its an age-old plea for parents to not show conflict whilst their children are present.

From random outburst of crying to leaving the house in rage, it is expected for parents to hide their feelings. This is because they are culturally mandated to maintain composure and not show any negative feelings to their children. Being the people that children rely on most, makes them feel like they always have to be strong. Therefore, not letting their children see them getting emotional is to shield them from suffering from stress, potential of feeling unsettled or unsafe.

Parents are taught to speak to their children in a way that prioritizes their well-being and self-esteem and deprioritise their own. On the other hand, there is the idea to be authentic with children as they will benefit from watching a parent struggle and eventually learn to cope with that negative emotion like others.

The danger of suppression

Suppression of emotion is when you hide the outward signs of an emotion and choose not to acknowledge it. In doing so, failing to act on them. This can cause individuals to release their feelings and built-up emotions on innocent people. You're more likely to experience mood swings and unexplained sadness and mild depression. Furthermore, by regularly ignoring such emotions you can become used to their presence but you are no longer able to detect them and therefore become emotionally numb.

The suppression of negative emotions was investigated by Le and Impett (2016). They found that parents who reported higher levels of emotional distress experienced more psychological distress and lower life satisfaction. Further finding that specifically the suppression of negative emotions made them more likely to report symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Not only does this become detrimental to the carer, but it can also impact the child and carer interactions. As the suppression of emotions does generally appear to be taxing and effortful, which can cause some to become emotionless and for many to experience chronic stress, due to it being mentally demanding. Research has shown that many illnesses have psychological reasons that are directly or indirectly related to stress. therefore, the connection between the carer and child can become effected as the parent often appears unresponsive distracted and disinterested.

It's been demonstrated by the “still face” experiments how tuned in to the dynamics young infants are with the interactions with them and their carer. This study shows that if these interactions decrease the babies can find it upsetting. The studies involved the parents holding a flat unresponsive expression for a brief period. Results showed it was a reliable stress inducer even for very young infants they showed signs of discomfort with a not expressive parent.

In terms of the impacts of the relationship, Le and Impett(2016) also found parents who engaged in emotional suppression had more negative interactions with their children, showing that this type of parental caregiving can be emotionally costly for parents and have negative consequences for both the parents well-being and the quality of parent child interactions.

Long-term impact on children

By the carer hiding their negative emotions it means the child grows up not being exposed to those feelings and thoughts which could lead to a snowball effect of mental health issues. As they have learnt that when they eventually experience negative emotions such as stress and anxiety to also bottle up their emotions and not communicate or seek help. These feelings build up and intensify overtime. It would eventually be expressed as anger or aggression outbursts.

Rather children should be taught to acknowledge their feelings and appropriately deal with them, like taking actions to fix what went wrong. However, if that is not possible then expressing your emotions in some way is a good option.


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