"Not for the children." It is a centuries-old plea for parents to prevent conflicts and strong negative emotions around their children.
But new research by a Washington-based scientist does not agree with this, showing that it is better to express negative emotions in a healthy way than to top them up.
Sara Waters, an assistant professor at the Department of Human Development at the WSU Vancouver campus, and co-authors from the University of California, Berkley and the University of California, San Francisco, write about their findings in the journal Emotion.
"We wanted to look at how we suppress emotions and how that changes the way parents and children interact," Waters said. "Children get oppressed, but it's something that many parents think it's good to do."
The study was conducted on 109 mothers or fathers with their children in San Francisco. The sample was divided almost equally between mothers and fathers, because the scientists wanted to see if there were differences in the results between genders.
First, the researchers gave the parent a stressful task: speaking in public with negative feedback from the audience. Then the parents got an activity to complete with their children, some being told randomly to suppress their emotions. The others were told that they had to act naturally.
The activity was the same for all couples and worked together to put together a Lego project. However, the children of 7-11 years old received the paper instructions, but were not allowed to touch the Legos. The parents had to put together the project, but could not view the instructions. This forced them to work closely together to succeed.
"We were interested in behavior," Waters said. "We looked at the responsiveness, the heat, the quality of the interactions, how the parent advised the child."
Waters and her co-authors showed a team of undergraduate research assistants from WSU Vancouver to view all 109 video's of the interactions to highlight each case of warmth, guidance and other emotions.
Both the parent and the child were also connected to a variety of sensors, to measure heart rate, stress levels, etc. The authors of the research combined that data with the coding made by the assistants to get their results.
"The action to suppress their stress made parents less positive partners during the Lego task," said Waters. "They offered less guidance, but it was not only the parents who responded, those children were less responsive and positive for their parents, it is almost as if the parents were transferring these emotions."
Because the team did so much effort to get an equal mother / father distribution, they were able to make further discoveries. It turns out that emotional oppression made children more sensitive to their mothers. The children showed less change in their reactions when a father suppressed his emotions, Waters said.
For now there are insufficient data about fathers and their children in emotion studies to be able to say why.
"We simply do not have much research on fathers, because it is very difficult to let fathers participate in research projects," said Waters. "It took a lot of work to get enough fathers in this study."
Earlier research has shown that men are generally more inclined to suppress their emotions. Waters suspects that it is possible that a father suppresses his emotions is not unusual, so it did not have much impact on the children in this study.
Children pick up emotional remnants
Waters said there are dozens of studies showing that children are good at picking up & # 39; emotional residue & # 39; from their parents.
"Children are good at picking up subtle signals of emotions," she said. "If they feel that something negative has happened, and the parents do normally and not to the address, that is confusing for them, these are two contradictory messages that are sent."
Instead of suppressing emotions for your children, Waters suggests that the best way is to show children a healthy conflict, from start to finish.
"Show them the whole process," she said. "That helps children to learn how to regulate their own emotions and solve problems, they see that problems can be solved." It is best to let the children know that you are angry and tell them what you are going to do about it. situation. "
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