‘Happy face’ for children can make parents feel worse, says research
Although parents may believe they are doing the right thing by hiding negative emotions from their children, new research suggests suppressing negative emotions in front of children and putting on a “happy face” can actually leave parents feeling worse and have a negative effect on their well-being and parent-child bonds.
In the first of two studies a team of researchers at the University of Toronto asked 162 parents to think about past experiences caring for children where they suppressed negative emotions and over-expressed positive ones, before asking them a series of questions on their experience.
The researchers found that over-expressing their positive emotions and hiding the negatives ones in front of the children could come at a cost for the parents, actually leaving some parents feeling worse.
In their second study, the team used a sample of 118 participants and asked them open-ended questions on a daily caregiving experience over the course of a 10-day period.
The results of this study showed that the more challenging the caregiving experience, the more cases there were of parents hiding their negative feelings and over-expressing their positive feelings in front of children.
The detrimental effect on parents was also the same, with parents reporting in both studies a decrease in emotional well-being, relationship quality and responsiveness to their children’s needs, as well as feelings of lower authenticity, when they suppressed their true negative emotions in front of their children and instead expressed more positive, but false, emotions.
“Parents experienced costs when regulating their emotions in these ways because they felt less authentic, or true to themselves,” said lead author Dr Bonnie Le.
“It is important to note that amplifying positive emotions was relatively more costly to engage in, indicating that controlling emotions in ways that may seem beneficial in the context of caring for children can come at a cost.”
The researchers acknowledge that although parents may incur costs to their well-being as a result of hiding their true emotions, further research would be useful to see if children actually benefit from parents’ efforts to hide negative emotions and over-express the positive ones.
“Future research should identify more adaptive ways for parents to regulate their emotions that allow them to feel true to themselves and contribute to the most joyful and optimal experiences of parenting,” said one of the study’s co-authors Dr Emily Impett.
The findings were published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.