By Kathryn Jones, The Peaceful Parenting Coach

As a parenting coach I am often asked is it OK to cry in front of my kids and is it harming them if I do?

Showing emotions in front of our children can be a confusing topic. Parenting is hard and we often get emotional when we are dealing with the pressures of parenting. We are also human and we feel. External pressures and life events can also cause us to feel emotional and being a parent we don’t get the option of just signing off and taking the time we need to get through it because we have children to care for. There is also the added pressure of society to be the ideal, perfect, calm parent ALL THE TIME!

So is it harmful to show our feelings and cry in front of our children when life is feeling hard for us?

The answer is yes and no!

So when is it harmful:

  • When our emotions get in the way of us parenting our children from a peaceful place inside and result in us being hard on our children.
  • When our children believe that the reason for our emotional state is their fault.
  • When we are unable to meet our children’s needs physically or emotionally because of our own emotional condition.

Children are acutely sensitive to their parent’s feelings. Their brains are designed to constantly tune into what is happening with the adults in their life. So there is no hiding how we feel from our children, even if we think we are. This means that it is important for us to be conscious of how we are reacting around our children when we are going through something emotional.

Being hard on our kids

When we are upset our children pick it up and especially for younger children this can be unsettling for them. As a result their behaviour may go off track and they become more difficult to handle. (Ever noticed how everyone seems to have a bad day in the family when you have a bad day?)

Our response to our children is often impatient and harsh when we see the off track behaviour as being difficult, manipulative or naughty. Our upset feelings make it hard for us to see that our children are actually just telling us that they feel insecure and concerned when they sense that we are not doing so well ourselves. We are their security and stability that they rely on for the their world to be OK. When we then become hard on them because of their behaviour we are in fact harming our child. In a sense it is sending them the message that their feelings are not important and that we will not be there for them when they need us too.

By showing our children warm, loving attention (hard to do at that moment I know), it reminds our children that they are important and everything is OK in their world, even if we aren’t in the best shape. Often the off track behaviour will resolve itself once the children feel reconnected with us.

Children believing it is their fault

There are two ways in which our children get the impression that our emotional struggles are their fault.

  1. When we don’t explain (at a level they will understand for their age) that we are upset because of something else that is going on then they can take our feelings on board and believe that it was their fault. They don’t necessarily need a full explanation about why we are upset, but something to tell them that it isn’t about them, for instance “I am a bit upset about something at the moment” indicates to the child that your behaviour isn’t about them.
  2. The other way is the language we use that sets children up to accept that they are responsible for our feelings. Language like:“You make me really unhappy when you do that”
    “I am really happy that you did so well in your test”
    “You are doing my head in, just do as you’re told”
    “You are making me really mad right now”

When we are unable to meet our children’s needs

Allowing our feelings to get in the way of us caring for our children properly both physically and emotionally is neglecting our responsibility to our children. There have been numerous studies that have shown that children have long-term struggles in life relating to being neglected as a children.

When it is OK

Children also need to see us model healthy approaches to our emotions. It is OK for our children to know we are going through a tough time. As I have already said, they already know intuitively that something isn’t OK in our world. The important points are to make sure they are not taking on the responsibility of our feelings and we are not behaving towards them in an unjust manner because of how we feel.

What can you do?

It is our responsibility to manage our own emotional wellbeing. It is important that we put in place the support structures we need as well as seek out help when we are finding it too hard to juggle the important work of parenting and our own feelings.

90% of the success in parenting is being in a peaceful place inside. In other words knowing how to look after yourself emotionally first, then looking after everyone else. So if you are going to set limits around the behaviour of your children then you first look after your own feelings so that the way in which you interact with them is genuinely peaceful, patient and promotes the parent-child connection that is integral to their emotional and intellectual development.

Just like you would exercise regularly to have good physical wellbeing, we also need to put into practise regular activities that promote our emotional wellbeing.

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