Are there some feelings you should never share with your child? Because some days are just more emotional than others. After a difficult week at work you might feel like crying in the toilet. After an argument with your husband, you might feel like slamming the door. You’re not a robot. Feelings happen.
Many parents worry that that showing negative emotions in front of their children will make them suffer. Maybe the child will think the problem is their fault? Or they’ll echo your emotions and go into a tailspin of negativity? There is some basis to this fear, because “emotional contagion” is real. For example, if your mother was scared of lizards it’s unlikely you will feel entirely comfortable around chi chak lizards.
On the other hand, life happens. Sometimes you do have to share bad news. It might be a job retrenchment, or a health scare, or a mental health issue you want to fix. Past generations of parents may have kept such facts and feelings to themselves, but it’s different now. Today, we feel we should “be real” with our children. We even wonder if seeing us struggle with our moods will actually help our kids? When they see us overcome our doubts, maybe it will help them learn how to deal with their own moods?
While the topic is complex, some answers are emerging from research. While it’s true that there are some feelings you should avoid sharing with your children, you don’t have to hide them all. Kids don’t need to know the everything about your conflicts at work, or your tricky relationship with your in-laws, but they can cope with knowing you have emotions. Th secret is how you reveal those emotions.
To help you tread that fine line between keeping your children informed, and too much information, here are the feelings you should never overshare with your child, even if you are close:
When you end your work day on a sour note, it’s easy to let your emotions burst over the first person you see. However, if that person is your child, you might want to bite your tongue.
Ranting about your job can give them the impression that work is not fun. And we get it, most of the time, work isn’t fun, but it’s important that your kid doesn’t grow up dreading becoming an adult. So if you seem overwhelmed, they’ll worry about what the future holds.
But you don’t have to hide your feelings entirely. For one thing, it doesn’t work very well—When you just squash your emotions it increases your blood pressure and makes you feel switched off from what’s happening around you. Recent research shows that when parents feel negative emotions (like anger or resentment) and try to hide them, they are less responsive to their kids, and the relationship suffers.
So the trick is not pretending – it is actively trying to de-stress. Go for a short walk around the block if you can. Even a few breathing exercises can help.
If your still frazzled, briefly say “I’m annoyed with work. But it’s not about you. Don’t worry, ” and leave it at that.
If there is one thing you definitely should not share with your kid, it’s the inevitable relationship road bumps that happen in every marriage. Even if you are right to be annoyed with your spouse, it’s tough for kids to hear that their beloved parents are not a united unit. Kids really suffer when they’re used as weapons in a fight between adults.
For one thing, children live in the moment, so they can’t often tell this is just a passing squabble. To them, every argument is potentially the end of the world. They may even feel they have to take sides. And how can a child decide if they love daddy or mummy more?
So should you ever tell your children about your marital problems?
Yes, if the conflict has been going on for a period of time and it is disrupting the marriage in ways that are obvious to the children. For example, you are sleeping in separate rooms. Or one parent is moving out.
Again, it’s about putting the child first. Imagine the shock of coming home from playschool one day thinking everything is fine… only to find one parent has just gone.
Even then, young children don’t need all the details. Keep the discussion general and focus on their feelings, not yours. For example: “Mummy and daddy are having trouble getting along. So we are going to sleep in separate rooms for a little so we can sort it out. It’s no one’s fault. We want to you to keep playing and having fun. We love you.”
If you are in a tight spot financially, it’s most likely that you and your partner are both worried about it, so there’s no need to add your kid into that mix.
There’s no need to burden them with all the details of your credit card debt. Very young children feel like millionaires when they have two dollars, so hearing that you owe thousands of dollars is too frightening. They may decide never to spend any money ever again.
Having said all this, you do not have to continue buying them everything they want, if you can’t afford it. The key here is to not to hide reality, it’s to help them feel they still have some control over that reality.
So it can be a good time to teach them the importance of sticking to a budget, comparison shopping and properly thinking through purchases. Give them the general outline of the situation and try to make it a game; “We’re going to be saving money from now on. You’re so smart, I know you can help me with this. Shall we decide together which vegetables we’ll buy this week?”
We get it: sometimes, just because you love your spouse, it doesn’t mean you love (or even like) their parents. However, they are your child’s grandparents. Your kid may love them – or at least really enjoy being with them. So try not to ruin their time together.
It can be especially tough if you feel your in-laws are using your child to get at you. But have faith in your parenting skills and your kids – they won’t be turned against you so easily.
Next time your child comes home with some mad idea “planted” by your in laws, keep your reply lighthearted. Don’t argue, just discuss. For example: “So ah ma says we should stay at home more? Interesting! But how would you feel if we didn’t go to the playground?”
Children see their parents as all-knowing beings. They believe you are a superheroes who can overcome anything. It makes them feel safe, and it gives them a role model to copy in life.
So sharing your deep and darkest feelings about yourself is not a good move. Your child isn’t your therapist, and they may not be able to handle such negative thoughts and emotions.
But you don’t have to pretend to be perfect. Instead, you can share about tough moments in your life, but stress how you overcame that time. Maybe you learnt something useful? Show your kids that even when things get black, there is still hope.
This can be a tricky topic. While it’s important that your child eats healthily and maintains a good diet, they don’t need to know about your weight loss journey, or your battles with your baby belly.
It teaches them that there is a social standard for beauty that they should follow. At the end of the day, they will learn about these concepts anyway (thank you Instagram), so give them a solid foundation by teaching them how to love themselves and their bodies.
Even if you have mixed feelings about your looks, focus on the positive when you are around your kids. Start by sharing a part of your body you really like – or at least, appreciate. For example, “I love how strong my hands are. I like knitting with them.”
And remember, your child thinks you are a beautiful, magical person. They love looking like you.
There is no harm in letting your child know you are stressed, but dumping all the million and one reasons on them is too overwhelming. They’ll either start to panic or walk on eggshells around you.
Resist the urge to tell them all your problems. Just focus on what they can do to help, specifically. “Mummy’s a bit stressed now. I just need 10 minutes to myself, then I’ll be okay.”
You can find free therapy in Singapore in these places:
- Samaritans of Singapore, 24/7 helpline 1800 221 4444
- Family Service Centers
- Polyclinic doctors can also refer you to a mental health specialist.
This story originally appeared in Young Parents. Additional reporting by Terri Kue