Parents Need to Keep Emotions on Even Keel

Article excerpt

Byline: Ken Potts

"Dad, is this you when you're excited?"

OK, I know I'm a bit "laid back," but I didn't realize that I was so emotionally opaque to my daughter that she didn't even know when I was excited. I guess I needed to rethink my parenting strategy a bit.

Actually, figuring out when and how to show our emotion to our children is one of the more challenging parts of being a parent. On one hand, children need some protection from their parents' emotional up and downs. On the other, they also need to learn about the role of emotions in relationships. Balancing these two needs requires us to consider five distinct dynamics:

1) Our children's developmental stage. Children can handle different things at different points as they mature. A 3-year-old might be downright frightened when he sees his mother jump for joy. A 13-year-old will probably respond with a bemused smile. An 8- year-old might cringe with anxiety when her dad let's out a few expletives at the driver who just cut him off. A 19-year-old will likely take it all in stride. As adults, we process how other people express their emotions through a cognitive filter that usually allows us to put them in the proper perspective. Children have neither the cognitive development nor the experience to do this. Children need for their parents to filter their own raw emotional energy, positive and negative, so that its expression does not overwhelm them. When we are in doubt as to how much of our emotional output our kids can handle, it's always better to err on the cautious side.

2) Our children's personalities. Each of our children is different. This includes how they deal with emotions, their own and other's. Some kids seem to have pretty thick skins when it comes to feelings. They may even enjoy emotions that are expressed with a good deal of energy. Other kids are more sensitive and find energetic emotional expression to be a bit disconcerting. Again, because parents are so important in the lives of their children, we especially need to tailor our own expression of feelings to the unique personalities of each of our children.

3) Our children's current situation. What's going on in our children's lives at any particular time plays a role in how they interpret and respond to other's emotions. If they are down in the dumps for some reason, they may misinterpret a parent's excitement or joy as insensitivity to their feelings and withdraw in response. If they are having a rough time making new friends, they may see any frustration or anger expressed by parents as yet more rejection and simply disintegrate into tears. …