New study shows emotional cost for parents who put on a happy face for their children

February 23, 2016, Society for Personality and Social Psychology
New study shows emotional cost for parents who put on a happy face for their children

How do parents feel when they regulate their emotional expressions in ways that do not match their genuine feelings? Recent research suggests that parents' attempts to suppress negative and amplify positive emotions during child care can detract from their well-being and high-quality parent-child bonds. The findings were published in the March 2016 edition of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

In two studies, one experimental and the other a 10-day daily experience study, the scientists examined how parental negative emotion suppression and positive emotion amplification may shape parents' personal and relationship well-being. In the studies parents reported experiencing lower authenticity, emotional well-being, relationship quality, and responsiveness to their children's needs when they suppressed and amplified when providing care to their children.

"By examining the regulation of positive and negative emotions in tandem, our results can shed light on the unique effects of using each strategy," said lead author Dr. Bonnie Le, University of Toronto.

In the first experiment with 162 parents that focused on recalling past caregiving experiences before answering a series of questions, the researchers found various emotional costs for the parents.

"For the average parent the findings suggest when they attempt to hide their negative emotion expression and overexpress their positive emotions with their children, it actually comes at a cost: doing so may lead parents to feel worse themselves," said co-author Dr. Emily Impett, University of Toronto Mississauga.

As a follow-up to determine if the difficulty of the situation might influence results, the researchers used a smaller group (118) of parents who provided free response answers to an open-ended question regarding a daily caregiving experience over the course of ten days. While more challenging caregiving led to more examples of suppressing the negative feelings and amplifying their positive feelings, the overall results were similar.

"Parents experienced costs when regulating their emotions in these ways because they felt less authentic, or true to themselves," said Dr. 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 authors acknowledge that while parents may experience costs from engaging in these emotion regulation strategies, it will be important to examine whether children may actually benefit from their parents efforts to hide potentially hurtful emotions and overexpress positive emotions.

"The findings shed light on one condition under which parenting may be associated with more pain than pleasure: when parents express more positive emotions than they genuinely feel and mask the negative emotions that they do feel when caring for their children. Future research should identify more adaptive ways for to regulate their emotions that allow them to feel true to themselves and contribute to the most joyful and optimal experiences of parenting," summarized Dr. Impett.

Explore further: New research reveals mindful parenting reduces child stress

More information: B. M. Le et al. The Costs of Suppressing Negative Emotions and Amplifying Positive Emotions During Parental Caregiving, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (2016). DOI: 10.1177/0146167216629122

Related Stories

New research reveals mindful parenting reduces child stress

January 20, 2016
Mindfulness in parenting significantly reduces children's stress levels, according to a new study by the University of Melbourne's Director of Positive Psychology, Professor Lea Waters.

'Inside Out' provides roadmap for navigating emotions

June 25, 2015
Pixar's new film Inside Out is putting the spotlight on children's emotions. But navigating those emotions and helping children understand them is a real-life challenge. Florida International University psychologist Zoe ...

Young children understand the benefits of positive thinking

December 22, 2011
Even kindergarteners know that thinking positively will make you feel better. And parents' own feelings of optimism may play a role in whether their children understand how thoughts influence emotions.

Early family system types predict children's emotional attention

February 16, 2016
The type of family system during pregnancy and the baby's first year predicts the way the child processes emotional information. The results of a ten-year longitudinal study conducted at the University of Tampere highlight ...

Mixed emotions a sign of emotional depth, not indecision, say researchers

January 21, 2016
Experiencing mixed emotions shows emotional complexity, not indecision, and people living in different parts of the world vary in their ability to distinguish between multiple feelings they're having at once, according to ...

Recommended for you

Schadenfreude sheds light on darker side of humanity

October 23, 2018
Schadenfreude, the sense of pleasure people derive from the misfortune of others, is a familiar feeling to many—perhaps especially during these times of pervasive social media.

Does putting the brakes on outrage bottle up social change?

October 23, 2018
While outrage is often generally considered a hurdle in the path to civil discourse, a team of psychologists suggest outrage—specifically, moral outrage—may have beneficial outcomes, such as inspiring people to take part ...

Is big-city living eroding our nice instinct?

October 23, 2018
A new study by University of Miami psychology researchers of anonymous interactions suggests that humans switch off their automatic inclination to share in dealings with strangers.

Brain training app helps reduce OCD symptoms, study finds

October 23, 2018
A 'brain training' app developed at the University of Cambridge could help people who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) manage their symptoms, which may typically include excessive handwashing and contamination ...

Closing the gender gap in competitiveness with a psychological trick

October 23, 2018
Women are still disadvantaged in society, particularly professionally. They are frequently paid less than men and find it more difficult to have a successful career. One reason for this may be the fact that women are observed ...

First impressions count, new speech research confirms

October 22, 2018
Human beings make similar judgements of the trustworthiness and dominance of an unfamiliar speaker after hearing just a single word, new research shows, suggesting the old saying that 'first impressions count' might well ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.