Let children see a healthy conflict, it can help them cope with negative emotions, claims study

Parent conflicts

According to a new research showing conflict and negative emotions in front of children is in fact healthy. Expressing a healthy conflict, from start to resolution in front of children can help tamp the negative expressions down.

A research published by the journal of emotion was conducted on 109 mothers/fathers with their children in San Francisco. The sample was split evenly between the parents to understand differences in results because of the gender variable if any.

“We wanted to look at how we suppress emotions and how that changes the way parents and kids interact. Kids pick up on suppression, but it’s something a lot of parents think is a good thing to do,” said study author Sara Waters.
Initially, parents were given the task: public speaking with negative feedback by the audience. After which, an activity to compete with their children was assigned to them. Randomly some parents were asked to suppress their emotions.

To create a Lego project, the activity was kept the same for all the pairs. Kids, ages 7-11, received the paper instructions but weren’t allowed to touch them. The parents had to assemble the project without looking at the instructions hence ensuring a collective effort to succeed.

“We were interested in behaviors. We looked at the responsiveness, warmth, quality of the interactions, how the parent provided guidance for the child,” said waters.
Waters and her co-authors undergraduate team of research assistants watched all 109 videos of interactions to make note of every instance of warmth, guidance, and other emotions. To measure heart rate, stress levels, etc. both the parents and the child were hooked up to a variety of sensors. The data was combined to produce the results.

“The act of trying to suppress their stress made parents less positive partners during the lego task. They offered less guidance, but it wasn’t just the parents who responded. Those kids were less responsive and positive to their parents. It’s almost like the parents were transmitting those emotions,” added waters.
As per the researches, emotional suppression made kids more sensitive to their mothers, whereas showed no major changes in their responses when a father suppressed his emotions.  Waters suspects that fathers suppressing their emotions isn’t unusual hence doesn’t leave much of an impact on the kids.

“kids are good at picking up subtle cues from emotions. If they feel something negative has happened, and the parents are acting normal and not addressing it, that’s confusing for them. Those are two conflicting messages being sent,” said waters.

According to developmental psychologists conflicts are a normal part of everyday experience. Not the fight but how the conflict is expressed and resolved and especially how it makes the children feel that has the important consequences for children. Therefore when children witness their parents resolving difficult problems, E.Mark Cummings, psychologists at Notre Dame University, they can grow up better off.