It’s ok to cry (in front of your children)

 In Managing Big Feelings

Growing up, many of us received the message that showing emotions makes us look weak. We were encouraged, either explicitly or implicitly, to shut down emotions and not express them in public. And crying in particular, tends to be viewed by many people as a sign of weakness or vulnerability. In fact, a lot of the parents I speak to worry that crying in front of their children is not appropriate. And many of them worry that crying in front of their children will negatively impact them in some way.

And I can understand the concern!

However, research suggests that it is not only okay to cry in front of your kids, it can actually be beneficial for their emotional development. In fact, research has shown that children who grow up in families where emotions are openly expressed are more likely to develop healthy emotional regulation skills and have better mental health outcomes as adults. On the other hand, children who grow up in families where emotions are suppressed or ignored may struggle with emotional regulation and may be at higher risk for developing mental health issues later in life.

When is it ok to cry in front of your children?

Crying is a natural human response to intense emotions. We cry when we are sad, frustrated, disappointed, even joyful! Crying helps us release pent-up emotions and can help to reduce stress and promote emotional healing. When we try to suppress our tears, we may actually be doing ourselves more harm than good. So of course, we want to teach children that crying is a positive thing and that expressing emotions is healthy!

Here are a few reasons why crying in front of your kiddos is absolutely ok:

  • We are modelling healthy emotional expression and showing them that it’s ok to feel and express their own emotions. Children learn by observing the behaviour of the adults around them, and if they see that their parents are comfortable expressing their emotions, they will be more likely to do the same.
  • It may help to build empathy and understanding. When we cry in front of our children, we are showing them that we are human and that we experience difficult emotions, just like they do. This can help deepen our own connection with our children while allowing them to develop empathy and compassion for others who may be going through similar struggles.
  • We are showing them that it is okay to be vulnerable and ask for help. Children look up to their parents as role models, and if they see us asking for support when we need it, they are more likely to do the same.

It’s also important to remember that children are often far more perceptive than we give them credit for. Even if we try to hide our emotions from them, they will often still pick up on our emotional cues and may be confused or worried if they sense that something is wrong. If we tell children we are ok, but they can see we are not- we create confusion. We teach children that emotions are not to be discussed. And we also teach them not to trust their own perceptions. By being open and honest about our emotions, we can help to alleviate any confusion or anxiety that our children may be feeling.

When is it not ok to cry in front of your children?

There are of course, times when it may not be appropriate to cry in front of our children. Expressing our emotions is not the same as making children responsible for managing them. And there is a difference between healthy emotional expression and emotional outbursts that might lead to confusion or fear for children. It’s important for parents to model appropriate emotional regulation and to teach their children how to express their emotions in a healthy and productive way.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Be mindful of the age and developmental stage of your children when expressing how you feel in their presence. Very young children may not yet have the emotional maturity to understand complex emotions and may be easily overwhelmed by their parent’s tears.
  • Children can feel overwhelmed and burdened if they are asked to take care of their parents’ emotional needs. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, and even resentment. It is not fair to put the responsibility of our emotions onto our children, as it can create a power imbalance in the relationship and hinder their emotional development. Additionally, when we rely on our children to make us feel better, it can create a sense of codependency that is not healthy for either party. Our children need to develop their own sense of self and learn to navigate their emotions independently. By relying on them to make us feel better, we may be inadvertently stifling their emotional growth.
  • Very intense expressions of emotions, or expressions of emotion that involve aggression can be scary for children. If you are feeling dysregulated or out of control while expressing your emotions, it is probably best for you to find a spot away from your child until you are feeling a little calmer.

Tips for navigating emotional expression in front of your children:

Be honest and age-appropriate

When discussing your emotions with your children, it’s essential to be honest and age-appropriate. Depending on the age of your child, you may need to simplify the explanation of what you’re feeling or avoid getting into the details of why you’re feeling that way. However, it’s essential to ensure that you are not hiding your emotions altogether, as this can create confusion and mistrust. You might say something like, “Mummy is feeling a little sad right now. Everyone feels sad sometimes, but it doesn’t last forever. Mummy will be feeling better again soon.”

Reassure your children

It’s important to reassure your children that your emotions are not their fault. You can say something like, “Mummy is feeling sad right now, but it’s not because of anything you did. Sometimes grown-ups feel sad, and it’s okay to cry.”

It’s also important to consider the context and the message that you are sending when you cry in front of your children. For example, if you are crying because of a disagreement with your partner, it’s important to make it clear to your children that the disagreement has been resolved and that you are still a united family. This can help to alleviate any anxiety or confusion that your children may be feeling.

Show them healthy ways to cope with difficult emotions

By showing your children healthy ways to cope with difficult emotions, you can model positive emotional regulation strategies. For example, you can say something like, “Mummy is feeling sad right now, so I’m going to take a break and do some deep breathing to help me feel better.” This not only shows your children that it’s okay to take a break when they are feeling overwhelmed, but it also gives them a tool to use in the future. Plus, it sends a clear message to them that you’ve got this. It is not their job to make you feel better, and you will manage these feelings yourself.

Seek support from other adults

If you’re going through a difficult time, it’s important to seek support from other adults, such as friends, family members, or even a therapist. While it’s okay to talk to your children about your emotions, it’s never their responsibility to manage them. And seeking support from other sources can help you process your emotions in a healthy way and prevent your children from feeling burdened by adult problems that they are not emotionally mature enough to understand. A brief explanation of why you’re feeling sad is probably ok, but emotionally dumping or venting to your child may cause them to feel overwhelmed. It may also prevent them from coming to you with their own big feelings, if they don’t feel confident that you can handle them.

Validate your children’s feelings

If your child expresses concern or asks questions about your emotions, it’s important to validate their feelings. You can say something like, “I know it can be scary when Mummy cries, but it’s okay to feel sad sometimes. It’s important to talk about our emotions and find healthy ways to cope with them.”

So, while it is understandable that as parents, we sometimes want to shield our children from the emotional ups and downs of life, it really is impossible – and unhelpful – to hide all of our emotions from them. It’s absolutely okay to cry in front of your children, and being authentic and vulnerable wth our children we can build stronger, healthier, and more meaningful relationships with them. But we must ensure we are accepting full and complete responsibility for our own emotional wellbeing. Remember, your emotions are not your children’s responsibility, but you can use these moments to teach them important lessons about emotional intelligence and coping skills.


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