We're all humans and things can get overwhelming sometimes. But is crying in front of our children detrimental to their mental health or would it teach them empathy? Two mums share their views.
Gold Coast, Queensland
Being sad is just another emotion and I think it's healthy for children to see that it's normal to feel sad—even for adults. There are many times throughout our lives when we will cry, from loss, heartbreak or disappointments. It’s my job as a parent to prepare my children for them.
My children have seen me cry many times and I have never attempted to hide it from them. Even at 18 months old, they would come to me, be close with me and touch my face or wipe my tears. It’s an incredible display of pure, instinctive human compassion and I wanted to encourage this quality in my boys: The ability to see vulnerability and to want to reach out and offer comfort.
I remember when my then four-year-old pushed me beyond my limits and I just sat on the kitchen floor and cried. He came over to me and asked why I was crying.
I explained to him that the thing he was doing made me feel sad, that it was OK to feel sad and cry sometimes, and that even adults needed to cry too.
It was an incredibly simple conversation, but I felt I had done the most amazing thing for my child. As a mother, I felt my parenting choice in that moment was the epitome of being the perfect mum (a rare feeling!).
That day, I decided I would always be open with my children about my emotions and feelings. That experience made me realise how effectively I could teach them with my own example.
After becoming a parent, I had begun experiencing mild anxiety and panic attacks, but that day, what I thought limited me as a mother became a tool to teach my children with.
Sydney, New South Wales
We should do our best to protect our children from any emotional issue we are experiencing as a parent. Our children learn their coping skills from their parents so it is important we send the correct message. Our children are little sponges—they feel what their parents feel.
Parents are the safety net and security for their children, so when a parent is crying and appears sad, vulnerable or overwhelmed, this may affect the child detrimentally. If the child is unsure of the reason why their parent is sad, they may believe it is their fault. They may withdraw from the parent, fearful they caused this distress. This can amplify the child’s misunderstanding.
Protecting them as much as we can from their parent’s emotional distress is best. A parent should cry away from their child where possible and while some may indicate it is good for the child to witness the parents’ vulnerability, I disagree. If our sadness is due to a loss of a loved one then some emotion is fine to display to demonstrate our distress, provided we can also demonstrate how we recover and remember them fondly.
Parents are their child’s rock and sanctuary. The child will certainly learn about sadness as they grow, however, it is vital to protect the child from witnessing their much-loved parent crying or distressed.
A child needs to be taught that emotions are normal, but until around mid-adolescence, they do not see their parent as humans—they are just mum and dad.
Our children share their parents’ emotions and feelings, so be aware of what you put out as they feel it within.