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Sometimes a parent may be feeling sad (for whatever reason) and needs to cry.

Is it harmful, or could it even be good, to cry sometimes in front of your children? What does research say?

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6 Answers 6

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There's a lot of research about fighting in front of your children, but I couldn't find anything particular to crying. I think in general expressing emotions is a good thing. I've even found it useful at times to exaggerate my emotion to kids too young to pick up on subtle facial cues. It helps teach them to act with empathy. For example, a two year-old is less likely to hit you when he clearly sees it makes you sad.

However, there are situations where it's inadvisable, such as:

  • The child lacks the experience to understand the implications. If you're upset because of an argument with your spouse, he won't understand what that means for his own situation.
  • You are "unloading" on your child to help yourself feel better. They lack the emotional capacity to help you bear your burdens. That role should be reserved for your spouse, or if you are single, another adult. "I had a bad day at work, can you leave me alone for a while?" is okay. An hour-long outburst about your boss isn't.
  • You are unable or unwilling to provide an adequate explanation. Without an explanation, kids naturally assume it is their fault, even if you explicitly say otherwise.
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As a child I always found it reassuring to know my parents were mortal and capable of sadness like me. I think something that contributed to my development was when mom and dad would explain what they were crying about when they saw my concern.

It also helps children recognize for themselves when something is making them sad, and that is why they are crying.

http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/pages/PDF/Emotions_ANGmcP.pdf

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I have not found any research on this. However, Mary Beth Sammons has published guidelines for this, a boiled down version of a Circle of Moms online discussion. I don't think it is conclusive or scientific enough, but it's the best I could find.

It is argued that crying could be good; if kids never see you cry they may grow up thinking their own need to cry is unacceptable. However, it is noted that it should be explained to the child that it isn't his/her fault, and meltdowns should always be avoided.

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Parents crying in front of children can serve useful purposes and can encourage teaching moments. If a loved one has passed on, or perhaps something tragic has occurred - or even just a struggle from a hard day, crying not only allows the parent the opportunity to let out some difficult emotions that they may be struggling with - but also allows the child to understand and see that Mom and/or Dad have bad days too - and have to cope with emotions.

An important part of the process is ensuring to explain why you are crying. For example, the child may not understand that crying because you dropped a hammer on your foot is different than crying because of a touching moment in a movie. Allowing them to both see and hear what is happening will help them to relate to others as well.

The only time this could be a more sensitive situation is if the parents are fighting, shouting - or if abuse is happening (verbal, emotional or physical). Crying can lead them to be afraid in this case. Nonetheless, if it occurs, it is even more important to talk to the children and help them understand (in their terms) what it happening.

While I do not have any academic evidence to backup my answer, I am a parent of 4 children and I have been able see my own results. My children are naturally curious as to why I am crying - but they understand once I take a moment to explain.

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I think you shouldn't hide your emotions. Then kids will see that you trust them, that's why you can show your feelings, and they will trust you too.

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a lot of kids feel think that adults/parents never cry, but when they do it makes them scared, they feel like they are not safe. it makes them want to cry too. but as they grow older they will know that parents/ adults really do cry and its ok if they do.

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Welcome to the site Chana! Thanks for your input. Do you have any evidence, study or personal experience to help us understand from where your information stems? –  balanced mama Nov 10 '13 at 23:39

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