Little Evan had his toys snatched away by his cousin. He came crying for his Dad, who told him, “It’s ok. It’s no big deal. You’ve got plenty of toys at home.” It’s common for parents to dismiss children’s emotions. An emotion dismissing parent often trivializes their child’s feelings out of good intention. However, these well-intended moves are proven to hurt our children in many ways.
What is emotion dismissing?
Emotion dismissing is ignoring, denying or trivializing the expression of emotions, especially negative ones. An emotion dismissing parent is a parent who consciously or unconsciously belittles their child’s negative feelings or emotional expression. They invalidate their child’s emotions and make the child feel bad about having those feelings. Such parents often try to convince the child to change the their feeling into a positive one.
Examples of Parents Dismissing Children’s Emotions
Here are some examples of dismissing parents’ reactions to children’s negative emotions:
- “Oh, don’t be a cry baby”
- “It’s not a big deal”
- “You shouldn’t feel that way.”
- “Don’t be so sensitive.”
- “Just forget about it and move on”
- “Don’t dwell on it.”
- “It’s not important.”
- “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.”
10 characteristics of an emotion dismissing parent
Researchers have found these common characteristics in emotion-dismissing parents1:
- View negative emotions as harmful and want those feelings to go away quickly.
- Want a cheerful child and believe an unhappy child reflects bad parenting.
- Do not pay attention or notice when their child is mildly unhappy.
- Don’t talk to or teach their child about emotions.
- Don’t allow their child to express negative emotions openly.
- Try to distract, cheer up, scold, shame, criticize or threaten with punishment to stop the child’s negativity.
- Don’t have the vocabulary or language to describe different feelings.
- View anger as losing control, aggression or selfishness.
- View sadness as self-pity and passivity.
- View fear as cowardice and failure.
Why do parents dismiss children’s feelings?
It’s a very widespread parenting practice to dismiss emotions, and yet the results can be detrimental to the child’s well-being.
The following are the most common reasons why parents use these parenting style.
1. This is how they were raised themselves
Negative parenting practices tend to pass from generation to generation. For most emotion-dismissing parents, this is how they were raised. They dismiss their kids’ feelings because they deeply believe that those are incorrect feelings that the child shouldn’t have. When they dismiss those feelings, they also try to alter their children’s perception of reality hoping to induce in them a more positive emotion which is deemed more appropriate.
2. They are in denial
Some parents dismiss their children’s emotions because they don’t understand it or don’t want to face them. It could be due to experiences in their own lives, their own projected feelings, feeling of embarrassment or fear of their own emotions.
3. Using the wrong way to help
Some parents mistakenly believe that if the negative emotion is not allowed to surface, it’ll eventually go away on its own. Instead of dealing with it in a healthy way, these children suppress their feeling. In other words, the feelings are still there, but just not seen by the parents.
What are the effects on children?
1. Worse Mental health
Belittling or criticizing a child’s emotions is telling them that they are not allowed to feel “incorrectly”.
Sweeping emotions under the rug rarely works. Suppressed feelings such as sadness or anger often come back to haunt your child later in life. Children of dismissive parents are at a higher risk of developing mental disorders such as depression2.
2. Less emotional intelligence and more behavioral issues
Children whose difficult emotions are constantly invalidated never learn to properly regulate them. They have more emotion regulation difficulties.
Emotions not properly dealt with can turn into pent-up anger. This anger can manifest itself in undesirable behavior, like outbursts or acting out. Kids with dismissive parents exhibit more behavioral issues3 including disruptive behavior disorders4.
3. Lack of empathy
Parents routinely dismiss their children’s emotions teach them how to be callous to others’ suffering. These kids have poor emotional functioning and social development, especially empathy5. They tend to show callous-unemotional traits6 resulting in negative peer relations. Research also shows that these traits are associated with negative outcomes such as antisocial behavior7, conduct problems and delinquency8.
Emotion coaching vs emotion dismissing parent
Dismissing children’s emotions has numerous negative effects on their development. To help your child develop healthy emotional regulation skills, parents can replace the emotion-dismissing practices.
Researcher John Gottman and colleagues have identified two styles of emotion socialization in parents9 – emotion dismissing and emotion coaching10.
In contrast to emotion-dismissing, emotion-coaching parents validate and accept their children’s emotions, whether they’re positive or negative. They see their children’s emotions as opportunity for intimacy as well as an opportunity for teaching.
Many positive effects have been found to be associated with emotional coaching by parents. Researchers have found that intervention parenting programs, such as the Tuning in to Kids, can improve parents’ emotion socialization practices.
- 1.Gottman J. Meta-Emotion, Children’s Emotional Intelligence, and Buffering Children from Marital Conflict. In: Emotion, Social Relationships, and Health. Oxford University Press; 2001:23-55. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195145410.003.0002
- 2.Hunter EC, Katz LF, Shortt JW, et al. How Do I Feel About Feelings? Emotion Socialization in Families of Depressed and Healthy Adolescents. J Youth Adolescence. Published online May 16, 2010:428-441. doi:10.1007/s10964-010-9545-2
- 3.Kehoe CE, Havighurst SS, Harley AE. Tuning in to Teens: Improving Parent Emotion Socialization to Reduce Youth Internalizing Difficulties. Social Development. Published online October 15, 2013:413-431. doi:10.1111/sode.12060
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- 7.Johnson AM, Hawes DJ, Eisenberg N, Kohlhoff J, Dudeney J. Emotion socialization and child conduct problems: A comprehensive review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review. Published online June 2017:65-80. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2017.04.001
- 8.Frick PJ, Stickle TR, Dandreaux DM, Farrell JM, Kimonis ER. Callous–Unemotional Traits in Predicting the Severity and Stability of Conduct Problems and Delinquency. J Abnorm Child Psychol. Published online August 2005:471-487. doi:10.1007/s10648-005-5728-9
- 9.Hersh MA, Hussong AM. The Association Between Observed Parental Emotion Socialization and Adolescent Self-Medication. J Abnorm Child Psychol. Published online January 10, 2009:493-506. doi:10.1007/s10802-008-9291-z
- 10.Gottman JM, Katz LF, Hooven C. Parental meta-emotion philosophy and the emotional life of families: Theoretical models and preliminary data. Journal of Family Psychology. Published online 1996:243-268. doi:10.1037/0893-3126.96.36.199