A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine asked me to write about the impact of parent’s moods on kids. She was concerned about how her mood and the mood of her husband was impacting on her seven-year-old child.
The short answer is, parent’s moods have a very deep impact on their children.
Here’s the long answer:
Children are extraordinarily open and undefended. They come into the world without the intellectual capacity to understand and make sense of the world in the way that adults do – which means they have less control – and they don’t have sophisticated boundaries, energetic and psychological defenses, which adults have access to and this puts them at an immense disadvantage.
Of course this lack of defensiveness is part of what makes kids so magical.
I watched a video recently of a little girl, perhaps 3 or 4 years old, walking in the rain for the first time.
The sheer joy and wonder as she does so is a delight to watch. No concern about ‘getting wet’ or ‘catching cold,’ no fear!
As adults we contract and set up resentment against getting wet. In fact, in the video we see the adult trying to get the kid inside, but the kid is not interested.
This little girl is just so exquisitely and beautifully captivated by the sense of wonder at the magic of being in the rain, experiencing rain.
Watching it again now, I am just connecting to the innocence inside of me, beneath all of the knowledge, the pain, the stories I tell myself.
There is that lovely Zen expression, “In the mind of the expert there are no possibilities, in the mind of the beginner, the possibilities are infinite.”
I remember reading that for the first time and thinking that my so-called sophisticated and intellectual adult ways and sense of knowing so much had just really shut down my openness to possibility, my innocence and hence my joy.
So in a nutshell children are energetically and emotionally very vulnerable and they feel every nuance of their parent’s moods.
We all have moods of course and while some of us disguise our moods and shut ourselves down, children are going to feel every emotion experienced by parents.
In order to work with this I suggest that you be fairly scientific around something that is well, totally…un-scientific.
Let me explain.
Science Is Prediction
Science is essentially prediction. You can predict that if you put two parts of hydrogen and one part oxygen together you will get H2O, which is water. If you drop a brick from the second story of the building you know that gravity will make it fall down as opposed to floating off into space.
That is prediction, that is science.
So what you can do is begin to notice how your moods impact your children. Notice when you are anxious, what happens to the behaviour of your children.
Notice when you are sad, notice what happens when you are tired or withdrawn or angry or depressed.
Notice what your kids do and how their mood changes and how they feel as a consequence of your moods.
Perhaps they withdraw from you when you are angry and try to make you feel better when you are sad. Perhaps they shut down when you are anxious.
Perhaps they become over compliant or rebellious. Notice all of these reactions.
In essence you are noticing how your mood impacts the mood of your kid. When you do this it can help you to transcend your mood, to change it, out of love for your child and then to notice the impact that has on them.
I acquired a stepson, Chris when he was 16 years old. Despite all of my psychological training I discovered that I was treating him just like my father treated me. One of the ways in which this manifested was that I was incredibly rigid about dinner times. I wanted to eat at 7.00pm sharp!
I remember Chris chopping the cucumber for the salad ingredients for dinner one time and watching his extraordinarily slow and methodical chopping technique and thinking, “We’re going to eat late, this is unacceptable!” and going into a withdrawn, silent rage about this.
A few weeks later I remember checking if he’d done a particular favour I had requested him to do and he told me that he had forgotten.
The horror of it!
I was carrying a newspaper in my hand – I used to read them rather avidly in those pre-cell phone days – and I made a movement towards him with the newspaper as if to hit him.
I was totally horrified at the reaction I had provoked.
This beautiful young man was frightened of me.
Seeing his fear transformed me.
I didn’t want to be the kind of stepfather that he was frightened of and my behaviour changed instantly.
I stopped trying to impose my values and views and hence moods on him and started to love him for who he was. This realization change my thinking and my mood around him.
I was extremely fortunate in that he forgave me and some years later I thanked him.
He couldn’t remember the incident.
Can you notice how your dark moods impact your children and begin to soften them out of love for them?
Which is not to say you will succeed all of the time. It is impossible to have a perfect mood every day of your life and is impossible to stop these moods impacting your children. That is simply the way it is and so, when you fail to adapt and adjust, the best you can do is embrace the imperfection of it all – and just maybe…tell them how much you love them and apologize for dumping your garbage on them.
If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog face-to-face or via Skype, please drop me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org