Should We Show Our Anger or Sadness in Front of the Kids

should we show our anger or sadness in front of the kids

Feelings of anger and sadness wash over every single one of us. It doesn’t matter how together we look at the bake sale, how successful we are in our careers or how behaved our children choose to be for one afternoon.

We feel these feelings and then we find a way to cope with them. Most of the time, this is the way we saw our own parents use, or it is just a result of how we were parented and how the people around responded to us showing negative emotions (regardless of age).

The full spectrum of emotions is much more diverse, and to understand how to correctly identify our emotions is an entirely new chapter of self inquiry, awareness and new terminology.
But to simplify, negative emotions can go three ways:

Buried

We feel upset but we don’t express it in any way. Inner dialogue goes along these lines “I’m such a loser! This always happens to me. I attract all this pain in my life. I deserve to feel like shit. I need to learn my lesson. Damn, this hurts!”

Bubbling

When low feelings come over us and we start debating whether it was our fault or not, or what kind of reaction we should display. Inside our minds goes like this: “I can’t believe this is happening to me! But what if it’s my fault? Hmm… I will confront him as soon as I have a chance. Wait… Should I? Yes! I’m pissed! But maybe I shouldn’t bring it up…”

Bursting

We just lose all sense of reason, regardless of the circumstances. Inside our minds and many times coming straight out of our mouth goes this: “YOU are such a demanding person! I don’t deserve this! I bust my ass and this is how you treat me? It’s not my fault! This is completely unfair! I don’t accept this!”

Showing kids, no matter how young or old, our emotions gives them the reassurance they are not the only ones feeling this way. Most children feel alone when they experience sadness, anger or disappointment and that is because of how our society responds to the expression of these feelings.

More importantly, showing them not only to identify these emotions but model what to do with them, I believe, is extraordinarily advanced form of parenting.

Here are some ways to deal with it:

Have an emergency plan in place

The trouble comes when the negative emotions are overwhelming us. The moment we see red (or black or extreme light) in front of our eyes and we lose all sense of reasoning and rational thinking. It really doesn’t matter what triggered it, but we tend to unload by directing them at people we have some sort of perceived power over – our kids.

I remember one Friday afternoon in our house. I picked up my daughter from school. She was tired and moody. It was the end of the week. I was more tired and more moody. We got home and she wanted a snack. I asked her to wash her hands. She didn’t. I continued cutting her fruit and gave her a second chance to wash her hands. She didn’t even acknowledge I was speaking. I placed the bowl of fruit on the table and asked her again to wash her hands. She came to the table and sat down without doing it. And then I lost it. I could feel my blood getting hot. I was ready to take the fruit and smack it all over the wall, together with chairs, some pots and pans and my own head (at least that’s the Charlie’s Angels moves in my mind’s movie). I didn’t, cause you know, that would be scary, inappropriate and a bit ckoockoo, but instead I started the verbal tirade: you don’t listen to me, how many times do I have to tell you to do one thing, is there too much to ask to wash your own hands, do I have to double check everything you do, etc. She stood there watching and I could see she wasn’t too impressed. I immediately remembered those verbal tirades from my own mother and how I didn’t even understand what the words meant, all I knew was that I had a very good reason to not wash my hands – I WAS TOO BUSY PLAYING!

I calmed down, took her hand and we went to the bathroom together.

This was a small incident, but I recognized the old patterns of my family. I was talking the big complicated words, feeling anger and unloading it on my 3 year old.

That’s when I devised my emergency plan. Whenever I start feeling the first signs of negative emotions come over me – rapid breathing, tightening of the neck and chest, sweaty palms, blurred vision, seeing dark, pulsating temples, I remove myself from the scene and start the box breathing.

I make a huge effort to keep my mouth shut. Don’t say anything. Don’t look at anybody. Don’t return to the hot seat. Just breathe. In for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4, repeat.

When the signs of negative emotions slow down, I try to get curious about what happened. What triggered me? Was that really the reason? (most of the times it isn’t)

This entire process is a matter of minutes. It’s still work in progress and there are many times I snap and don’t make it to my box breathing because I was so triggered, but I try to always come back and ask myself exactly what happened before the event to make me feel that way.

Rephrase how we identify the emotion

When I started meditating, this is one of the first concepts I fully embraced. I was very resistant to it mainly because of semantics. We are so used to say out loud, hear others and also tell ourselves: “I’m pissed off”, “I am an angry person”, “I have a short fuse”, “I’m sad”, “I’m blue”, “I’m disappointed”, “I’m type A”.

When in fact, we are none of these things. These are just some feelings we experience.
I will use this metaphor borrowed from Andy Puddicombe, the Buddhist monk who created the mindfulness app Headspace. He talks about us being the blue sky. Sometimes, there will be clouds in the sky. We tend to think the sky is no longer blue, which is of course not true. No matter how thick the clouds are, underneath it all, the sky will remain blue.

The clouds will pass, the negative feelings will pass. It might last longer or it might just be a quick summer storm. They will pass.

Instead, let’s just rephrase and notice how we feel:
“I feel pissed off”, “I feel anger”, “I feel sadness” “I feel blue” “I feel disappointment”
We are not these feelings.

We are WE, good, luminous and kind.

How you react and what is your approach when these emotions come over is very likely how your child will deal with these emotions as an adult

Every single parent I know wants the best for their child. We all want to raise strong, independent happy individuals. Our grownup kids Utopia is a place were nothing bad ever happens, no sadness is ever felt, no despair or pain is ever experienced by our kids. In reality however, richness of life lies exactly in the rainbow of experiences and feelings. What we can do wholeheartedly for our kids is to show them how we cope and guide them to sit with their feelings and truly feeling them.

So when my kid comes running and sees me doing my box breathing, I explain that “Mama feels some big feelings of upset and I will now breathe like a dragon to let these feelings out.” Thank you to my amazing momfriend Nerolie who gave me this child appropriate explanation.

If she wants to take it further and asks more about the dragon breathing, go for it and teach it. She might want to join in which is guaranteed to lift the uncomfortable feelings. After a while, she won’t worry about it anymore, she will just say, “Mama is feeling anger so she is in the kitchen breathing like a dragon.” And one day, she will do the same.

Identify what triggers these emotions

Now that particular afternoon, I snapped because my frustration was accumulating – I was feeling very pressured at work without any real conversation (people weren’t listening to me), my husband was working long hours (he wasn’t listening to me) and my best friend was busy with her own kids (she wasn’t listening to me) and so I offloaded all this hurt onto the last drop that was added, the kid who didn’t listen to me.

Other times, we get triggered by past childhood events where we felt lost, underpowered or scared and we operate from that part of our brain. Maybe I snapped because I never felt listened to as a child. Maybe my own mother was very strict about washing my hands before a meal and I was never allowed to disobey. Maybe…

It’s well worth it to start an inner conversation from a place of kindness and non-judgement.

What is really going on here? Why do I feel this way? I have a good kid. I am good. Why did I snap about something that appears so trivial?

Get closure

Not long ago, my inner dialogue after such an incident would have been: “I am such a loser! How can I talk like this to a 3 year old! I need to look into anger management?”

These days, I try my very best to catch myself before the big feelings come out like a tornado. I deal with them and when I feel better, I approach my daughter to talk about it.

I may say: “You know when we came back from school, I asked you three times to wash your hands by yourself but you didn’t do it. What happened? LISTEN TO EXPLANATION. Well sweetie, your hands were full of germs from school, and if these germs get into your tummy, you can get tummy pains. I wouldn’t want that. Can we maybe come up with a song we will sing as soon as we come home from school to remind us to wash our hands?”

Regardless of how everything went, forgive yourself for whatever reaction or overreaction you showed to your kids. Apologize. Make amends. Come up with a plan of how you will do things differently next time. Tell them that.

Anger and sadness are the counterbalance of happiness, joy and peace. There can’t be one without the other. They are all normal feelings, they should be part of our lives. It just takes time (and patience) to find a way to express them in a healthy way and use these emotions to trigger your and your kids’ growth.


The best conversations start from a place of non-judgement. SHARE!

We must show our kids not only how to identify negative emotions but also model what to do with them 

Forgive yourself for whatever reaction or overreaction you showed to your kids.

Anger and sadness are the counterbalance of happiness, joy and peace. There can’t be one without the other.

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10 Comments

  • Joanna

    Reply Reply July 5, 2016

    I really needed to read this today. It deeply resonates to what’s happening in my house.
    The most important reminder for me is to forgive myself.
    Thank you.

    • Talida

      Reply Reply July 6, 2016

      Joanna, self compassion is such a deeply important but underestimated component of life. Especially a mom’s life.

  • Trudy

    Reply Reply July 5, 2016

    I almost never show my kids when I feel sad, i was thinking that my sadness will burden them.
    I cry when they can’t see me, and i do realize that maybe that’s not too heatly. My kids are 9, 6 and 4 and never saw me cry.
    How about wanting to protect our kids from seeing us suffer?

    • Talida

      Reply Reply July 6, 2016

      Trudy, what do you do when you see your kids suffer? How do you feel? What do you do to comfort them? What do you say?
      Then what is your OWN inner dialogue when you are sad?
      I truly believe that authenticity and healthy expression of emotion is beneficial for the kids. As long as we don’t use our suffering to make our kids feel bad about something they’ve done, or as a currency to obtain a desired behavior, tears are absolutely normal.
      It may be interesting for you to go back to your own childhood and revisit how the adults around you approached this aspect.
      Thank you for your honesty and courage to write down your thoughts.

  • Mariam

    Reply Reply July 5, 2016

    I’m so grateful for this! Why don’t we talk about these things more?

    • Talida

      Reply Reply July 6, 2016

      That’s exactly what I was thinking Mariam. That’s why I started this community. 🙂 I’m glad you joined me.

  • Ramona

    Reply Reply July 6, 2016

    This is such a heavy topic. I didn’t expect it. I had to read this post again when the kids were asleep.
    I appreciate so much to have such practical tips for dealing with angry feelings. I will try box breathing tomorrow, I’m sure I will get the chance, haha!

    • Talida

      Reply Reply July 7, 2016

      Ramona, box breathing is HUGE! It’s part of the training in the Army. Which is the normal life equivalent of motherhood 🙂

  • Naomi

    Reply Reply July 6, 2016

    I disagree. I believe it’s our job as mothers to keep ourselves together for the sake of the kids. Yes, life is not always happy, but at least in our house there is no drama.

    • Talida

      Reply Reply July 7, 2016

      Naomi, I appreciate your courage in saying this.
      I just want to ask you what do you do when you feel you just cannot do it anymore? When that last drop entered the already overfilled glass?

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