Catching & Spreading Emotion

Whether you realize it or not, your mind is an open book. Maybe not all the time but a study published in Psychological Science in 2014 shows how the thoughts or moods can be transmitted through the mother and infant relationship.

Simulate to watching a movie and getting anxious at the same suspenseful scene as the others in the theater, a mother who is stressed often finds her baby stressed. They are both perceiving the world on a similar “screen” if you will.

Any child who grew up in a household where maybe dad or mom yelled a lot probably doesn’t need to read such a study to understand. Or would it help them understand more of themselves?

Either way, this study came to my attention because we, as fathers, can have a great impact about how our offspring–and even others living in the household–are experiencing the world.

The mothers in the study are asked to perform a speech. A group of the mothers perform the speech in front of a frowning, disgruntled looking group of judges, while the other group is asked to perform a speech by themselves.

Babies in the study are then reunited with their mothers, and the babies whose mothers went through the stressful speech, didn’t engage with the researches as much, avoided eye contact and were overall stressed similar to the state of their moms.

Think about that next time you’re in a hurry to jam your elementary-aged student into a jacket and rush off to school. What state are you in as you leave?

Emotions travel from one person to another. Maybe not surprising to most of you who have felt the sharp pang of urgency when your child screams in anger or pain. It takes effort to react in a stoic, comforting manner is situations like that.

But just like any work, the work you put into such a thing can have great rewards. What is your smile generating in your child? What is that fist in the wall transmitting?

People are sensitive. As adults, we like to think of our emotions as happening inside our little worlds without anyone, especially our kids, knowing. But feelings leak out and are absorbed by others. A caring and loving parent regulates their emotions before interacting with their child.

Simple? Yeah, sure. The idea is simple. Easy? No.

This is why I recommend meditation. Mediation can strengthen our ability to let go of these thoughts of fear and anger, so we don’t have to stew in them and transmit them as long or at all.


The Power of Reverse Psychology

There is some innate force inside us that doesn’t want to listen to direction. Or maybe it is just me and my genes, but I like to find things out for myself. I’ve also noticed my four-year old going against what I ask in what seems out of spite.

I’m sure your kids always listen, so please send me your tips. If they sometimes don’t, well maybe you want to try a little reverse psychology to get things moving along a little easier for all.

Blame it on Adam and Eve. They didn’t listen either. Maybe its the serpent devil speaking to my son. Let’s face it. There is a bit of good in the worst of us and bit of bad in the best of us.

One thing I have noticed though is that as fathers (and mothers) we can use our kids’ desire to go against what we say to our advantage, at least while they’re young.

My son has this habit of whining and often screaming when rinsing his hair of shampoo in the bath. It’s unpleasant for all involved, and no matter how much I tell him it’s okay or to shhhhhhhh, he continues the stream of angst.

Father Through Me

Then just yesterday, I heard my wife speaking to him while rinsing his hair, and their wasn’t a sound coming from him.

She was making various voices, pretending to be an audience watching the hair rinsing. Members of the audience were hoping to hear and see my son scream. And there he sat resisting. Going against what “the crowd” wanted him to do.

“I want my money back,” shouted one of the onlookers in what sounded like an Irish accent. “He’s not screaming. I thought we’d get to hear him scream.” Against the will of the people, my son showed them that he wasn’t going to listen and give them what they want.

And I think my wife enjoyed the process just as much. (My wife does some great European accents.) I know I would have enjoyed the bath that much more since there wasn’t a screaming bloody murder contest going on.

So next time, try it. I’d say take advantage of it as long as you can. My kids are young, and I plan on milking it as long as I can. Soon, they’ll probably be reversing reverse psychology, and trying it out on me.