We are naturally biased about our kids. They are the smartest, best looking, the most talented. We stick to our beliefs even when the reality is hitting us in the face. There is a merit to this bias: it gives our kids the self-esteem they need in this competitive world and the belief in their own power. But, scientists believe that we are also clueless when it comes to our kids’ feelings. And that can have serious consequences.
What parents see and what kids feel
The findings of the new research by the scientists at the Center for Mind and Brain, University of California, Davis, show that parents do not see their kids’ emotions in their real light. In fact, they frequently overestimate their kids’ sense of well-being and see them as more optimistic and less worried than they actually felt.
According to the majority of psychologists, children under 7 are not able to explain exactly how they feel. So, they are evaluated based on what their parents see. The study by the scientists from the University of California shows that this evaluation is seriously inaccurate, even for parents who are themselves emotionally healthy and stable.
The research involved three studies, with about 500 children between 4 and 11. The researchers compared the answers to various questions provided by the kids and by their parents. Parents consistently saw their children as more optimistic and less worried than the children did themselves.
Children were questioned about common anxieties and fears, such as if they were worried about someone close to them, or being afraid of the dark.
What is most worrying is that the children were consistently more worried and anxious than their parents were aware of.
While researchers are worried that their studies now have to be more careful when processing parents’ evaluation of their kids’ emotions, there is a much more immediate and serious worry: if parents are not aware of their kids’ anxieties, how are they going to help their offspring deal with them? What researchers called ‘parental positivity‘, can result in the lack of care kids need when dealing with tough issues in their lives that they are not able to vocalize and explain. Being better attuned to what kids are going through is the only way to accurate evaluate their state of mind, and help them with problems. It means finding the time to talk to the children and to read between the lines about what they really feel.