A research team of psychologists out of the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) led by Dr. Bonnie Le has been making strides in a study of parental emotional regulation and its resultant effects on their general wellbeing.

“Parents try to control the expressions of their emotions in ways that they think are beneficial, specifically suppressing the expression of their negative emotions or amplifying the expression of positive emotions,” observes Le, a postdoctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology at U of T.

In a series of controlled experiments, Le and her team found that parents experience an observable decrease in personal wellbeing, worsened relationship quality, and feel less capable of meeting the needs of their children when they regulate their emotions.

In their first experiment, researchers asked parents to describe a time where “they amplified positive emotions,” “suppressed negative emotions,” or “expressed their true feelings.” In their second experiment, Le and her team surveyed 118 parents who reported on moments of caregiving for their children over a ten-day period. Both experiments found that parents “felt worse overall” when they had regulated their emotions, rather than behaving freely with their children. 

Speaking generally, Le states that the most important findings of her research show that “controlling your emotions, by not authentically expressing them, does come at some degree of cost.” 

The implications of these findings demonstrate a change in perceived best practices when it comes to parenting, suggesting that parents should focus on being true to themselves, and in doing so, setting a better example for their children.

“The biggest thing is understanding how parents can engage in the act of parenting and be more or less happy,” explains Le. She goes on to observe the prevalence of decreased relationship quality with a spouse following the onset of parenthood. 

In terms of future directions, the team hopes to study the effects of emotion regulation on the parents’ children. They will also be exploring other emotion controlling strategies, including amplifying negative emotions and suppressing positive emotions. An example of this is seen when parents suppress laughter following a child’s mistake.