Showing negative emotions in front of our children makes us deeply uncomfortable. The people in this picture are strangers, but just looking them probably makes you uncomfortable: a father, with his back turned in anger toward his daughter?
We do not know what is happening in this situation, but most of us, most parents today, see it as our job to stay calm and positive in front of our children all the time. We view any display of negative emotion as a lapse or misstep in the type of parenting that we want to achieve.
That sentiment comes from a good place. It is important to maintain a degree of calm with children, and, in my experience as a parent, a psychologist, and a classroom teacher, this is authentically achieved when you, as an adult, recognize that you can coach and support, but not control, children. The overwhelming consensus among parenting experts is that, over the long term, children respond well to parents who are generally able to keep their emotions within a manageable range. This is not the same thing as maintaining a facade of calm or a plastered on smile while suppressing every feeling of frustration, anxiety, and anger.
Children need to see how adults handle negative emotions like anger, frustration, fear, and sadness in a healthy way. They need to know that it is okay to have those emotions themselves. The girl in the picture above might be learning that her father steps away and takes deep breaths to calm himself when he is frustrated. If so, she will learn: 1. It is okay to feel angry sometimes. 2. When I feel angry I can walk away and take deep breaths to calm down.
I frequently let my children know when I am becoming frustrated by their behavior. For example, "Daughter, I find it both gross and frustrating that you just wiped your boogers onto the wall instead of using a tissue. Please wash your hands and then scrub the wall with a sponge." (Note: I clearly state the specific behavior that I find frustrating.)
I also let them know when I am sad or afraid, using age-appropriate language and ideas. There are also numerous sources of information about the importance of being open and honest with children about specific topics, particularly safety issues and death, that parents have historically avoided because they want to protect their children from feeling these emotions.
As uncomfortable as it can be, use these parenting opportunities when they arise. Let your children see you cope with anger, fear, sadness, and frustration so that they, in turn, will learn effective coping strategies.