California: A new study by Cynthia Smith and Alise Stephens suggests that cultivating positive emotions may buffer moms from its impact on their parenting.
The study found that highly stressed moms of preschoolers were less likely to be sensitive toward their kids four years later—if they also demonstrated lower positive emotions during play. But high positive emotions seemed to mitigate this link: Among happier moms, stress and parental sensitivity were not related. This difference suggests that high positive emotions act as a protective buffer.
Moreover, the levels of positive emotions kids showed with their moms were not associated with moms’ parenting sensitivity, which suggests that moms’ feelings were not merely a reflection of their children’s.
“Positive emotions allow individuals to build up more resources over time,” write Smith and Stephens. “Despite reported feelings of stress, mothers who were higher in positive [emotions] may have been able to draw on these resource reserves when interacting with their children.”
Although parenting stress may be ever-present, this research suggests that building up positive emotion reserves helps moms to support their kids without sacrificing their individual well-being.