Why You Should Talk to Kids About a Bad Day at the Office

Most of us don’t tell our kids when we've a stressful day at work, but experts say that may be a mistake.

“Kids can pick up on our underlying emotions, so when you say you’re fine when you’re not, they know something is not right,” says Brandon Smith, an expert in workplace health and founder of www.theworkplacetherapist.com.

Unless you’re a really, really good actor, even with a smile plastered on your face, you may act out your stress through your emotional responses to your kids or spouse.

“On the one hand, we want to shield our children from each and every stress that comes along,” says Rahil Briggs, director of the Healthy Steps of Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y. "On the other hand, if we are failing in our attempts to put on a happy face, that is very confusing to a child."

If your children know something’s wrong, but you don’t tell them what it is, they end up fabricating something more awful than the actual issue. Kids will internalize the stress of their parents, and that can cause issues for them. If kids are exposed to stress over the long term, it can affect their academic performance, their behavior, and even the way their brains develop.

Here are some tips from the experts on how to deal with your work stress at home:
1. Talk to your kids. Let them know when you’ve had a bad day at work and reassure them that they had nothing to do with it, says Rand Conger, professor of psychology, human development and family studies at the University of California, Davis.

Though what you say depends on their age, you can say things like, “I’ve had a hard day because things didn’t go the way I wanted.” Or “Mommy had a hard day. I had too much work to do and not enough time to do it.” Try not to go into too much detail or say anything that will cause them to feel insecure like “I'm worried about losing my job.”

2. Shed the stress before you get home. Try to find routines to deal with work stresses before you get home. That may mean unplugging and unwinding during your commute, going to the gym right after work, or just talking to friends on your way home.

If you’re walking in the door loaded down by stress, you haven’t found something that works for you, says Smith.

3. Ask for a short time-out. Tell your kids that you need 10 minutes alone in your bedroom or home office, or take a quick 15-minute power nap. This also shows kids how to deal with stress in a positive way—to take some alone time to regroup rather than act out your stress on other people.

4. Don’t be a bad role model. Poor modeling is when you say that nothing’s wrong, but then have a short temper or no patience with your kids. When you send mixed messages, you confuse your children.

Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist whose work appears in the New York Times, among other national magazines and websites. She has authored several health books, including "Perfect Hormone Balance for Fertility." Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.