While the holiday season is behind us, the season of coughs, colds and other maladies stretches on before us. Washing our hands, sneezing into our elbows and avoiding the zombified sick people we know are great ways to elude the illness monster. But germs are not the only things that are contagious…

It’s good for us to be aware that our lovely kids (these producers of emotions) can infect us with their own feelings. Ack! But just as hand washing and vitamin C can help ward off the icks, we can work to keep our kids’ feelings of anger and frustration from affecting us too much.You’re checking out at the grocery store. The clerk strikes up a friendly little conversation with you as she scans your things. It only lasts a minute, but you find our mood has improved as you leave the store. You smile at other folks as they come in. You hold the door for others. You compliment a woman on her hat. You have caught a little bug, and it’s a good mood. On the other hand, you’re riding the train home from work and another passenger criticizes you for encroaching on her space. No other words are exchanged, but you find that you have your own personal dark cloud following you on your walk home. You caught another little bug, but this time it isn’t so pleasant.

The idea that emotions can be spread from person to person can be found throughout psychological teachings; from Carl Jung to emotional intelligence guru Daniel Goleman. Much has been written about this in terms of leadership, the workplace and relationships with other adults, but what does this mean for our relationships with our kids?

Our kids aren’t just germ factories- they are emotional power plants!

When one sibling is yelling at another, it’s difficult not to catch some of that frustration. Anger tends to be met with anger simply because it’s so contagious.

“That toy is mine! Give it back!”

“No it’s not! I was playing with it first!”

Then you burst onto the scene, tired of the ruckus as you begin your own italicized anger storm.

“STOP YELLING AT EACH OTHER! I don’t care who had that toy first, if I hear any more about it, you’re both going to be sorry!”

And now we’re all mad.

When your kids give you unexpected hugs or smiles, these have the most elating effect because they’re kind, but also because we’re catching some of our child’s good mood. They hum as they do their homework and suddenly we find ourselves whistling while we do the dishes.

It’s good for us to be aware that our lovely kids (these producers of emotions) can infect us with their own feelings. Ack! But just as hand washing and vitamin C can help ward off the icks, we can work to keep our kids’ feelings of anger and frustration from affecting us too much.

What emotions are we passing on to our kids?

Emotional contagion is a two-way street. We don’t just catch things from our kids, we also pass along some “germs” of our own. What are the main emotions that you pass along? Annoyance? Impatience? Frustration? Joy? Gladness? Anxiousness?

Being aware of our powers of emotional “persuasion” can help us send the subtle messages that we want our kids to get. I even think about this when dealing with my 3 month old. If I work to stay calm even when I feel a little overwhelmed, I’m more likely to pass on some calm to her and who doesn’t like a calm baby?!

We can’t help every emotion that we have and we should rightly experience the broad spectrum of emotions. It just helps to remember that they can be caught by others, so we should think about what we’re feeling and expressing even as we feel it.

And don’t forget to cover your mouth when you cough