Being a parent is so rewarding – well some of the time. Initially there is the pleasure in seeing your baby’s first smile, first words, first steps – and then your child demonstrates their strong will by refusing to wear the new shoes you chose for them, then refusing to eat your carefully prepared food, then challenging your wisdom.
But the stress we feel as parents is not just related to our children. We live busy lives. Some of us are working part-time or full-time, juggling home and work, family and friends. Others are working as full-time parents, often looking after friends’ children, volunteering in schools, juggling home and out-of-home activities, family and friends.
There will be many different reasons that have led to raised stress levels, such as finance, relationships, tension at work, being too busy, and challenging relationships within the family.
The way we respond to stress, the behaviours we exhibit is what our children see, hear and absorb:
- Children often assume that our stress is caused by them, even if they don’t know what they have done to create difficulties
- We model how to be stressed to our children, and they learn this from us
So how can we protect our children from being harmed by our stress?
First of all, consider how stress affects you. Do you become tearful or angry, tired of have difficulty sleeping, do you get headaches or feel down? All of us respond to stress differently, depending on factors such as our own childhood, our temperament or the situation we are facing.
Each child will also respond to our stress and their own stress differently, depending on their temperament or issues that they are experiencing. If we are responding with angry outbursts and shouting, they may well shout too.
So, what can we do?
If we find strategies that help us to manage our stress, we will also be modelling this to our children, and they will learn how to manage the stress they feel. Here are some ideas – you can add your own to this list:
- Look after yourself – a healthy diet, physical exercise and getting enough sleep will help you to keep healthy
- Talk to your partner or a good friend about how you are feeling
- Listen to your children and try to understand how they are feeling
- Take a long hard look at your lifestyle. Are there things that you could give up, or ways that you could slow down?
- Take time off – have time for yourself, even a short time each day
- Find things that help you relax – peaceful music, a cup of tea, a walk – whatever works for you, so that you can de-stress
- Be organised – making short lists can be a helpful way to prioritise between things that are important and things that can wait
- Congratulate yourself when you have coped with something difficult
- Look on the bright side – concentrate on the positive things about being a parent, the good times in your life
Stress is catching and your children will become stressed when you are stressed. Think of ways that you can help them to manage their stress levels too.
However busy your life is, try to spend time with each child individually on a regular basis. At Fegans, we call this ‘Special Time’, a time which is child-led, when your child chooses what they want to do with you, and you follow their lead.
When your child is testing your limits, find some way to distract them and switch the attention.
Humour and laughter is a great way to defuse a stressful situation. Try to see the funny side of things and have fun together.
Sometimes routine activities routinely create stressful situations between parents and children. Be creative and change your routine where possible. This will help to break a pattern of learned responses.
Try not to compare your child with other children. Every child is different. Focus on the positive things about your child and celebrate these.
Stress happens. All families experience varying degrees of stress at different times and for different reasons. However, it’s important to be aware of triggers of parental stress to address these and find ways to cope before it trickles down to our children.
Modelling how to deal with stress will help our children to become more resilient and give them valuable life skills.