Your stress-level affects your parenting and thus, affects the social-emotional and overall development of your child. Parenting is stressful. Parenting stress can be due to your child
- Being young
- Being difficult because of his / her temperament
- Having a medical, emotional or behavioral problems
Or, it could be you being an environment that is not supportive (family, financial or at work) or being a single parent.
What does stress got to do with my parenting?
This stress gets translated to how you respond to your child. When you are stressed, you are more suspected to, either overreact to your child – getting upset, raising voice or becoming withdrawn or not responding to your child’s needs.
Research by Melissa Sturge-Apple team has found that mothers who had low-stress bounced back from unpleasant event and responded to child’s distress in a calm and sensitive way (good parenting). Mothers who had high level of stress get more distressed when their child was distressed and they responded in a harsh and hostile manner. Mothers who showed signs of depression were less sensitive and least emotionally engaged with their child.
Children may not know what is going on in your life, but they do sense when you are stressed. In fact, stress in contagious. Professor Dr Veronika Engert and her team found out people can get emphatic stress (aka full-blown physiological stress response) by witnessing another’s distress.
What can you do?
Knowing your stress is going to affect your parent-child relationship and more importantly, your child development, here are some ways to help you manage your stress.
Information is key. Information helps you make decision and enables you to take appropriate action. If your child is young, understand their development stages and focus on their needs. They may not be able to communicate as much as they are experiencing. Thus, they rely on you a lot more to figure out their needs.
If your child has difficult temperament, understand where is the gap between you and your child. If you have a highly adaptable child, introducing new food or changing routine may not be a concern. A child who is persistent in his own way may need to be physically removed from danger instead of providing with a verbal warning. (Read more on The Origin of Personality – see below)
If your child requires assistance due to medical, emotional or behavioral condition – find out what are your alternatives. Speak to people who may have similar experiences. Explore your options before deciding what is best for you and your child. Once decided, put the plan on action, track and review the progress of your child. Communicate with the doctors and therapists to be updated. Share your concerns with them and get supported.
Ask for Help
Understand that being a parent does not mean that you are doing it on your own. Ask for support – running to grocery store, having a family member to babysit your child while you get some time-off. Turn grocery trip into a treasure hunt activity with child or child-parent bonding or me-time to grab a cup of coffee after grocery.
Being a parent do mean you need to learn to time manage better between self, family, work and child. You will only find out who is with you when you start asking for help. Friends, family, neighbors, teachers, therapists are great resources available to you if you need help. Share your concern with them. They may not be able to help you resolve your concern, but they may know someone who might be able to.
Parenting can be hard enough without additional negativity. Stress tends to push you to focus on the negative stuff. Nothings going well. The sky is falling. And it spirals. Negative attracts negative and that triggers more stress in you. If you find yourself moving in a downward spiral, limit your exposure to negativity. Social medias, news or people that does not sit well with you – block them. Turn to posts, news or people (and activities) that invigorate and motivate you. Take a different route to work, re-arrange the furniture or re-discover your hobby done when you were a teen. Change your actions to change your mood.
Tweak Your Routine
If only we have a reset button that we can press to put everything in order. Unfortunately, we don’t. However, it should not stop you from doing it. Set a reminder for a weekly, fortnightly or monthly reset. Spend 10 minutes looking at your present state. Listen to your body. Hear your emotions. Ask if there is anything that you want to change. Take a tiny step towards making the change. It could be a simple re-arrangement of items or routine that makes it all easier.
Have regular me-time. Make an effort to relax and re-charge yourself. Learn the signs your body is telling you are getting stressed then do something to get out of the cycle. Take action. There is a choice in what you choose to do to manage your stress. Deciding that you don’t have a choice is also a choice. Your child will benefit greatly from you take care of yourself.
How parents’ stress can hurt a child, from the inside out, The Forbes 2012.
The origin of personality, Thomas A, Chess S, Birch AG. Scientific American 1970.