Can parents’ stress really affect their children?
I want you to think about how many times you’ve felt unnerved the past week. I can personally name a laundry list of things that can offset my entire day: running late in the morning, spilling my coffee, or traffic on the way to school. These type of stresses come second-nature to us parents, but we need to remember:
Our kids are watching.
We all have instincts about how to react to stress. After all, we’ve spent our entire lives getting used to these daily stressors that they’ve become commonplace.
But these situations (and stress in general) are new to your kids. They are looking to you for guidance on how to deal with, well— life.
Even something as seemingly harmless as muttering under your breath during traffic stops can set a negative tone. This encourages your children to mimic these reactions when facing their own life difficulties.
Your kids are in their developmental stage from birth to their teenage years. This means they are impressionable. As parents, it’s our job to teach them healthy ways to react to stress.
How Parents’ Stress Can Hurt a Child – The Truth
Parental stress has become chronic over the last few decades. As adults, we’re all very aware of the adverse effects that this can put on our bodies, especially over time.
But what if your child is being exposed to these symptoms before they’re even born?
Here’s what we know:
According to a study, parents’ stress during pregnancy can “cause a variety of postnatal abnormalities, including not only the behaviors that resemble the defining core symptoms of AD (Autistic Disorder), but also other problems, such as seizure disorders, cognitive deficits, and abnormalities in immune function, that also have greatly elevated rates in AD.”
Even more, studies suggest, “if a mother is stressed while pregnant, her child is substantially more likely to have emotional or cognitive problems, including an increased risk of attentional deficit/hyperactivity, anxiety, and language delay.”
Of course, it’s important to note that stress is a natural part of life, and various degrees of it aren’t harmful at all. It becomes dangerous when it’s a constant presence in your body and your household.
Stress Management For Parents
While kids don’t genetically inherit anxiety and stress from their parents, it becomes a learned behavior if it’s continuously a part of their environment.
Whenever you react to a stressful situation, your children soak in that negativity and feel your emotions. It hurts them to see you upset, especially when you take it out on them. They’ll wonder what they did wrong and start thinking that they are the cause of your anger and frustration.
To make sure your child doesn’t develop their own adverse knee-jerk reactions to uncomfortable situations, you first have to learn how to manage your own.
As adults, this is more difficult because we learned this behavior as kids— and no one taught us how to manage it. Now that you’re in the driver’s seat, you have to make bold intentions to try and soothe your anxiety and stress. Only then can you teach your kids better ways to handle stress to prevent this harmful reaction from becoming the norm for them once they are adults.
Remember that kids take their cues from you. As you learn to manage your stress, your kids will know what they need to do when they feel anxious. Let them see mommy or daddy take deep belly breaths the next time you feel overwhelmed with work or housekeeping. Then, watch for your kids to start mimicking these behaviors— it’s truly something to see and definitely a moment of pride as a parent.
Here are 3 of my favorite and most comfortable solutions to manage stress:
If you’re prone to overwhelm, take a little Me Time to start journaling. Use your Notes App, your computer, or the good old pen and paper. Whenever you feel that stress creeping into your body, take a moment and write down what you’re feeling. Getting these emotions out of your body and onto something else is a surprisingly effective tactic to reduce your levels of anxiety.
Talk To Your Kids About Your Feelings
We can’t eliminate stress completely, but we can teach our kids that we can manage it by acknowledging it.
We’ve all lashed out at our kids when we’ve had “just about enough.” But we need to remedy these situations.
The next time this happens, I want you to take a moment, breath, and then let your kids know why you reacted the way you did.
You can say something like, “Mommy/Daddy is stressed, and sometimes that causes her to yell or say things she doesn’t mean. Do you want to try relaxing with me?”
Follow this up with a mindfulness activity such as coloring, writing, or going for a walk outside. This will teach your kids that there are better ways to handle stressful moments—even if they do come later in the day.
All of this sounds great in theory, but are you going to remember to whip out these strategies in the heat of the moment?
Probably not. At least, not right away.
As with everything else that makes you successful, you have to make it intentional until it becomes second nature.
It won’t come naturally, and it won’t come easy. The way to make it stick is to make it a routine. Grab your favorite stress-busting tools from Amazon and familiarize yourself with 3-4 key breathing exercises.
Then, practice as a family!
The next time you and your kids are running late, take 5-10 minutes to do breathing exercises in the car. A good time slot to practice mindfulness and breathing right before your children dive into their homework. Having a bedtime routine with breathing exercises is another way to seamlessly incorporate anxiety-busting practices into both your and your child’s day.