One of the biggest challenges in parenting is managing our own big emotions (stress, anxiety, anger, frustration) and teaching our children how to recognise and manage their own emotions. While some stress is positive in that it can motivate us and give us energy, too much stress has a negative impact on our health, our relationships and our overall sense of well-being. Because stress is triggered by our thoughts and circumstances, the more we can take control of these, the more we are able to reduce negative stress. The best way to teach our children to handle stress and other big emotions is by modelling positive responses. You don’t have to be perfect (that is far too stressful!), but below are some ways to help you and your child manage stress so that you can both be healthier and happier.
- Learn to recognise the things that cause stress in your life. Observe yourself and your child and notice those times when you can feel your own stress levels rising or when your child seems stressed. There might be specific triggers (a particularly challenging relationship, bills coming in the door, sickness or bereavement); it might be more associated with lifestyle (lack of sleep or exercise, poor nutrition, too much screen time, feelings of isolation or loneliness) or it may be something from the past that hasn’t been fully addressed. Whatever it is, naming it and recognising your feelings and your response is the first step.
- Develop a plan to reduce the stress. It’s easy to spend sleepless nights with your restless mind pinging from issue to issue. But, it really isn’t healthy. Write down what is causing the stress (for you or your child) and develop a clear plan to address the stress. Do you need to take control of your finances once and for all? What do you need to do? Does your child need help in addressing anxious feelings around school? What can you do? Who can you ask for support?
- Find healthy outlets for stress. We can’t eliminate all stress from our lives, and we can’t protect our children from all stressful situations. They need to experience some stress in order to learn how to manage it and develop resilience. What we can do is ensure that both we and our children have healthy ways of dealing with the stress in our lives. Exercise, eating well, sleeping, laughing, spending time with people we care about and nurturing our interests and talents can all help us cope with stressful situations. Try and do positive activities with your child and encourage them to talk about their feelings.
This information is adapted from the Strengthening Families Programme. Tip Sheet from the Strengthening Families Programme www.sfpcouncilireland.ie/strengthening-families/ with more ideas on managing stress.