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Stress Less and Parent More
By Sahra Robinson
Parenting should come with a Stress Management manual; while it is enormously rewarding and fulfilling, it is also stressful. Some stress can be helpful, giving us the motivation and focus to face challenges and get things done. But, too much stress can be overwhelming, making it difficult to cope with everyday life. Parent’s ability to manage their “own” stress is the second most powerful predictor of their kid’s wellbeing. When parents become stressed, that stress becomes contagious. Kids know when their parents are tense and overwhelmed, In fact, according to Dr. Amy Saltzman (a Holistic Physician), “data shows that the greatest source of childhood and adolescent stress is not schoolwork, extracurricular activities or peer pressure; but parental stress”. The key to successful parenting is learning to manage your “own” stress. Parents of kids who are diagnosed with a behavioral disorder or developmental disability are at an increased risk of parenting stress.
What are effective ways to manage parenting and stress?
- Mindfulness: Dr. Mark Bertin (board certified developmental/behavioral pediatrician) says that “mindfulness minimizes stress so we can parent at our best”. Mindfulness is defined as the ability to pay attention to your experience with openness, and without reactive judgements. When parents practice mindfulness, they not only reduce their stress, but they are able to make better decisions and “respond” to their child’s behavior rather than “reacting” to it. Listen first, breathe, and then respond.
- Increase quality time with the family: spending more quality time together improves the parent-child relationship. Planning is one of the more effective ways to manage stress. Re-engineer the family time so that your time is best spent together. Have fun with your kids. It is important to remember that not everything you do with your child has to be for academic enrichment. Even just 20 minutes a week can give you both a well needed respite from the stressors of everyday life.
- Make time for yourself: It can be easy to forget to make time for yourself. Make a list of all that you enjoy. Try to do 1 thing on the list every day or every couple of days. Learn to say “no”. Be selective about the projects you agree to help others with, and re-assess if your kids really need to be involved in 5 different sports in under 5 days that you have to stress over how to get them on time where each kid needs to be. Get enough rest. Try setting a bedtime rule for yourself like you do for your kids.
- Develop a support network: This is an essential step for all parents. We all need help at some point, and it pays to have a system in place before you need it. Be proactive in arranging to have extra help. Whether you hire a reliable babysitter, barter services with other parents or seek out help from friends or family; it is essential to take this step. Getting together with other parents who have kids close in age to yours is beneficial socially for both you and your kids.
Despite your best efforts to manage your parenting stress, sometimes things will inevitably be too much to deal with on your own or with your support systems. When you can recognize that you are feeling overwhelmed, take action. Enlist the help of a licensed mental health professional.
Always remember that “everything can be done better from a relaxed state of mind”.