by Sahra Y. Robinson, LCSW-R
Parenting should come with a stress-management manual; while it is enormously rewarding and fulfilling, it is also very stressful. Some stress can be helpful, giving us the motivation and focus to face challenges and get things done; however, too much stress can be overwhelming, making it difficult to cope with everyday life. Parents’ ability to manage their “own” stress is a powerful predictor of their children’s well-being. When parents become stressed, that stress becomes contagious. Kids know when their parents are tense and overwhelmed. In fact, according to holistic physician Dr. Amy Saltzman, “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 our “own” stress. Parents of children 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, a 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 our experiences with openness and without reactive judgements. When parents practice mindfulness, they not only reduce their stress but are also able to make better decisions and “respond” to their children’s behavior rather than “reacting” to it. We should 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. It’s essential to re-engineer family time so that time is best spent together. We should have fun with our kids. It’s important to remember that not everything we do with our children has to be for academic enrichment. Even just 20 minutes a week can give us a well-needed respite from the stressors of everyday life.
- Make time for ourselves: It can be easy to forget to make time for ourselves. We need to make a list of all that we enjoy, and try to do one thing on the list every day or every couple of days. We also have to learn to say “no.” We must be selective about the projects we agree to help others with and re-assess if our kids really need to be involved in five different sports in less than five days. It’s also important to get enough rest. We should try setting a bedtime rule for ourselves like we do for our 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 we need it. We should be proactive in arranging to have extra help. Whether we 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 that all have kids close in age is beneficial socially for the grownups as well as the children.
Despite our best efforts to manage our parenting stress, sometimes things will inevitably be too much to deal with on our own or with our support systems. When we can recognize that we are feeling overwhelmed, we need to take action. We should consider enlisting the help of a licensed mental health professional.
We need to always remember that “everything can be done better from a relaxed state of mind.”
Serenity Zone is a Long Beach-based psychotherapy and stress-management practice. Its team of licensed psychotherapists use therapeutic modalities coupled with effective stress-management teachings, like MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction). Team members incorporate numerous relaxation techniques (light and sound therapy, progressive muscle relaxation, breathing techniques, meditation, visualization and guided imagery) into their work. They treat children, adolescents and adults as individuals, groups, couples or families.
Sahra Y. Robinson, LCSW-R, is the owner of Serenity Zone—located at 120 West Park Ave., Long Beach—and a proud mom.