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Home Family Parenting Advice How to keep stress from impacting the family — Good Parenting

How to keep stress from impacting the family — Good Parenting

Stressed momDear Dr. Debbie,

Our family — my husband and three children ages 2 to 8 — has a pretty good weekday routine. We squeeze in at least one “quality” family activity per weekend around the housework and errands. Why is it, though, when I’m extra stressed from work or a too busy weekend that the children, especially the 2-year-old, are more difficult?

Thrown Off My Rhythm

Don’s miss last week’s column Causes and cures for a grumpy baby — Good Parenting

Dear Thrown Off,

The simple explanation is that your mood influences your posture, face, physical actions and tone of voice.

As a key element of your family’s functioning, your behavior shapes the children’s perception of whether all is right with their immediate world. A younger child is more vulnerable than an older child because he is still so dependent on a parent for feeding, dressing, hygiene and emotional control. An older child, whose sibling position includes expectations of helping other members of the family, will notice things not being done or will be directly called upon to help if the parent is otherwise engaged. The middle child can be set off by the stress reactions of her siblings as well as that of a parent.

When your rhythm is off and you are rushing to do things like pick out pajamas, for your children it’s as if a dependable washing machine is on the fritz — causing doubt that the laundry will get done. Everything that should happen next is now in question.

Similarly, a parent’s malfunctioning due to stress can set off a stress reaction in the rest of the family.
Research on stress and very young children has led to the understanding that while a little stress in one’s day is to be expected and easily recovered from, excessive stress can impair healthy brain development. Children do best with caring, consistency and reliability from a parent.

Time Management

Try to stick to your children’s daily routines for getting up and out in the morning, mealtimes, bedtime and any regularly scheduled coming and goings.

If there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to get everything done, look for short cuts for things that take you away from engaging with your children. For meal preparation, for example, cook ahead on the weekend so that weekday dinner is just a matter of reheating. Dinner leftovers can be packed into tomorrow’s lunches.

For getting dressed for the day and for bed, organize and label the children’s dresser drawers. This also helps your older children to put away their own clothes. A bedtime routine for three children with two adults can use some overlap. This can be done effectively when children’s needs are met without competition with each other for parental attention. Work in shared tub time, shared snuggle and story time, and shared singing to put two or three children to sleep. A well-executed bedtime helps everyone to be well rested which is critical to a good mood.

Stress Management

It’s not easy to balance work demands and family demands, however, clearly dividing your time is one approach.

A plan made in advance will help you balance household chores and reconnecting as a family on the weekends. Work things out with your husband or other childcare options so that you have the time needed to attend adequately to work obligations. If your stress from work is not about time, but more about pressures and personalities, learn to unwind regularly to relieve your mind and body. Try yoga, brisk walks, a dose of nature, coloring books, karaoke, kickboxing, meditation, massage, a good book, a chat with an old friend or various other means of restoring your inner calm. There are clever ways to combine stress management with family time such as turning a hobby into a family activity. But if you find this only creates new stresses, be sure to reserve some alone time to pursue your stress relief.

If you keep a close watch on your stress level, taking steps to prevent an overload, you will be more available to provide the good parenting your children need.

Dr. Debbie

 Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She has a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long-time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy[at]jecoannapolis.com.

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