YOUR STRESS IS CONTAGIOUS: HOW TO AVOID INFECTING YOUR KIDS
By Dr. Sandy Gluckman | Contributor
You are a loving, thoughtful and responsible parent. You totally adore your kids! There is nothing you would not do to keep them safe and happy. So you are rushing around trying to get all the stuff on your To-Do list done. You’re watching the clock because the kids have to be fetched from school, taken to extra-curricular activities, get their homework done, eat a healthy supper and get to bed to get as much sleep as possible. They also want your attention. Teenagers want you to be there for them when they want to talk or when they need something – especially when they want to tell you that you’ve got it all wrong! Being a parent to teens is an all-consuming job but so very worthwhile.
So with all this going on its no wonder than so many moms and dads tell me that they are stressed. Life is hectic. But parents are strong, even superhuman, and so they keep going like the Energizer Bunny, flop into bed at night and then start all over again the next day.
You can run but you cannot hide
The truth about stress that parents often don’t think about is that no matter how well you seem to cope, if you are feeing stressed you will be broadcasting your stress to your kids. You may not be actually saying to them, “I am so stressed,” but whether they are newborns or teens, your kids know when you are stressed. And – get this – when they see your stress and sense your stress it actually changes their physiology in such a way that they too become stressed. Wow! That’s huge! It means that your stress is contagious!
Reducing your stress as a parent is the most loving thing you can ever do for your child.
Every day I see how parents turn themselves inside out doing things that make the kids happy but you often don’t do the one thing, the most critical thing that could literally change your children’s lives for the better – and that is to find ways to reduce your own stress.
I don’t expect parents to become neurobiologists. I am suggesting though that because we live in a high stress and pressure world, moms and dads need to understand that when you are in stress mode, your children’s neurobiology will also automatically go into stress mode. When your kids instinctively pick up on the tension around your eyes, the tightness around your mouth, your strained body language, your edgy tone of voice and the harsh words you may unintentionally utter, in that split second their chemistry shifts from healthy to unhealthy. This affects their ability to behave positively, learn easily and love life.
A quick neurobiology lesson.
Your stress sets off an alarm in an area of your child’s brain called the amygdala which sends out a message to the hypothalamus, which alerts the pituitary, saying, “Hey dudes, mom’s stressed (or dad’s stressed), and this doesn’t feel good.” To deal with this alarm, stress hormones are secreted and the child’s brain goes into fight or flight. What you see then is a child who displays all kinds of angry or withdrawn behaviors. This child is then at risk for being diagnosed and treated for being defiant or depressed when actually the child is just stressed because mom, dad, caregiver or teacher are stressed – and their stress is contagious. The only way to prevent this from happening is to learn how to become a stress-less parent.
4 Steps to Take Today!
Mom and Dad, create a quiet time where together you can reflect on these four questions below. Be sure to give each other honest and loving feedback and then courageously commit to making REAL change happen. Remember your children’s health and wellbeing are at stake.
The 4 Questions for a Stress-Less Life
- What can I (Mom; Dad) do to reduce my stress so that my child sees me as a calm, centered and joy-filled person? Remember your child is picking up on your stress. Write at least 3 things you each can and will do. Discuss and brainstorm what could happen if you don’t make these changes.
- Ask yourselves, “When we listen to our child, what is he or she telling us about what makes him/her feel stressed?” Make a list of what stresses your child. Remember that it may seem silly or trivial to you, but if your child finds something stressful, it is hurting his spirit, body and brain. So take it seriously.
- Brainstorm “What can we, as parents, change that will reduce or remove this stress from our child’s life?” If it is a school issue then you will need to be your child’s advocate and ensure that you and the school find ways to address this stress. If it is a home issue then you, as Mom and Dad, will need to make lifestyle or relationship changes that will reduce or remove the child’s stress. If your child has irrational or imagined fears then find a skilled functional practitioner that can help you with tools to deal with this.
- Look around your home. Is it a calming place? Are the colors of the walls and furnishings warm, gentle and calming? Is it organized yet free enough to be safe and relaxing? Is there enough natural light? Is it a place that is peaceful and serene? If not, agree on changes that you will make.
Small changes can have a major effect of reducing stress. But if bigger, more challenging changes are required, and if you realize this but prefer to remain in denial or are afraid of making these changes, your child can remain in an unsafe state of chronic stress. Remember that your child’s spirit, body and brain are depending on you to have the courage to do whatever it takes to take the stress away.
For more information on becoming Stress-less and other drug-free treatment options, visit Dr. Sandy at ParentsTakeCharge.com.