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Raising kids can be challenging and — let's face it — stressful at times. Tantrums, sibling rivalry, aggressive play, an unwillingness to help with chores, puberty and less than stellar academic achievements are examples of parenting challenges that can make moms and dads feel really stressed out.
Are you dealing with stress in your own life while you wonder how to overcome these and other issues with your children? Financial worries, being over-stretched at work, and illness in the family are some of the most common stressors for adults. Stress changes the way we react, and it's quite possible that the behavior you would like to change in your kids is a direct result of the way you handle stress.
How does your stress impact the way you parent — and the behavioral problems you see in your kids? And how can you turn a stressful situation into an opportunity to bond with your children rather that a problem that harms your relationship?
What's Your Stress Style?
When I'm stressed, I tend to become more aggressive. My patience goes right out the window, my expectations become unrealistic, and I yell. This kind of "pull-your-hair-out", in your face reaction to stress is common. If you react in the same way, you might well take it out on your kids who are, perhaps, more likely to simply take it than your partner and other adults in your life.
Having a shouting match might discharge some of the negative energy that has been building up inside you, but the person you take your stress out on will probably feel the way you did a minute earlier after you are done. Not good.
There are other stress styles, however. Some people react to stress by becoming withdrawn and uncommunicative. Parents who lock themselves in their own minds when they are stressed might not yell at their kids, but they are not able to care for them effectively either. Your child might be eager to tell you all about his friends and his day at school, but you're not able to go beyond, "yes, I am listening to you" — when you are really thinking about that deadline at work or that unexpected medical bill.
Yet others feel the need to pour their hearts out constantly, talking about the stressful situation constantly and analyzing all aspects of it. Parents who are this way inclined might prematurely expose their children to heavy topics that they can't possibly help solve. A child who constantly worries about their dad being laid off from work, cancer treatment, or the political situation in Syria could result.
Serial displays of sadness and anxiety are a variation of this same reaction. You might not mention what is making you so stressed, but your crying will let your kids know that something is seriously wrong. Without actually being aware of what is bothering you, your children might come up with terrible disaster scenarios.
It's also possible to react to stress by attempting to avoid thinking about it. You could achieve this by chatting about irrelevant things as much as you can, or cleaning the house compulsively, or turning into a helicopter parent who manages to regain the illusion of some degree of control by micromanaging everything your child does.
Finally, engaging in an addiction is a stress style that can seriously impact your children. Comfort eating is one common form of this, but addictions more widely recognized as harmful should also be mentioned — alcohol abuse and smoking are examples.
Recognizing your personal stress style and, just as importantly, the things that are most likely to make you stressed, can help you to minimize the negative impact your stress has on your children.