As parents, we know all too well that our children tend to follow our example, not our advice. This is especially true when it comes to reducing stress. While stress has become a common topic in our day-to-day conversations, many parents report that they don’t feel very successful when it comes to managing stress. This has a direct impact on how our children learn to cope with multiple demands and complex challenges.
A recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association called “Stress in America” highlights a trend that’s important information for all parents. It revealed that children across the U.S. are often much more stressed than parents realize. Over two-thirds of parents think their stress level has little to no impact on their child’s stress level. However, a striking 86% of the children in the survey reported the opposite – that their parent’s stress levels definitely impact them.
If parents are not proactive in addressing their own stress, they might unknowingly overlook the signs and symptoms of stress in their children. There is a danger in this, as young people are then left unsupported in identifying stress, and without the necessary tools and resources to manage it in a world where stress is escalating.
We can begin to change this condition by starting with some self-compassion for the complex challenges that are part of parenting. Most of us can find examples of both healthy and not-so-healthy ways we tend to deal with stress. If we slightly move the needle toward healthier coping behaviors, we help our children form critically important habits and life skills. As parents, we don’t need to be experts in stress management, but we do need to be engaged.
The alarming stress level of our young people is a call to action for all of us to be more proactive in addressing our daily stress, for our own health and resilience, and for the health of our children. Fortunately, good quality resources are readily available.
Many of the tools we have for effective stress management come from the field of mind-body medicine. Research conducted over the last 40 years has produced compelling evidence that nearly everyone can receive significant physical, emotional and social benefits from using stress reduction tools. The time we invest in using these tools can result in improved health, well-being, and balance in our families.
With well-researched and effective tools so easily available to us, the challenge is to integrate these skills into our busy family routines. Time, energy and motivation are some of the most common obstacles for many parents. Sharing experiences, challenges and successes with other parents is one very effective way to overcome these obstacles.
Some Lane County, Oregon, resources are listed below. Here are several general ways to help your children successfully manage stress:
- Be a role model. Learn and apply stress reduction tools, and talk to your children about your own experiences.
- Help your children learn the difference between healthy ways of coping with stress (e.g., taking a walk, asking for support, eating breakfast, setting priorities) and unhealthy ways (e.g., using alcohol or drugs, over-eating, withdrawing into virtual reality).
- Take the time to acknowledge your children when you see them successfully managing a stressful situation. This helps build both skill and confidence.
- Take family breaks from “screen” time (e.g., plan some tech-free meals together).
- Make stress management a family project and part of everyday conversation. Everyone will benefit from the increased focus.
We know that children are constantly imitating our behaviors. By bringing stress reduction tools into our family activities, we give our children a lifetime of support for living healthy and successful lives in our fast-moving world.
Deborah Aikens, Ph.D. is a psychologist specializing in mind-body approaches to health; she is the director of the Northwest Center for Health Promotion. NCHP offers a 6-week “Renew Your Life” Stress Reduction Program that begins with a free introductory class. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families through parent support and education. Explore our website; call 541-484-5316; or visit Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram. Family Info Line is also available; call 211, extension 5, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Lane County resources include:
Amy Trezona, RN, BSN 6-week mind/body stress reduction program, 541-912-0216 or email email@example.com
Michael Leeds, PhD, 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, 541.654.2694 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Freinkel, UO Healthy Campus Initiative, 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, email@example.com