When Parents Are Stressed
While periodic frustration with your child is inevitable, overall, your child is counting on you to learn how to cope with your own issues so you can concentrate on theirs. If you have difficulty dealing with stress, and your children experience you that way more days than not, they will most likely have difficulty also. In a study by the Institute of Education on life satisfaction, researchers found that, for children whose parents are stressed out, the child was significantly affected, especially if the father's distress level was high. They went further to claim that a parent's emotional health or lack thereof has a long-term impact on the child's emotional health.
It is important to pay attention to your child's behavior to see if the stress you are experiencing in your life is manifesting in her. Look first for physical and emotional aches and pains. If your child has been complaining, then you can start asking gentle questions to find the source. Check your own barometer to see if your child's complaints mirror your own stress level.
How Your Stress Affects Your Child
It is easy to forget that your children have ears. Even if they are not in the room, that does not mean they are not listening. When children hear you argue or yell, they will internalize your experience and make it their own. Research shows they will carry negative feelings around inside of themselves. This can cause children to become depressed, anxious, withdrawn, mistrusting of people, or fearful. Children of stressed-out parents also feel the need to read their parents' moods and tone of voice as a way to judge how safe it is to be around them at that time, or to ask for what they need. Unfortunately, this behavior creates tremendous stress and anxiety internally for a child, altering what would have been his normal developmental process. Future consequences might cause him to lack assertiveness and fear confrontation.
My child watches everything I do, and then imitates me. Is this normal?
Yes, and modeling healthy choices while under stress or during difficult times is an excellent way for your children to learn. Writing in a journal, taking a walk or bike riding, calling a good friend, or destressing in a hot bath is the ticket to teach your child that stress is, at times, a part of life, and does not have to have negative consequences.
It is also important to keep in mind the coping skills your children learn as they watch you handle stress. Do you unconsciously reach for food, a cigarette, a beer or glass of wine, or use foul language when you are under pressure? Studies have shown your child will internalize your choices as an appropriate coping method. It is also important to note that anxiety will be lessened, even if your child or the family is under stress, when your child does not have to take care of you emotionally.