With so little time today and so much to do, children today just don't seem to get enough time with their parents.
Stress affects children today more than just about any time in history. They sleep less, their parents argue and separate more, we expose them to graphical and violent images regularly and they consume more caffeine than ever.
You may think as a parent that you’re doing a good job of shielding your kids from your anxiety and stress when in fact new research shows that your children are probably picking up on it anyway – and it’s affecting them big time, physically and emotionally, more than you could ever imagine. How will their future be, when it’s shaped around such a stressful early life?
“Parental stress can weaken the development of a child’s brain or immune system, increasing the risk of allergies, obesity, or mental disorders,” says David Code, author of “Kids Pick Up on Everything.” Research shows that kids can “catch” their parents’ stress, overloading their systems until they act out or exhibit mental and physical illness, he says. “Stress is highly contagious between parent and child, even if the parent is unaware of his or her own anxiety.”
Parenting expert Lori Lite, a mother of three, author, and founder of the “Stress Free Kids” line of books, CDs, and lesson plans, agrees. “I believe children feel their parents’ stress,” she says. “Children that do not know how to manage stress healthily will see it manifest in other areas like overeating, headaches, even anger.”
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But how do your children know that something is not right, even when we keep on reassuring them (and try to believe ourselves) that everything is fine? Specialists call this attunement, and it may have to do with our ability to feel empathy. “Attunement is basically a fancy word for what we used to call the mother-infant bond, where parent and child are so attuned to each other that the child can pick up on a parent’s stress and absorb it almost by osmosis,” explains Code, who calls it “the mind-body connection” in his book. “It’s not so much what we say or do to our kids. It’s more about the ‘vibe’ we give off in their presence. We simply cannot fake being calm to our kids.”
After having specialised and treated adrenally fatigued and stressed out parents and children since 2007, I have known many parents aren’t even aware of how high their stress levels really are. Our global economy is still fragile and our lifestyles are becoming increasingly isolated – “multitasking” and feeling “stressed-out” are becoming terms we accept increasingly as normal parts of our lives. Society expects us to be perfect parents, and this is also increasing our stress levels. We are up all hours on computers, over half of all families don’t even eat at the same table anymore. Our communication is now all about screens. Even our children look at screens instead of their mother or father’s face increasingly.
“It’s not about, ‘The more attention I give my kid, the better they’ll turn out.’ Rather, it’s about, “The calmer and more social I am, the better my kid will turn out’,’ David Code mentions. “It turns out we were so busy killing ourselves to make a living and also to make our kids happy that our stress is now actually making them unhealthy.”
Does your child complain of a headache or that they can’t go to sleep? I have seen many children in my clinic increasingly presenting with headaches, insomnia, “stomach migraines”, bed-wetting, eating and behavioural disorders, and plenty more. The doctor’s answer? Drugs and more drugs. The focus here needs to be on the lifestyle first, as well as a proper nutritious diet. I like to treat the parents for adrenal fatigue, and have seen an amazing turnaround most times of burned out and stressed out parents. Treat the parents or caregiver of a child, and the child will often feel less stressed.
The unfortunate thing is that parents who know that they’re under a lot of stress often cannot notice that their kids’ stress levels are high, too. A 2010 study by the American Psychological Association found that one third of age 8 to 17 reported having had headaches within the past month, but only 13 percent of their parents thought the headaches resulted from stress. Forty-four percent of the kids surveyed said that they had trouble sleeping because of stress, but only 13 percent of their parents noticed it. And while 20 percent of the kids in the survey said that they worry “a great deal or a lot,” only three percent of their parents rated the kids’ stress as “extreme.”
Paediatrician Dr. Michelle Bailey, Director of Education at Duke Integrative Medicine and the author of “Parenting Your Stressed Out Child” had the following to say in June 2011 : “Parents can help by learning to talk about and model stress reduction techniques with their kids,” She suggests that “mindful practices” such as paying attention to one’s thoughts and emotions without passing judgement can help.
“A lot of stress is not a reaction to actual danger, but a reaction to our thoughts,” she explained. “Being mindful gives children time to deliberately notice their thoughts and choose how to respond, rather than moving automatically into a stressful state.”
David Code, author of “Kids Pick Up on Everything.” mentions that “Lowering your own stress levels can do wonders for your kids as well, the lower our stress response, the fewer verbal cues parents pass on to their children, so kids’ stress response stays lower, too.”
Here are a few simple tips on lowering stress levels, according to Lori Lite, author of “Stress Free Kids”: “Try actual relaxation techniques like deep breathing, visualisation and positive & affirmative statements throughout your day.” Lori suggests for parents to “Explain to your child that you are calming yourself down, and always remember to use calm and positive statements when you are feeling tense, angry and frustrated”.
With the younger kids, blow bubbles or play many simple yet fun games. It is a perfect way to diffuse tension and stress. Lie down with your child and teach them to slowly and deeply breathe, a perfect tension buster. Take the dog for a walk and lie down on the grass and look at the clouds in the sky. I like to get the parents who come and see me with stressed kids, to become kids again themselves. For stressed out parents, I’d like you to look at the signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue. Also, read How To DE-Stress and also Are You Heading For Burnout?
The important thing is to give your child your presence, and not presents. They want your love and time; they are not really that interested in all those technical toys and money. The best investment you will ever make is in the time you spend with your child, not in the time you perceive is important in order to build up your portfolio. One day you will be old, and you would give your right arm for your child to spend time with you. Return on emotional investment. And then listen to “Cats in the Cradle”, a 1974 song written and performed by Harry Chapin. This song is a must for all parents to hear, especially fathers.
Article Last Update 16 September 2011