by Dr. Laura Markham
“I’m stressed, we’re rushing, and before I know it, I’m yelling. When I see the look on his face, I feel awful. He was just being a kid. And I was just stressed out.” — Dana
As every parent learns, you can’t be a good mom or dad when you’re stressed out, no matter how positive your intentions.
It’s true that modern life creates a ton of stress, but it’s also true that what stresses out one person may just roll off the back of another. So stress is partly what happens to us, but mostly our reaction to it. Each of us has a responsibility as a parent to manage our own stress. After all, do you want your kids to have the best of you — or what’s left of you?
A three pronged approach works best:
- Pare down the stressors in your life.
- Keep your cup full so that you have more internal resources to deal with the curve balls that life inevitably throws at you.
- Retrain your attitude so you notice as you slip into stress-mode and can make the choice to shift gears.
Here are ten stress-busting strategies that draw on all three ideas, that you can use starting today.
- Pay attention to breathing, calmly and deeply, as often as you remember, all day long. Remembering to breathe may sound simple, but it will change your life. Late for an appointment? Breathe. Kids just dump their toys in the toilet? Breathe. Taking deep breaths so you get more oxygen actually reduces the stress hormones circulating in your body.
Noticing your breath is like using a pause button. It brings you back into the moment, so you have a choice. Do you really want to get hijacked by the stress and end up yelling at your kid, or could you choose a better way to handle things?
Put post-its up all over your house and in your car to remind you, and when you see one, take 3 deep breaths. The practice will make it more effective when you have one of those inevitable stress-inducing moments.
- Pare down your schedule.Much of the stress we feel comes from routinely over-scheduling. But that’s a choice we make. We think it’s helpful to squeeze more in, but it always costs us. Kids thrive on connection, so when we get too busy to just hang out and connect with them, they act out. Prioritize your kids and your relationship. Then drop anything else you can. Your house can stay a mess a little longer. Serve scrambled eggs and raw carrots for dinner. (Yes, that is nutritionally fine.) Your children need you in a good mood muchmore than they need you to cook.
- Sleep. Sleep is an essential stress buster. Your body uses your sleep time to heal and restore a better biochemical balance. This is hard, because sleep often feels out of our control. But you canget more sleep, even if it means going to bed when the kids do. Just do it. Even a few days a week of this discipline will shift your mood.
- Move. Exercise is the best stress reducer there is, after deep breathing and getting enough sleep. Twenty minutes of sweat inducing activity every day will cut cortisol levels and put you in a good mood. What more incentive do you need? Turn on the music and get your kids dancing with you! (Want more ideas? See Box.)
- Cut your kid some slack.You don’t need to stress about every little misstep from your child. The fact that Michael clobbered his playmate or Jillian smeared poop on the wall doesn’t mean they’ll be psychopaths. Most childish behavior is developmentally appropriate. This is your baby, showing you in the best way he can that he needs your love and understanding. Most acting out can be cured by your reconnecting with your child and getting some real laughter going between you, which heals both your stress. On those days when you’re ready to tear your hair out, remember that moment when you first held your child in your arms, and how lucky you felt. You’re still that lucky, and you can still feel that way. It’s a choice.
- Postpone anything but love.What about those times when you really do need to intervene to set a limit with your child? Go ahead. But first, remind yourself that it’s not an emergency. You don’t have to teach your child a lesson this very moment. In fact, all you have to do right now is keep everyone safe and return yourself to Calm. Anything you need to say to your child, you will say better once you’re calm and able to re-connect with love. This eliminates the stress of feeling so pressured and powerless in that moment to say the right thing to your child (or, in most cases, to come up with the right threat!) It also prevents saying things you’re sorry for later, so it makes you a more effective parent.
- Give up your perfectionism.Sure, life is messy, but is that any reason to postpone love and happiness? You’re more than enough, just the way you are. There are no perfect people, and there are no perfect parents. Trying to be perfect is a huge source of stress. It tightens a vise around your heart. Loving yourself – really feeling your love for yourself, even though you aren’t perfect – may be the single most important thing you can do to de-stress and help your child thrive. Practice positive self-talk. Find ways to nurture yourself. If you simply must evaluate yourself as a parent, never judge yourself by your child’s behavior, but by your reaction to it. Only love today.
- Count your blessings and cultivate optimism. Every time you start to feel negative, find as many things as you can to be grateful for, and really feel that gratitude. Research shows this practice reduces stress and improves health and happiness.
- Find support.Parenting is the hardest job there is. We ALL need support, someone we can vent to who won’t judge us or try to fix us. If you need more of that kind of support in your life, find other parents with whom you feel comfortable and start building new friendships. Listen to parenting audios that soothe and inspire you. Find yourself a parenting coach with whom you can check in occasionally. Even the simple act of writing in a journal has been proven to be an effective way of supporting ourselves and coming to peace with things that bother us.
- Find spirit in your life.This can mean a higher power, but it doesn’t have to. Just step away from the distractions and find the quiet that inspires you to connect with your deepest wisdom. For some of us, it’s as simple as a walk in the woods or gazing at the stars. Your kids benefit from quiet time in nature too. We all need to reconnect regularly with the miracles that make life worth living.
Dr. Laura Markham is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. She earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University and has worked as a parenting coach with countless parents across the English-speaking world, both in person and via phone. You can nd Dr. Laura online at AhaParenting.com, the website of Aha! Moments for parents of kids from birth through the teen years, where she offers a free daily inspiration email to parents.