April is Stress Awareness Month which aims to increase our knowledge about the effects of stress and teach us how to handle it better. You’ll see lots of advice about managing stress in the workplace, at university or during pregnancy, but there’s much less advice for managing stress as a parent. A lot of parents may feel ashamed to admit that, yes, their children do stress them out. We’re here to dispel some of that shame and provide you with some helpful tips on how to cope with stress as a parent.
Parenting stress is essentially when parents feel that they are not able to meet the demands of them as a parent. This might be caused by financial strain, lack of support or even specific (and quite normal) issues like tantrums or struggling to potty train their child. We’ve probably all felt like this and that’s okay from time to time. However, ongoing parenting stress can make us over-reactive (we blow up at our kids for nothing) or it can make us withdraw and become less sensitive to our children’s needs. That’s why it’s important to learn how to cope with stress as a parent so that we can maintain a supportive, nourishing relationship with our children.
The first tip for dealing with stress as a parent is to stop berating yourself for feeling this way. Negative thoughts about yourself and your abilities as a parent will only exacerbate stress. It’s easy to feel like everyone else is doing a better job at parenting than you, especially in an age of social media and family bloggers, but try to remember that this isn’t reality. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent, everyone can only do the best that they can do. Once you accept this, you’ll stop being so hard on yourself and feel a lot better.
The old saying is true, it really does take a village. It’s almost impossible to raise a child on your own – we need support from our partners, family and friends. That could be something as simple as discussing a parenting problem or asking if they could have the kids for a night, so you get some time to unwind. If you don’t have close friends or family to turn to, you can also join parenting groups or online parenting communities, who can empathise and support you.
Does teatime always end in tears? Or is every day out a nightmare? When you identify events which are likely to cause stress, you can prepare yourself to prevent this. For example, if you find the school run stressful, you should consider why you find it stressful. If you normally end up snapping at the kids as you get them ready, you could try to let them do more themselves. Perhaps you need to wash their face and brush their hair, but could they get dressed on their own? Lay out the clothes they’re going to wear the night before and let them get dressed alone. Or if you get stressed by the schooltime traffic you could try to set off earlier to avoid it or play your favourite music to make the drive more enjoyable. Control what you can and let go of what you can’t.
If you spend all your time working and then running round after everyone else, then it’s no wonder you’re stressed! We don’t stop being people with needs when we become parents. Prioritising ‘me’ time will ensure that you are well-rested and relaxed, enabling you to be a better parent.
In the same vein, perhaps you need to de-prioritise certain activities so that you have more free time. For example, if you spend your weekend relaying the kids to various clubs, perhaps you should ask them to choose one or two activities that they would like to continue and stop the rest. Equally, if you find yourself running errands every weekend, perhaps you could try to ask someone else to help or take advantage of services like online food shopping.
Tea time. Chores. Bathtime. Bedtime. A lot of the time we spend with our children can feel like we’re overseeing a military operation. When was the last time you got to enjoy a fun activity with your child? Probably too long. Book some time off work or take advantage of the upcoming bank holidays to plan an activity that you’ll both enjoy! That could be a visit to the zoo, a day at a play area, or fort-building in the front room – the important thing is that you’re spending time together. This will alleviate your parenting stress and bring you closer together with your child.
One of the best ways to cope with stress as a parent is to adjust your mindset. If you’re stressed and you constantly rehash your worries and think about how stressed you are, you’ll ultimately make yourself more stressed. Instead, try to practice cognitive reappraisal. This is where you recognise the negative pattern in your thoughts and consciously change this to more effective, positive thoughts. So next time you’re annoyed with your child for making you late to an event, instead of becoming stressed try to reappraise the situation. Remind yourself that everyone is late every now and again, it’s not the end of the world! You can just make them get ready 30 minutes earlier next time to avoid it happening again. By challenging your thought patterns like this, eventually a more positive thought pattern will become natural.
This isn’t the first time you’ve heard this and it certainly won’t be the last, but that’s because exercise has so many benefits for our mental health. Exercise can be a great way to let out any stress or frustration that has built up throughout the day, as it reduces levels of cortisol and adrenaline. And it doesn’t just let stress out, but actually improves our mood in general. Exercise releases endorphins and dopamine into our systems, which are ‘happy’ hormones. So next time you’re feeling stressed, it might be time to hit the treadmill.
We understand that it may be hard to find the time to workout when you have young children, especially if you’re a single parent. However, you don’t need to sign up to the gym and go 5 times a week. There’s a wealth of home workouts available online – just take a look on YouTube. There’s sure to be a video on any kind of workout you want to do!
We hope this has helped you learn how to cope with stress as a parent. Whilst it’s quite natural to feel stressed from time to time, it’s important to learn how to manage this. That way, you can have a healthy, nourishing relationship with your children and enjoy a more fulfilled family life.