I’d like to make an assumption today, that if you are reading this blog you are doing so because you:
A) Have children
B) Want to do your best as a parent
C) At some point in time have felt stressed.
Granted, there may be some exceptions but on the whole as parents we want to do our best and we recognise that at times we might not be achieving that. There are many factors that impact both our parenting skills and our perception of our parenting skills. If we asked you if you had at any time felt guilty as a parent, it’s very likely that every one of us would put our hands up.
We feel guilty for:
- Not giving enough
- Not having enough money
- Being too tired
- Not doing enough
- The list goes on…..
If crowns were given out to parents who felt guilty – we’d all be wearing them. But that guilt often compounds something else we all feel as parents – stress.
It’s often said that parenting doesn’t come with a manual – can you imagine how many pages it would be if it did!
We, as parents, are unique. Our children, are unique. There isn’t a one size fits all for parenting. While we may learn parenting from our own parents, sometimes we might feel that their approach gave us a good insight into how we don’t want to parent.
Not only are we and our children unique but the time we are parenting in is unique. What worked for our grandparents and our parents is unlikely to work in the society in which we are parenting today. There are many additional and different influences, demands and expectations on families today which can add to the stress of parenting.
At The Youth Fairy, we work with children and parents to help them harness the advances in science, in particular neuroscience, in order to help them to understand how the brain works and how we respond to and manage stress:
We know that there is benefit to some stress in our lives – it gives us focus, makes us more alert and gets the job done. That “good” stress comes when there is a short-term challenge which we feel we are able to overcome – it’s challenge stress. The stress that can become overwhelming and affect our ability to function well on a day-to-day basis is threat stress. This stress is more prolonged and can leave us feeling out of control and unable to cope.
Can you think of times when you’ve experienced this type of stress?
Often it accompanies change:
- A change of job
- The breakdown of a relationship
- Moving house
- Loss of a loved one.
- Uncertainty about a life situation
We have all seen an increase in stress over the last few years – the unknown impact of Covid, lockdown, health challenges, furlough, job loss, rising costs of living.
Stresses also come in more positive packages:
- Promotion at work
- More responsibility
- Growing family
The stress that we carry as parents often trickles out into our family. We might not notice it at first, but as we are feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope, we can find that we have less patience with those around us.
We know that there is a negative cycle that comes with increased stress – as our stress bucket (or busy bucket) gets fuller our ability to sleep diminishes, and yet sleep is one of our key tools for emptying the stress bucket. Sometimes we can find other ways to temporarily empty the stress bucket and these might include binge watching television, getting lost in our phones, or opening a bottle of wine each evening. These other things can help but they are only like a sticking plaster on our stress – they relieve stress in the moment, but they don’t help in the longer term.
The stress that we carry as parents often trickles out into our family. We might not notice it at first, but as we are feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope, we can find that we have less patience with those around us. Snapping at someone at work could lose us our job but at home, they love us and, not only that, they know we love them and we don’t really mean it. And although this may be the case, this isn’t the way we want to treat our family. When we respond and relate to our family, in particular our children, from this place of stress we are feeding into their stress buckets. We are also, unintentionally, setting out accepted patterns of behaviour.
We want our children to feel loved, encouraged and valued but when we respond from stress, we can instead make them feel unwanted, put down and dismissed. Where we want to build up our children’s self-esteem and self-respect, we may find ourselves chipping away at it. It’s not the outcome we want, and this leads to us feeling guilty and feeling guilty increases our stress.
The aim of our blogs is to support you in your parenting and to give you knowledge and understanding that make it easier for you to raise children who feel happier, more confident and calmer, who are resilient and are able to cope well with the challenges of life – and there are many for them as there are for us. As much as we would like our magic wands (we have wands, we are fairies after all) to have the power to eliminate stress that is beyond even our magic. The power we do have though, is to help you to recognise your stress and to help you to harness all that you can to reduce the amount in your stress bucket.
HOW TO REDUCE YOUR STRESS BUCKET (TO IMPACT POSTIVELY ON YOUR PARENTING)
If you are a regular visitor to The Youth Fairy Parent Pad you know that by increasing our feel good neurotransmitters (such as serotonin and dopamine) we can spend more time in our intellectual mind where we can make proper assessment of situations and generally are more positive (and more creative).
When your stress bucket is full, you spend more time in your primitive, anxious, angry, miserable mind – great if you’re surrounded by danger and need to run away, fight or hide but pretty frustrating if you’re just trying to get your kids ready for school in the morning!
How do you increase serotonin and dopamine?
Engage in more positive activities – we call them the 3Ps:
- Positive Action
- Walking the dog, going to the gym, reading a book, playing a game, having a bubble bath, being creative (art, sewing, singing, etc), engaging in a hobby, playing a sport.
- Positive Interactions
- Spending time with your family or friends engaging in positive action (see above), cuddles on the sofa, coffee with friends, chatting to your partner or friend.
- Positive Thoughts
- Keep a gratitude diary, share “what’s been good” at the dinner table with your family, spend time remembering the good things in your day and in your week and sharing these with your loved ones.
The above are a number of suggestions for 3P activities – what can you add to this list that works for you and your family?
When we create more 3Ps, we also start to empty and put less into our stress bucket. This then has an impact on our sleep – and as we sleep better, we give our brain more opportunity (through REM sleep) to process the emotions and stress of our day and in doing so we empty our stress bucket.
Can you see the beginning of a more positive cycle?
As parents we can spend much of our time running our children between activities, working, cleaning, cooking, paying bills – we can neglect ourselves and our stress bucket.
When you are happier, calmer and feeling more in control, you are less likely to:
- to overreact when your child is having a bad day (avoiding in a meltdown – theirs or yours)
- withdraw because you are overwhelmed yourself.
When you are happier, calmer and feeling more in control, you are more likely to be able to tune into their needs and support them with their challenges and in making better decisions.
We all have bad days. There are circumstances that can cause us stress. There are situations that can cause us to be sad, anxious and angry. This is true for us as parents and for our children. Sometimes it can feel that we are having more bad days. When we can find the good moments in every day, even the bad days, we are re-training our brains, forging positive neuropathways and creating opportunities for our serotonin to increase so that we can feel better. We start to reverse that negative cycle of filling our stress bucket. We start to create a positive cycle where we can begin to see solutions and options and take steps towards our preferred future and preferred outcomes.
Sometimes we need to start small.
You can start now.
- What was one good thing about your day today?
- Ask your child – what was one good thing about their day?
- Refer back to the list of 3Ps – what’s one positive action you are going to take today to increase your serotonin?
Take a moment to notice the change in how you are feeling when you make these small positive changes, and then notice how that change can give you a moment of release from your feelings of stress and you can enjoy the next moment with your family.