Parenting is stressful. Of course, it has positive aspects that greatly overpower the negative, but there is no doubt that raising another human being to be healthy, happy, and successful can take a toll on your mental well-being. And more studies are showing that your own mental well-being should be a priority when raising children.
One such study was conducted to reveal the top parenting skills shown to raise healthy, happy, and successful kids. Love and affection top the list; spending quality time with your children is essential to strengthening your bond with them and to making them feel loved and cared for. Next on the list, though, might come as a surprise: stress management. Managing your stress is so important, especially when raising children. You might not think that your own stress can affect your child, but an increasing number of studies show how sensitive children are to the way we react to things, even if they’re too young to convey it. When parents are stressed, they put their children at risk for behavioral, emotional, and learning problems, as well as health issues such as asthma and childhood obesity.
Although stress management is the second most important practice when raising children, it ranked 10th on the parents’ list of actual abilities, coming in last. Stress management is clearly an overlooked parenting skill, perhaps because we often hear about how to raise our children, but not enough about how to take care of ourselves while raising them. Now that we know how stress affects children, though, it’s time we make stress management a priority.
But before you stress about being stressed, know that at any moment, you can choose not to be. Here are some ways to manage your stress when the worries of parenting creep in:
- Throw away the idea that there is a perfect way to raise your child. So many parents stress over doing exactly what the parenting books and online forums tell them to do. This information overload just causes more stress for parents about every little decision they have to make, like choosing cloth or disposable diapers, when really the best choice they can make is to have peace of mind knowing their children will be fine either way. Remember that imperfection is part of what makes life beautiful, and mistakes are only opportunities for growth.
- Practice deep breathing. Before you roll your eyes, know that this is probably the quickest, most effective thing you can do to de-stress. When we tense up, our breathing is shallow and rapid, which robs us of much needed oxygen and energy. To calm yourself and re-energize, try this: inhale deeply through your nose to the count of eight, then pucker your lips and exhale slowly through your mouth to the count of 15 (or as long as you can). Concentrate on the air leaving your mouth and feel the tension dissolve. Repeat 10 times.
- Plan ahead. Rushing can be very stressful, so do your best to avoid it. Plan mornings ahead of time by preparing breakfast, packing lunches, and laying out clothes the night before. Leave early to give yourself plenty of time to make appointments or drive the kids to school. When you’re not in a rush, you have time to really savor the moments you have with your kids, which makes life so much more enjoyable.
- Take some mommy or daddy me-time. Set aside some time each day to just take a break and collect your thoughts. Whether it’s meditating for 10 minutes or taking a walk outside, a small pause gives you a chance to listen to your inner voice and talk yourself through anything that might be on your mind. At the very least, it’s a moment of stillness that will bring you peace and put you in a better mindset to deal with the busy day.
- Practice forgiveness-- for your partner, your children, and yourself. If you get in a fight with your partner, reconcile the conflict in front of your child; this can lower your child’s stress levels to lower than they were before the conflict. If your children do something that upsets you, communicate with them so that it doesn’t happen in the future, and forgive them. If you ever find yourself upset at something you did or a mistake you made, forgive yourself. Holding grudges is a top contributor to stress and unhappiness, and practicing forgiveness can do nothing but help you.
- Remember to laugh. Laughter is one of the best medicines for stress, with many proven benefits to help both your mental and physical well-being. Laughing can release endorphins and neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses. It can make coping with difficult situations easier, and can even help lessen depression and anxiety. Find a way to laugh about your situations and watch your stress melt away. Keep funny movies or websites on hand for when you need a good laugh, or go to a comedy club. Consider trying laughter yoga, where people laugh as a group. Even if the laughter is forced at first, it can soon turn into spontaneous laughter.
Parenting can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. Raising a child is one of the most rewarding things you can do, so try not to let the frustrating moments get you down. Aside from giving your children love and affection, remember to keep in mind that your children benefit not just from how you treat them, but how you treat yourself. So relax, take a breath, and don’t forget to laugh.