TOP TEN WAYS TO RAISE A HAPPY CHILD: PART 2
What’s the secret to raising happy, independent, resilient kids? What do their parents do?
Here’s the second blog in my series, based on a study by Robert Epstein of 2,000 parents that identified the Top Ten Parenting Competencies.
Number 2 is: STRESS MANAGEMENT
You take steps to reduce stress for yourself and child, practice relaxation techniques and promote positive interpretations of events. (Scientific American Mind, Vol 25, No. 2, p. 61).
Wow! That’s a lot. Most parents could get stressed just reading that list of requirements.
So what’s an already stressed-out parent to do?
First, it’s normal to feel frustrated as a parent. Chances are you will feel more anxious if your child has: a challenging temperament, medical problem, or behavior problems. If you’re a single parent, are struggling financially, or feel socially isolated, stress can strike harder.
You probably already know many of the things you are supposed to do to manage stress, such as exercise regularly and spend time with friends. And it’s true– exercise and social support are two of the most potent tension protectors we have.
Here are some ideas you might not know about that will help you feel calmer and more in control.
- LOOK AT YOUR CHILD IN A DIFFERENT WAY
When it comes to stress, we know that inflexible thinking and frustration go hand in hand. Often the way to begin solving a problem that is causing stress is to look at it in a different way.
For example, Hannah and Jake, parents of 8-year-old Jonas, described that Jonas cried all the time. When he was frustrated, tired, or when things weren’t going his way– Jonas cried loudly and long. This behavior was wearing out the whole family. Hannah and Jake were at the end of their stress ropes. Then we talked about the times that Jonas didn’t cry. When they looked closely at Jonas’ daily routine, Hannah and Jake saw that Jonas didn’t cry at bedtime when his mother read him stories. He didn’t cry when the family played board games together every week, even though he usually lost. He didn’t even cry when he was doing his homework.
Hannah and Jake began to see Jonas in a new way. Jonas was relaxed and tear-free when the environment around him was calmer and moving at a slower pace. Tears overtook him when life was at its busiest– on weekends with multiple birthday parties, flag football games, and family get-togethers. Seeing Jonas in this way did not, of course, immediately solve the problem. However, Hannah and Jake began to see Jonas as a more introverted-by nature boy who needed downtime, as opposed to a defiant child who carried on to get attention. With clearer heads, they made changes to help Jonas and themselves. For example, Hannah and Jake decided that Jonas could only attend one birthday party a day. Hannah and Jake’s emotional temperature– their stress level– decreased, and so did Jonas’.
- LOOK AT YOURSELF IN A DIFFERENT WAY
Paloma, a married mother of 3 daughters, felt she had to “do it all.” And then some. Paloma worked twenty hours a week as a virtual assistant, raised her three girls, often on her own while her husband traveled abroad for business. She also volunteered for just about anything she could get her hands on. In addition, Paloma believed that her children should eat only homemade meals and that her house should be orderly at all times. Paloma was stressed out, and so were her kids.
Paloma came to therapy to talk about her 12-year-old daughter, Pia, who was showing signs of anxiety. Before she knew it, Paloma was talking about her own childhood. Paloma had done some reading, and had begun thinking that her mother had narcissistic tendencies. When Paloma was a girl, she could never please her critical, self-centered mother, no matter how many A’s she brought home or how many awards she won. Paloma’s mother was a serious amateur tennis player. When she slipped in the rankings at the club, or her playing at a match wasn’t praised, she would come home and take to her bed. Paloma was frightened by her mother’s moods. When tennis got her mother down, Paloma did everything she could to bring her up. Paloma worked harder in school, starred in more activities– she even made her mother’s favorite meals.
Over time Paloma learned that she no longer had to live like the teenage girl trying to rescue her mother. She realized that by avoiding the pressures of seeking perfection she could reduce stress for herself and her family.If you’re struggling to decrease stress for yourself, your child, or teen, please think about the following questions:
- a) Are there times when the problem doesn’t happen, or is a little bit better?
- b) When are those times? What is happening at those times? Right before those times?
- c) How did you or your child/teen manage to handle things differently during those times?
- d) How did you or your child/teen know to do that?
- e) What does it say about you or your child/teen that things could go that way?
- f) What would help you or your child/teen do more of that?
Check out my next blog on stress management– THE THREE MINUTE MEDITATION CHALLENGE.