If you think your kids can’t pick up on your stress, think again. The 2010 Stress in America survey by the American Psychological Association shows that nine out of 10 children ages 8 to 17 can tell when their parents are upset. Yet more than two-thirds of parents think their stress has little or no impact on their kids. That disconnect means more kids are living with stress -- without learning how to manage it.
“Children say they know when their parents are stressed because they yell more, argue with other people in the household, and complain,” says Dr. Mary Alvord, a family psychologist who contributed to the survey. While you may not be able to remove the cause of stress, you can reduce its negative effects on your kids by taking these 5 simple steps:
1. Be open and honest.
Tell your kids what’s happening and why you are anxious -- whether it’s money problems, job insecurity, or illness in the family. “Often kids overhear or pick up on things. If it isn’t discussed, it’s left to their imaginations,” says Alvord. Just make sure you discuss it at a level they can understand.
2. Present a plan of action.
You don’t need to come up with a solution, only a next step. Tell your kids that you’re looking for a better job, or that you’ll work together as a family to cut down on expenses. If Grandma is too sick for them to visit, tell them you’ll bring their get-better letters and drawings when you go to the hospital.
3. Identify your most stressful time.
If you get particularly tense in the morning while you’re trying to get everyone out of the house, or in the evening, when you’re trying to get dinner ready after a long day, take steps to make those times less anxiety-producing. Cook and freeze meals in advance, have your spouse handle the morning rush, or get more things ready the night before. It’s easier to manage stress when you know when you’re must vulnerable to it.
4. Welcome other people.
No matter what’s going on in your life, it’s always easier to handle setbacks with the support of others. The same goes for kids too. So bring people into your lives instead of shutting them out when times are tough. Socializing and talking to others helps diffuse anxious feelings. It’s important for kids to know that they aren’t alone.
5. Plan for fun too.
If you want to reduce your family stress, shift the focus from problems to pleasure. Start a regular movie night, go out for ice cream on a school night, or plan a short road trip. By taking action, you show your kids that there are positive steps and choices they can make that will replace feelings of stress with feelings of happiness.