Managing Parental Stress With Emotional Intelligence (EI)

By Renée Adams

November 20, 2020

It’s November and for many of us, winter is approaching and bringing with it a variety of stressors. For many parents, the recent months have seen us bring our kids back to school, deal with a tense presidential election, and continue adapting to a COVID-stricken world. The list of stressors grows every day and refuses to slow down. Parents have to worry about childrearing, their careers, and their relationships on top of all these other exterior stressors. How can parents avoid being slowed down by stress? EI might just be able to offer us a solution. 

Why All the Stress?

Let me start by saying we need stress in our lives. Stress has a biological function to motivate us. It acts as an emotional hurdle and we can feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when we successfully hurdle it. The issue comes from too much and too severe stress. When each new source piles on top of the next and continues to grow out of control, something has to change. One of the important first steps is being able to identify when your stressors have begun to overpower you.

If you find yourself missing deadlines, if your health (mental and/or physical) is deteriorating, or if you notice changes in your typical behavior, these may all be signs that your stress has gotten out of your control. One of the first things that EI teaches us is the value of self-awareness. Having the self-awareness to recognize when your stress level is not normal is a massive first step. You can’t begin to address an issue you won’t acknowledge.

With stressors entering the world at a high rate, you can’t do everything on your own. Admitting when you need help in the form of childcare, for example, is a big step towards reducing your stress. Bloomberg.com has some great advice for finding childcare during the pandemic and provides resources for a variety of different family situations.

Can Kids Sense Stress?

Talking about emotions with children can be especially difficult. Kids cannot see emotions, they often don’t have the emotional intelligence to recognize them within themselves, and they can struggle to recognize emotions in others. Though they may lack the vocabulary and knowledge to discuss and manage emotions, that doesn’t mean that your kids won’t pick up on your stress.

Kids often see more than they understand. According to this article from Forbes, children pick up on stress and it can affect their development in some pretty serious ways. Developmental issues like anxiety disorders and ADHD can stem from prolonged exposure to stress in childhood. This doesn’t mean you have to stress out about being stressed out in front of your kids because that’s not going to solve anything. Just keep this in mind the next time you’re holding your baby and talking on the phone. Infants will pick up on emotions so it’s up to you to avoid letting stress color your tone of voice. You need to learn how to talk to your kids about stress and help them understand why it’s happening and what it means in language they can understand. Easier said than done, right?

Discussing Stress Using EI

Talking about stress with your kids isn’t easy and there are a lot of different ways to go about it. The American Psychological Association (APA) has many recommendations. They suggest family walks, bike rides, and other group activities to reduce stress. They also say that the best way to talk about stress with your kids is to speak honestly. If you hide money troubles or marital issues from your children, they will assume the worst and it may affect them more than it should. You have to find an age-appropriate way to engage them with these issues, especially if they’re affecting your behavior.

When talking with your child about stress, the APA has a helpful guide for ways to approach the subject. You want to start by being available. Show interest in your child’s interests and schedule time to just talk to them. Then, once you’ve started a discussion, you want to listen actively. Stop whatever you’re doing and pay full attention to them. Give them time to speak and don’t respond until they’re done. Next, you want to make sure you respond thoughtfully. Don’t respond with anger or judgment. Focus on how your child is feeling, even if you disagree with something they said. Before you try to offer advice, ask what they might want or need from you emotionally or tangibly.

At the end of the day, reducing stress is a daily process. That’s why mindfulness routines are so important and why allowing space for them in your life can make a huge difference. Breathing exercises, meditation, tai chi, whatever it is that puts you at ease; make time for it. We don’t know what new stress we’re going to wake up to, but we need to be prepared for it. If you don’t have a strategy to face stress, it can overwhelm you in a hurry. By talking about it with your family in a healthy, constructive way, you are preparing your children for the inevitable stress of daily life they will have to face in adulthood and that’s a parent’s primary responsibility. Watch my guided breathing exercise in the video below for an easy and fast way to reduce stress and stay grounded.

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