All throughout childhood, positive experiences help create the foundations for healthy development. The basic structures of the developing brain are supported when children have warm, consistent caregiving. That’s why children do better in a safe, consistent, positive and calm family environment.
A little bit of stress occasionally is a normal part of family life. Some challenging experiences, like trying something new or doing an exam, may create a bit of stress, but this can help children develop coping skills and resilience. But too much stress, when it’s ongoing and frequent, is bad for brain development.
This kind of ongoing and frequent stress can also have negative effects on physical health.
Another benefit of a low-stress environment is that it makes it easier to learn. We all absorb new information more easily when we’re feeling calm.
Doing things to try to reduce stress at home is good for everyone. Introducing the idea of ‘self-care’ can help your children to understand the importance of looking after yourself as well as caring for others. Learning to manage and regulate our emotions is also a key life skill.
Sometimes this takes a lot of practice. We can’t expect to always do things perfectly, or expect our children to. And it’s also important to remember that sometimes, the right kind of useful stress can help to motivate us to achieve something. It would be unrealistic to try to remove all stress from our lives.
What parents can try to do is introduce some strategies for managing stress, and to take care of our own physical and mental health as much as possible.
OUR OWN LEVEL OF SELF-CARE CAN AFFECT OUR CHILDREN
A positive environment helps support children’s emotional and intellectual development. This type of family environment is consistent, so children and teenagers are not worried about parents reacting in unexpected ways. The rules stay the same from one day to the next, and children know and understand them. They also understand that consequences and discipline are fair and designed to teach and guide, not punish. They know they can rely on feeling loved and appreciated as individuals.
Children can start to feel confused if a parent is too stressed, and is inconsistent as a result. For example, if a child is jumping on the bed and a parent is distracted or too busy to stop them, or has other things on their mind, it may be confusing and upsetting for a child if the next day they do the same thing and get into trouble for it.
Similarly, a parent may be irritable because they’re worried or tired. Then they may get angry over something small or an accident like a spilled drink. They may find it harder to be patient and listen if a child or teenager is taking a long time to say something.
If parents are feeling burnt out and unappreciated, it can also make it more difficult to pay positive attention to children.
Scheduling in regular “recharge” moments helps parents provide a more safe, consistent, positive and calm environment.
This can be as simple as finding 15-30 minutes to do something enjoyable for yourself: virtual coffee with a friend, going for a walk, watching a funny video, or dancing to your favourite song.
Try to work as a team with your partner or with other carers – not just sharing the load, but also taking time to talk and listen, about enjoyable things as well as the necessary details of daily events.
It also helps to reach out to others for help and support if things are getting too much. This is also something children and teenagers can be encouraged to do, and will learn by your example that it’s normal and healthy to seek support.
CONSIDER TAKING ON LESS AT THIS TIME OF YEAR
This time of year can involve a lot of stress, especially if people try to do too much. So it’s a good time to remember that it’s often more enjoyable to do fewer things, and in a more relaxed way. Rushing around makes it difficult to really appreciate each moment.
Children appreciate simple family traditions just as much as big events if it means you get to spend enjoyable time together.
Gift-giving is also something many people are thinking about right now. One way to think about finding some time to take care of yourself is that it’s like gift to your children, too. When you allow for some self-care in your daily life, it’s easier to be a more patient and positive parent. This, in turn, offers a less stressful environment for your child.
You are also demonstrating to your children and teenagers that balance in life is important, and that taking care of your own physical and mental health is worthwhile. It helps each person’s sense of self-worth to have a balance between caring for others and looking after themselves.
And that’s something that can help family relationships at any time of year!
USING YOUR KNOWLEDGE
When you understand more about child development and behaviour, you can use positive parenting within your own family. You can do this in a way that will work best for you. It works at any time of year, not just right now.
Positive skills and ideas like these make it easier to cope with change and uncertainty. They also help you feel confident you’re supporting your child. You’re also taking important steps to promote their resilience and emotional wellbeing.
To learn more about child development and how you, as a parent, can use positive parenting skills and strategies to support it, try a Triple P programme such as Triple P Online.