Parenting Stress

Stress is a normal part of parenting but chronic stress leads to an unhealthy parent and a diminished parent-child relationship.  Responsibilities, limited time, financial constraints and negative emotions deepen your stress. This leads to chronic stress and weakens your immune system, saps your energy and harms your decision making.  It leads to sleep disruption, an increased or decreased appetite, headaches, irritability, general health complaints and concentration problems. This is why every parent must learn how to recognize the most common causes of stress and adopt ways to eliminate these causes.

The most common causes of chronic parenting stress are physical fatigue, feelings of uncertainty, a lack of control and negative feelings such as anger and frustration. Skills and techniques to eliminate these causes are essential tools for every parent.

Parenting takes time and energy and parent workloads and responsibilities continue to grow. The first strategy chosen by most parents is to find more time to get things done by getting up earlier and going to bed later. Less sleep leads to physical illness and fatigue. Sleep is restorative and provides you the energy and concentration to make the daily decisions you must make. A consistent sleep schedule with eight hours or more of sleep every night is the goal for every parent. Studies have shown the dangerous health issues and impaired cognitive skills associated with sleep debt. If you are not getting adequate sleep the first step in stress reduction is to get more restful sleep.

The next cause is uncertainty. Parenting decisions are filled with uncertainty. The right decisions are often hazy, complex or even invisible. Change provokes fear and anxiety in most parents. Most parenting decisions, however, are limited. They can be repeated over and over. Although there are minor variations the themes are often the same. Parents must choose a limited number of approaches for similar situations and apply these in a clear, concise, consistent, confident and competent fashion.  A new response does not need to be chosen for every new event. When you choose a discipline strategy and a parenting style you eliminate most of the parenting uncertainty that causes stress.

The third cause of stress is lack of control. Parents feel they should be in control of their child’s actions. As a parent your scope of influence is limited. You can influence but you do not control your child. You are a guide, a protector and for the young child and infant – a caretaker. Modeling a healthy physical, emotional and spiritual lifestyle and providing unconditional love and acceptance are your only responsibilities. You must never blame yourself for the decisions your children make. Giving up the control you never had is essential for every parent. .

The final cause of chronic stress for parents is about being overwhelmed by negative emotions. It is normal for parents to have feelings of anger, frustration, sadness and loneliness. These feelings will damage your relationship with your child. You must recognize and understand these negative emotions if you are to respond to them. Find ways to allow time to pass. Ask for support, advice and sometimes someone to quietly listen to you. Step away from your child and take a break. Take a short nap, talk to a friend, go outside for a walk or eat a healthy snack. Reward yourself every day with a self-indulgent activity and watch your stress lesson. Seek out family members, friends, counselors and spiritual advisors to provide you the emotional support you need to work through these negative feelings before they lead to an unhealthy parent-child relationship.

The Power of Love

Life is filled with moments taken, moments given and moments shared. I will never forget the time a mother and her autistic child showed me the true meaning of love.

I first heard the sound when I turned the door handle to my exam room.   “Thump, thump, thump.” It grew louder as I swung open the door and turned to the source of the sound a mother holding her preschool-aged son.  His gaze and the sound did not change as I entered the room.  He forcibly rocked back and forth in his mother’s arms striking the back of his head against his mother’s chest.  As if a queen she sat with her chin slightly lifted to avoid being struck by her son. Her body swayed back and forth with the harsh blows of her son. She leaned close to him as if she was giving her heart to him. With her cheek touching his she whispered something into his ear.  He suddenly relaxed and the room became silent.

“Are you alright?”  I asked. “Yes,” she answered. “He does this when he is afraid.”  “Is there anything I can do to help?”  “No,” she answered.  Speechless, I slid my stool forward and touched her arm.  She smiled as stroked the cheek of her son. He closed his eyes and his body relaxed.

That day this mother showed me the meaning of acceptance, love and courage.  She chose not to be controlled by her son’s special needs or his behavior.  Love and affection allowed her to move beyond fear, anger, denial, sadness and frustration and communicate with her child with limitless trust, understanding and compassion.

The next time your child does something wrong, stop and think about this mother.  Hear the thumping sound and find a way to feel her patience and understanding. Share your love and accept your child no matter what was said or done.  Let love fill your heart and connect you to your child. Listen to your child. Touch your child. Feel your child. Allow this language of love to lead you to the best path to take.

The Vaccination Decision

The decision to vaccinate a child can be stressful and difficult.  For some parents this is an easy decision and for other it is complex and fear-provoking. Whether you decide yes or no there are some facts a parent needs to know.

Vaccines prepare children to fight off an infection. Vaccines activate white blood cells to make antibodies. These antibodies are disease-specific and fight off an infection. Vaccinating your child allows your child to make antibodies ahead of time and prepares your child to produce more antibodies as soon as an infection or exposure occurs. Vaccines allow your body to have a standing army ready and waiting to fight off an attack by a bacterial or viral invader. If your child is not vaccinated a volunteer army would need to be recruited at the time of an infection. This takes time and your child may become seriously ill waiting for white blood cells to recognize the infection and produce antibodies.

Vaccines are composed of either live attenuated viruses or dead viruses. Bacterial vaccines often are composed of part of the bacteria which allows the body to be tricked into thinking it is under assault. Booster doses are needed for most vaccines and some vaccines cannot be given until your child reaches a certain age. Some strains of viruses like influenza mutate from year to year and that is why a new vaccine is needed every year.

Vaccines are quite safe. Almost all reactions to immunizations are mild and short lived. Common side effects include redness, mild localized pain or swelling, irritability and a low grade fever.  Most of the often heard risks of vaccines are based on misinformation or bad science and are not fact-based. Vaccines do not cause autism, seizures, multiple sclerosis or brain damage. There is about a 1 in one million chance of a serious reaction from a vaccine. The real risks to your child come from not being immunized.

The most common reasons for not immunizing a child include fear of adverse reactions, a lack of awareness that these viral and bacterial infections still are common, and philosophical or religious reasons. If over 90% of children in a community are immunized the risk of a child being exposed to an infection is low enough that the unvaccinated children are at a lower risk for contracting an illness. This type of immunity is called herd immunity and the higher the number of unvaccinated children the lower the herd immunity.

When a doctor or medical professional takes the time to communicate with a parent who questions the need for an immunization a relationship can be fostered and concerns can be discussed and understood. Listening is the first step before the sharing of information and science.  The next step is to discuss the science and how it affects the child who needs the immunization. This allows an immunization schedule to be built without using guilt or fear and supports long term compliance and cooperation.

Parenting Persona

All parents must identify and understand their parenting persona. Your persona drives your parenting decisions and plays a major role in how successful you are as a parent.  Recognizing and understanding your parenting persona allows you to choose parenting tactics to meet your own needs, the needs of your child and the needs of your family.

Are you a reactive person? Do you respond to your child with anger? Do you have difficulty coping with change? Are you prone to being irritable or fearful?  Do you lack persistence and have a short attention span? Do you tend to withdraw when confronted with uncomfortable situations? Are intense situations often followed by feelings of guilt or remorse? Do you expect perfection from your child? Do you become frustrated when you do not have control of a situation? Do you easily become impatient? Are you judgmental of others? Do you worry about what others think or say about you? Do you criticize others? The answers to these questions will help you determine your persona.

Your persona regulates and alters the way you respond to your own feelings and events in the outside world. Being able to manage and understand your persona allows you to accommodate your behavior and change the way you relate to your child. Your persona is influenced by your temperament, reactivity, regulation and life experiences and provides a description of how you will respond to parenting situations.

The best way to visualize your parenting persona is to identify your response patterns. The three basic personas are mental analyzers, feeling followers and reflex defenders.

The first parenting persona is the mental analyzer.  Mental analyzers are imaginative thinkers who are inquisitive and have a thirst for knowledge. They are prone to appear detached and prefer to have plans for everything and avoid the spontaneous. They find comfort analyzing their child’s behavior, seek mental answers on how to alter a child’s behavior and are most secure when making plans.  Analyzers are prone to being detached from their child. They tend to be conceptual, rational, practical and interested in how their child thinks. They enjoy the mental process of researching parenting responses and are skeptical, rational and avoid being caught up in emotions.

The second parenting persona is the feeling follower. Feeling followers are highly attached to people, moods and emotions. They are aware of the feelings of others and tend to be outward directed when compared to the mental analyzer who is more inward directed. Their decisions are dependent upon the way they feel about something. They prefer to be connected to others and rely on an emotional vocabulary to understand and respond to the behavior of their child. Feeling followers worry about how they are perceived while enjoying the recognition and external validation of others.

The third parenting persona is the reflex defender. Reflex defenders are aware of and depend on boundaries for decision making. Autonomy is very important for these parents who rely on intuition, instinctive impressions and a sense of fairness for decision making. They are prone to being defensive and protective of their parenting decisions and rely on simplification of parenting responses to prevent decision making from becoming burdensome and overly complex. They prefer not to negotiate and are prone to critical and judgmental responses to others as a way to protect and defend their actions. Anger is often visible in their responses and they tend to be highly committed to their decisions and do not rely on recognition or how they are perceived by others for personal gratification.

By determining your parenting persona you will be better able to understand and alter the parenting decisions you make.

Parenting Choices

Your abilities to anticipate and respond to the needs of your child play the biggest roles in the amount of stress a parent experiences.  Stress is part of parenting. Being able to recognize, understand and eliminate this stress helps you find the emotional vocabulary to listen to and connect with your child.

Uncertainty of how to respond and interact with your child is the most common cause of parental stress. It is a barrier you can overcome. Everyday parents are confronted with seemingly endless events and behaviors that require parenting responses. By following specific child-directed responses this uncertainty can be eliminated. These techniques can reshape the way you respond to your child and the way your child responds to you.

The first rule is to follow your child’s lead and avoid criticism, questions and commands. Unless there is a safety or security concern, ignore negative behaviors and use praise, reflection and imitation to direct and lead your child’s behavior in a positive direction. These types of responses decrease the risk of negative interaction. Choose words, a tone of speech and use gestures that show enthusiasm. Your words and actions must say to your child: “I enjoy being with you.”

Praise is the next parenting response. It increases positive behavior and like enthusiasm, it generates a positive feeling between you and your child. When giving praise, always identify or label what you are praising. An example is: “Thank you for getting your hat and coat on.” Try to avoid questions. Questions often have hidden commands and suggest disapproval and not listening to your child. Focus on correction without criticism by avoiding words like: “no”, stop”, “quit”, “that’s wrong” and “don’t”. This eliminates unpleasant interactions which damage your child’s self-esteem.

Reflection is another response. It relies on repeating or paraphrasing what your child says to invite your child into a conversation with you. Reflection shows your child you are listening and tells your child you understand what he or she is saying. This type of two-way communication enhances speech and social reciprocity skills and helps you connect with your child. Reflection can also be paired with reporting. When reporting you tell your child exactly what he or she is doing. This technique improves your child’s attention span and shows you are interested in and approve of the activity or behavior your child is performing

Imitation is the final technique you can rely on.  By doing the same thing as your child you allow your child to lead and signal your approval for your child’s activity. Cooperative and parallel play teach your child to lead and supports learning how to give, share and take turns.

Using these child-directed approaches will help you eliminate parenting stress by preventing you from being overwhelmed by parenting choices. These techniques allow you to gain control and become the best parent you can be.

Be My Valentine

What tools do you rely on to parent your child?

Children are born into this world as perfect beings waiting for connections to be made. Although your child needs food, warmth and protection, mostly your child needs you.

Your ability to connect in a love-filled positive fashion provides a secure attachment which is essential for a healthy mental, physical and spiritual life. The interactions you choose become the grains of sand out of which your child’s social, emotional and cognitive castles are built. Your love and the interdependent relationships you offer teach, inspire and guide your child.

Your child is born with over 100 billion brain neurons and over the next few years hundreds of trillions of neuronal connections are formed. Brain networks form. Connections are pruned. Behaviors and skills modulated by genes and the environment erupt and your child becomes an adult and future potential parent. The parenting strategies and techniques you choose frame your child’s temperament and support your child’s future personality.

Stressed parents filled with fear, anger and guilt often rely on authoritarian parenting techniques built on dominance not love. This is both wrong and dangerous. Parenting is about enticement not force. It is about allowing your child to find and make the right and wrong decisions. It is about genuine praise and heartfelt effort rather than outcome. Parents who focus on demands and criticism command a behavior but run the risk of not teaching cooperation, independence, patience, understanding and acceptance. Providing your child freedom and encouragement are the holy grails of parenting.

One sided conversations do not last. A healthy parent-child relationship must be reciprocal. It must validate on a daily basis that you both value your child and promise to provide the stimulation and interaction fundamental to a secure, stable and organized relationship. For the infant and young child this means love, affection and attention and the fulfillment of basic body needs. For the toddler it means approval of exploration merged with the setting of limits, schedules and routines. For the preschooler the goal is the ability to understand feelings and being able to experience a wide range of emotions.

Your child watches you. Your words, actions and behaviors teach your child you care and are listening to him or her. How you behave teaches your child how to respond and communicate with others. Mirroring your child shows you approve and want those same words, actions and behaviors to continue.

Consider adding some new interactions into your daily routine with your child.  Practice reflection as a skill. Repeat and paraphrase your child’s words.  Invite your child into a conversation with you and see how two-way conversation accelerates both speech and social reciprocity. Report on your child’s behavior by describing what your child is doing. Watch how this increases your child’s attention span and willingness to engage. Imitate your child. Don’t just talk about what your child is doing. Get out of your chair and do it! You will be amazed by the excitement and added effort your physical involvement provides.

These choices are up to you. If you love your child the answer is easy. The power of connection will be the greatest valentine your child will ever receive.

Pregnancy and Influenza

Women who are pregnant and their unborn child are both at increased risk for complications due to influenza. This is due to changes in the immune system, heart and lungs during pregnancy. These changes place pregnant women at risk for complications, hospitalization and even death due to influenza. The unborn child is also at risk for numerous medical problems.

The first step in treatment is always prevention. Everyone six months of age and older should be immunized every year against influenza. Vaccination is the best way to protect you and your unborn baby from the harmful effects of influenza. It is safe for pregnant women to be immunized with the inactivated influenza vaccine during any trimester. It is not recommended for pregnant women to receive the live attenuated influenza vaccine which is also called LAIV. This vaccine is administered via nasal spray.

Receiving the influenza vaccine during your pregnancy decreases the risk your new infant will come down with influenza during the first six months of life. This is especially important since your child cannot receive an influenza vaccine until six months of age. If you are pregnant and you come down with influenza you also place your child at risk for premature delivery or being small for gestational age.

The flu shot is recommended during pregnancy by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. There is a long record of safety for this immunization being given safely and effectively to pregnant women. Millions of pregnant women have been immunized and there is no evidence of harm to the pregnant woman or their baby.

If you are pregnant and come down with influenza you should receive antiviral treatment as soon as possible. You should not wait for a confirmation test. If your doctor suspects you have influenza that suspicion is enough to begin treatment. It is important for treatment to begin within 48 hours of onset of symptoms. This is why it is important for you to see your doctor early in your illness. There is also proven benefits to beginning treatment after this 48 hour period. The medication that is prescribes is called oseltamivir and it has been proven to be safe for your developing baby when given while you are pregnant.

Flu vaccine and antiviral treatment can make a difference for both you and your unborn child. Get vaccinated and seek medical attention if you become ill with influenza symptoms while you are pregnant.


Parent-Directed Parenting

Parent-directed parenting strategies are built upon the parent leading the child. They are most commonly used in the preschooler or early school-aged child. This type of parenting is different from child-directed approaches where the parents follow rather than lead the interaction.  In child-directed intervention the focus is on social attention and nonverbal communication. Self-esteem and a positive parent-child attachment are the goals. In parent-directed intervention verbal communication is primary and the focus is on compliance through contingency management, limit setting and problem solving. Reasoning skills are emphasized and clear, concise and consistent verbal direction is delivered by the parent.

Parent-directed approaches involve telling your child what to do rather than what to stop doing. Children are told and not asked what to do. Directions are broken down into small, specific segmented activities. Parents must avoid multistep directions and the specific behavior that is sought must be concrete and developmentally appropriate. Polite and respectful directions are delivered in a non-threatening normal tone of voice and all directions are explained either before a direction is given or after a direction is obeyed.

When a direction is given and your child does not comply then a time out warning is given. The child is again given the initial command and told he or she will have to go to the time out chair if the command is not obeyed. If the child complies praise is given and the reason for the praise is labeled.

If your child disobeys for the second time then the child must go to the time out chair for several minutes. The child can be released from the chair after this period by giving a command that describes the quiet sitting and asks the child if he or she is now ready to follow the original command. The command needs to be repeated in the same way it was given the prior two times. If the child answers yes or nods that the command will be obeyed then their answer is acknowledged and the child is released from the time out chair and allowed to resume activities.

If your child gets out of the time out chair without your approval then the child is told he or she will go to the time out room. If the three minute timer is restarted and he or she gets out of the time out hair again without your permission the child is taken to a time out room for one minute and then returned to the time out chair to resume the three minute timer. If the child complies or does not comply then the same routines previously described are followed. For each of the successful steps an obeying behavior is always acknowledged and labeled praise is given.

Many parents find it helpful to perform several 5-10 minute sessions each week of parent directed commands for the preschool and early school age child. These sessions reinforce spontaneous parent-directed interventions and speed up your child’s willingness to comply with directions and strengthens the development of problem solving and reasoning skills.

Child-Directed Parenting

Your ability to anticipate and respond to the behavior of your child determines the type of parent leader you are.  Leadership is an essential part of parenting. As a parent leader you must choose parenting responses and an emotional vocabulary that allow you to listen, connect and respond to your child with unconditional love.

Uncertainty of how to respond and interact with a child is a common dilemma for parents. It is a barrier you must and can overcome by following specific child directed responses. These techniques can reshape the way you respond to your child and improve the way your child responds to you.

Toddlers and preschoolers are at the perfect age for child directed parenting. By respecting their choices and providing freedom and encouragement positive behaviors are supported and negative behaviors are eliminated. The foundation of this strategy is to follow your child’s lead and avoid questions, criticism and both direct and indirect commands.  Questions often have hidden commands and criticism suggest disapproval and not listening to your child. Focus on correction without criticism by avoiding authoritarian command words like: “no”, stop”, “quit”, “that’s wrong” and “don’t”. This eliminates unhealthy interactions which damage your child’s self-esteem, self-worth and self-image.

Unless there is a safety or security concern, ignore negative behaviors and use praise, reflection, reporting and imitation to positively influence your child’s behavior. These techniques decrease the risk of negative interaction between you and your child. It is also important to choose words, a tone of speech and gestures that show your love and enthusiasm for being your child’s parent. Your words and actions must say to your child: “I love being your parent and being with you.”

Praise is the most essential parenting response. It increases positive behavior and like enthusiasm generates a positive attachment between you and your child. Make sure praise is genuine and not reflexive. When giving praise, identify or label what you are praising. An example is: “Thank-you for putting your hat and coat on.”

Reflection, reporting and imitation are three other parenting techniques. Somewhat similar to praise each involves a mirroring of your child. Reflection relies on repeating or paraphrasing your child’s words. This invites your child into a conversation with you. It shows your child you are listening and tells your child you understand what he or she is saying. This type of two-way communication enhances speech and social reciprocity skills and helps you connect with your child. Reporting describes what your child’s is doing and improves your child’s attention span. Imitation is the last technique.  In this technique you repeat and perform whatever behavior your child is doing. Each of these techniques shows your child you are interested in and approve of their words, actions or behavior and want them to continue.

If you make these leadership techniques part of your parenting responses you will change the way you relate to your child and the way your child relates to you.  By allowing your child to lead you signal to your child your approval and stimulate positive cooperative and parallel play which support your child’s ability to give, share and take turns. Child directed parenting techniques are simple to master and easy to perform.  By avoiding questions, criticism and commands and utilizing the above techniques you support the development of a positive attachment between you and your child and encourage positive behaviors in your child.