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.