Stressed Out Parents Create Stressed Out Kids

Stressed out.  Anxious.  Worried.

If you were asked which members of your family are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety, which would you choose?  Most of us would choose ourselves, our spouses, or our partners.  We, the parents, are the ones who are worried about paying bills, anxious over the economy and stressed out from being overworked, underpaid, or unemployed.  If you picked yourselves, you are definitely right and possibly wrong at the same time.   By picking yourselves, you are indicating that you are part of the 33% of adults that are routinely experiencing a high level of stress and who would know better than you, right?  However, you may also need to pick your kids, especially if you are one of the 33%.  Because whether you believe it or not, if you are stressed, your stress is rubbing off on your kids.

Do you know how your kids act when they are stressed out?  If you are like most parents, you probably don’t.  The majority of us don’t think our children are overly stressed or worried, even though 1 in 5 of them is experiencing a high degree of stress.  This disparity between what parents think children are feeling and what children are actually feeling is one of the key findings from the 2010 Stress in America survey published by the American Psychological Association .

The APA survey also found that almost 70% of parents feel their own stress has little to no effect on their children.  The children’s responses, however, tell a different story.  When asked how they feel when their parents are stressed, tweens and teens indicated that they feel sad, depressed, worried, frustrated, annoyed, and helpless.

Our kids are also better at reading us than we are at reading them.   You may not be able tell when they are stressed, but you can be sure that they know how you act when your stress begins to boil over.  Almost all children can point to the specific behaviors their parents exhibit when they are stressed out and worried.  Teens cite things like yelling, arguing with others, having no patience, irritability, and being too busy to spend time with them as signs of parental stress.

Signs You Are Stressed

You may think you know how to tell when you are stressed out but the signs are not the same for everyone and there may be subtle cues on the way from stressed to burned-out that you are missing.  The keys to helping everyone in your family reduce their stress level and learn to manage stress more effectively are to understand how stress affects each family member and to help each other see the signs before stress boils over and becomes burn-out.  Here are some of the most common signs of stress in both adults and children.

  1. Attitudes about work or school change becoming more critical and comments about work or school are sarcastic and/or cynical.
  2. Patience decreases or disappears.  Things like traffic, waiting in line, or delays cause immediate responses and angry outbursts.
  3. Everything irritates you.  From the sound of the clock ticking in the kitchen to the way your husband clanks the ice cubes in his glass together when he drinks puts you on edge.
  4. You feel lethargic and don’t seem to have the energy you need to do housework, schoolwork, participate in sports, exercise, visit with friends, or do other activities you normally enjoy.
  5. Things feel hopeless.  Everything seems to be an insurmountable obstacle from a chemistry test to weeding the garden.
  6. Everyone keeps asking you if you are ok.
  7. Even good things don’t make you happy.
  8. Your sleeping and/or eating habits have changed.  You are either sleeping too much or too little, eating more than you should or not at all.

Make stress management a family affair and talk to your kids about the signs of stress, what is stressing them out, and ways you can all work on managing the stress of the family together.  Just remember, talking about stress and how to manage it isn’t a license to discuss all your adult problems with your kids.  You can work as a family to learn to manage stress better without stressing your kids out more by unloading all of your adult problems onto them.

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