As we come to the end of International Stress Awareness Week 2020, here at twixt we have been reflecting on the challenges our tweens face in trying to manage their levels of stress and what this in turn means for us as parents. We have previously written a couple of articles on childhood anxiety, resilience and ways to look after your tween’s mental health and this time we turn the focus around to us, as parents and how we too can seek support to deal with life in today’s unprecedented circumstances.
Stress Awareness Week was founded by the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) in 2018 to raise awareness about stress prevention and management. It provides a focus each year to keep stress, mental health and wellbeing high on the international agenda. This year of course, the focus has been on managing stress while living in the midst of a pandemic.
The impact of a myriad of worries such as health concerns, economic and job uncertainty, home working, the threat or reality of home schooling, and a lack of contact with loved ones has put a massive strain on family life. And that’s before you even start thinking about the US Election, climate change and what Brexit will mean.
With so much going on in the world, it can be hard to know how to even begin thinking about supporting our children through this challenging time. Perhaps the place to start is by gaining an awareness of our own individual levels of stress and how this is playing out in our relationships with the other adults in our life. Once we have a handle on this, we can then start to understand how this could be affecting our children.
It is widely accepted that the three factors that have the biggest impact on causing relationship difficulties are money worries, stress from work, and pressure from extended family. The arrival of Covid-19 has created problems in all three of these areas and so it is not unsurprising that many families will be finding tensions building at home. Many couples are also having to adjust to both working at home often leading to fights over the same physical spaces, as well as blurring the distinction between where work stops and family life begins.
And for separated parents who are trying to co-parent in the best way they can, the challenges of the pandemic can make this even harder.
As emotional beings, it can be hard to ‘plan’ for the effects that a raise in stress levels will create. And it can be just as hard to be self-aware about one’s own response to stress. It is at such times that we can unknowingly share and pass on our stress to the other members of our family.
Talking about stress
No one wants their child to witness every anxious moment they as a parent experience but it is not reasonable nor advisable to be trying to constantly supress your feelings. It is okay and indeed healthy, for children to see their parents experiencing stress at times. Letting your child know that you are feeling stressed and to some extent why, is in itself a valuable lesson for them. Seeing adults managing and coping with stress helps them to have a role model of emotional resilience to refer back to in times of difficulty.
Learning stress management techniques
It can be very difficult to communicate a sense of calm to your child when you are struggling to cope with your own anxiety. By finding ways to learn to manage your own tolerance of stress, you will in turn be teaching your children, who take cues from your own behaviour, how to cope with times of doubt or uncertainty. Some methods, such as using a mindfulness app, going for a walk or listening to calming music with your child can help. Showing them the tools and techniques to use will help to build their own resilience.
And it is also fine to let your child know that you have decided you need to seek support to manage your stress and anxiety. Recognising that there are times when it is right to ask for help from others and that it is entirely fine to do this, is another great lesson for your child. Remember, none of us are perfect and we shouldn’t get bogged down by guilt because of this. So much better to show our children that we can and will do what it takes to get us to a stronger place.
Parenting Together during the pandemic
Tavistock Relationships is a charity that has been supporting couples with managing their relationships for over 70 years. They are also committed to helping couples with difficulties arising from parenting and family life. Research shows that the relationship you have with your partner, ex-partner or co-parent, has a direct effect on your children. Tavistock Relationships strive to help couples make that impact as positive as possible, through couple therapy and a series of free parenting programmes, including ‘Parenting Together’.
Sarah Ingram, Head of Tavistock Relationships’ ‘Parenting Together’ programme, explains:
“Parenting can be challenging at the best of times, but right now the coronavirus pandemic is bringing many extra pressures to bear on families, and everyone is feeling tired and drained by the emotional demands of the situation we are all faced with.
“Our ‘Parenting Together’ programme is for parents whether separated or together, as well as single parents. It is a free and flexible service, open to everyone with children aged under the age of 18, or under 25 if the child has additional needs, living in Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire, Peterborough, Essex, Southend and Thurrock.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we have been running this programme, and a range of others, online. During our sessions, our therapists will work with you to help you find ways of identifying the pressure points in your family life and managing your own stress, as well as that of your children.
“We can help you find coping strategies for the difficult situations you are dealing with and to see what the trigger points are, how to offset them and manage those feelings or emotions.”
Click here to find out more about the Parenting Together programme.
Tavistock Relationships also provide some online support to help minimise the impact on children when relationships are difficult such as:
Ways to strengthen your relationship to cope with the stresses of 2020
Tips for parenting during Covid 19
Here is some further information on ways to help with parenting and relationships.
NSPCC advice line and series of guides for parents:
Young Minds – parents helpline and online support
Relate – relationship and family counselling service
Clare Burlingham is a freelance writer.