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9 Ways Stress Affects Your Parenting, According To Science

by Yvette Manes

It's impossible not to feel stressed out at some point or another. As parents, not only must you deal with all of the typical issues every adult deals with, but you are also expected to keep those issues from affecting your children. It's important to recognize the ways stress affects your parenting so that you can learn how to cope for your sake, as well as for your child's.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), adults’ average stress is 5.1 on a 10-point scale, and 36 percent of adults say that stress affects their overall happiness. Parents are even more susceptible to stress. The APA found that 45 percent of parents versus 38 percent of all adults have overeaten or eaten unhealthy food because of stress, and 42 percent of parents versus 30 percent of all adults have skipped meals because of stress. Additionally, 54 percent of parents compared to 43 percent of all adults have lain awake at night due to stress.

With around half of all parents struggling with high levels of stress and anxiety, it's no surprise that it can spill over and affect the way you parent. Here are some of the ways stress impacts your parenting.


You Don't Spend Time With Your Kids

Being stressed out can make you distracted, to the point where you're so enveloped in your own problems that your kids take a backseat. According to Reader's Digest, a study by the APA found that one of the way children can tell when their parents are stressed is when the parents won't spend time with them.


You Snap At Your Kids

Most parents know how it feels to be in the middle of a really stressful phone call or situation, and have their child interrupt. The typical reaction is to yell or snap at their child. Parenting Science reported on a study by Melissa Sturge-Apple that found that snapping at your child is a way that stress affects parental behavior.


You Are Disengaged Or Unsupportive

Sturge-Apple also found that some parents, usually ones who'd grown up in high-stress environments themselves, reacted as though they were burnt-out in stressful situations. If you've spent your whole life being stressed, you may find yourself behaving in an unsupportive manner to your own children in times of stress.


You Become A Helicopter Parent

Parents who are generally nervous or stressed can react by becoming overly involved in every aspect of their child's life. This is often done in an attempt to protect their child from the kinds of stressful or traumatizing experiences the parents grew up with. Unfortunately, this often backfires. The phenomenon known as "helicopter parenting" has been linked to feelings of incompetence and depression in children, according to Time.


You Physically Lash Out At Your Kids

Minnesota's Star Tribune reported that parents who are stressed due to issues such as hunger, inadequate housing, or lack of a job are more likely to engage in harsh parenting. Children who suffer physical abuse can develop issues such as depression, behavioral issues, and are more prone to health issues such as heart disease.


You Put Your Children In Danger

It might not seem like a big deal to decompress with a glass or two of wine after a stressful day, but if you're drinking and driving your children around, you are putting several lives in danger. Drinking and drug use by parents can also put children who co-sleep in danger according to Parenting.


You Offer Up 'Too Much Information' To Your Kids

Parents who are stressed because of personal issues with finances, extended family, or friends may vent to or around their children. Your kids are listening. Psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, told WebMD that kids are magnetically drawn toward arguments and emotional discussions but they often don't truly grasp what's going on. The way their brain interprets the situation may be scarier than what's actually happening.


You Make Your Kids Feel Guilty

How many times have you come home from a long day at work just wanting to decompress only to realize that your daughter still has an evening dance class? Or what about the times you've been financially tight and your child tells you he needs a $90 graphing calculator for Algebra or money for the class trip? A negative reaction to these kinds of situations can make your children feel guilty for something that is out of their control. The University of Minnesota's Children, Youth & Family Consortium suggested using secondary control coping strategies. It recommend, "identifying something good in a situation, reframing a stressful event to seem more positive, and seeking comfort or understanding from others."


You Can Stress Your Kids Out

Even if you don't mean to, you can be stressing your kids out. Your own stress levels can affect your child's cognition because tension is “contagious,” explained David Code, author of Kids Pick Up On Everything: How Parental Stress Is Toxic to Kids.