As a parent, we often forget that our children are like sponges. We tend to take out our parental stress on everything around us including our children. The stress of parenting and its after effects are now extensively studied due to several emerging issues in child behavior. This parental stress is even a graver issue in Pakistan, where parents’ emotional health is not considered a significant concern. In fact, it is often ridiculed to be an excuse for inability to manage time, laziness or ingratitude. There is an increased focus on psychological health and development of children in Pakistan. People are becoming aware of how parental stress and child development have a transactional effect on each other. This article highlights ways in which parental stress interferes with child behavioral and intellectual development.
What exactly is Parental Stress?
Parental stress is unlike the usual stress of daily life. It cannot go away with meditation or talking it out with friends. Parental stress is the feeling of distress that parents feel when they are unable to cope up with the burden of responsibilities placed on them as a parent. In parental stress, the parent is often engulfed with the thought of losing it all the time. That is because they feel that the burden placed on them is too heavy and they do not have the resources to meet those responsibilities. These resources can be emotional, mental, physical or financial.
Parental stress has mostly the spillover effect on children and overall family relationships. This kind of stress often results in harsh parenting, maternal depression, spousal incompatibility and cognitive and emotional destruction in children. Some of the most common ways in which parental stress interferes with child development include the following:
1. Developmental Delays
It will be fair to say that parental stress is toxic for children. Child development and behavior specialists, overtime, have found the evidence that stress taken by mother during pregnancy results in higher chances of behavioral issues in children like depression, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism. The similar impact was observed for initial years of child’s life where constant parental stress resulted in serious developmental delays in children. The Epigenetics studies analyzed how parental stress in initial years of child’s birth changes the level of insulin production and brain development in children. This led to lack of development of cognitive skills, ability to cope with stress, facing life challenges and basic life skill development.
2. Feeling of Rejection
Parents under stress are often overwhelmed by their own disappointments and frustrations. How can they give love and care to their child when they are devoid of giving it to themselves? The lack of attachment, love and security that child receives from their parents often translates into a feeling of rejection specifically when they see other children being loved and prospered in a happy and fulfilled environment. This, in turn, results in a number of personality disorders that are less visible in initial years of life.
3. Low Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem is another direct impact of parental stress. Parents who are more involved with their children and spend quality time with them, tend to instill the positive attitude and high self-esteem in their kids. Their positive role modeling leads children to believe in similar attitude. On the other hand, parents who are more stressed, often spill off their anger, frustration or disappointment in front of children. When parents lack confidence in themselves, children adopt similar behavior. They often lack that sense of confidence and self-assurance in themselves.
4. Aggressive/ Detached Behavior
Parents coping with high levels of parental stress often find themselves taking that frustration out on children. As children do what they see, this often results in aggressive behavior or tantrums when they grow up. It is not necessary for parents to explicitly display their anger to children in order to distort their behaviors in future. Lack of attention, frustration, depression on parts of parents can also result in a built up anger inside children who are unaware of psychological background to parents’ problems. Inability to deal with confused emotions can also lead to aggressive or detached behavior on part of children.
5. Social Withdrawal
With low self-esteem and lack of confidence, children who face parental stress often find themselves incapable to face the outside world in a dignified manner. The internal battle, depression and lack of support from parents often lead children to become socially shy or withdrawn. This is also part of developmental delays that occur due to parental stress and distorts a child’s personality that continues to adolescence and even adulthood.
How to Cope with Parental Stress?
There are several ways in which parents can deal with parental stress at the beginning or even later to mitigate its effects of child’s development. We have extensively covered self-care tips for parents that can reduce parental stress to a significant level. Some of the immediate tips for parents include the following:
- Focus on self-care, both physical and mental, first
- Reach out for social support whether they are friends or family
- Ration your negative and positive thoughts as a routine
- Budget for more time by self-regulation
- Avoid making emotional judgments about your lost hours or fatigue
- Indulge in one or more activities for your pleasure solely, even if it is for less than an hour a day
- Keep your spouse involved with your struggle without stressing them out
- Ignore the judgments and advices from toxic people