Montefiore in the News
Health Check: Self-Care & Compassion Lead to More Joyful Parenting
- May 6, 2022
School visits Mayor Eric Adams visits Concourse Village Elementary School in the Bronx with Schools Chancellor David Banks and local elected leaders as they greet students and parents who are returning from holiday break on Monday, January 3, 2022. Photo courtesy of Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office
Parents have been asked to carry a heavy load – balancing work demands, childcare, changes in school format, and worries about COVID-19. Many people have noticed changes in how they feel and respond to others. Stress can affect mood, leading to irritability, anxiety, or withdrawing from close relationships.
When your mind is crowded with many different priorities and worries, and your body is drained from poor sleep or limited self-care time, parenting can feel more challenging. Stress can lead you to a “reactive” mode where frustration takes over. When overwhelmed, it’s hard to tune in to what children need and make sense of what their behavior is telling you.
Kids tune in to parents’ feelings and behaviors too; this is how they learn about emotions, from the important adults in their lives. When you’ve cared for your own emotional needs, it’s easier to respond in calm and supportive ways to your child’s big feelings. By modeling how to talk through upsetting moments and solve problems with your children, you help them learn to express themselves, calm down from intense emotions, and handle difficult situations with confidence.
There’s more room to feel joy, curiosity, and delight together with children when your mind is less clouded by stress. Over time, these moments of connection strengthen caregiver-child relationships and children’s developing brains.
Using a few skills can help us take control of stress and become more present while parenting:
While it may seem easier to avoid unpleasant thoughts and feelings to manage stress, they are important signals. We must notice that we are feeling stressed in order to take action. In these moments, take 30-60 seconds to slow down, breathe deeply and identify your feelings. This can help lower emotional intensity, allowing you to respond to your child more calmly and sensitively. Another approach is a visualization vacation. To do this, briefly close your eyes and imagine yourself somewhere you feel at peace – the more detail the better. If you’re evoking a warm, sandy beach, picture yourself gazing up at the blue sky and listening to the sounds of the waves rolling in and out. Breathe in the salty, ocean air and notice your body begin to relax.
Take note when your inner critic is making an appearance. After your child struggles with big emotions during bedtime for the third night in a row, you might find yourself thinking, “I should be able to handle this better.” In these moments, it can be helpful to imagine what you’d say to a friend in this situation. Would you use different words or a different tone when talking to them? Often, we have more practice at being compassionate towards others. Remember! If our compassion does not include ourselves, it is incomplete.
Parenting can be challenging whether a child is 8 months or 18 years old – and it has been especially so over the last few years. The many stressors in today’s world make it even more important to offer yourself the same care that you strive to offer your children.
Dr. Amanda Zayde is a psychologist and director of connecting and reflecting experience (CARE) and Dr. Olivia Derella is a psychologist in child outpatient psychiatry, both at Montefiore Medical Center.