These days stress is everywhere and seems to be spilling over into our parenting. Read what my friend, Deborah McNelis, founder of Brain Insights and Neuro-Nurturing has to say, and then keep reading to see how stress plays out in daily life.
“While stress is natural and needed for learning, it is important for many reasons to reduce some aspects of stress for children. Very fearful, inconsistent or chaotic environments have a long lasting and physical effect on the brain. When children are continuously living in highly stressful situations, stress hormone levels stay high. This has a significant impact on a child’s behavior, memory, relationships, learning abilities and health.
While some stress is inevitable and also actually necessary, children also need stress-free time in their days. Play, laughter, physical activity, hugs and nature are all extremely valuable stress relievers. Even in infancy, the brain sees both over-stimulation and under-stimulation as stress.
Through providing environments that are safe, nurturing, predictable and filled with fun interactive child directed activities, your child will get just what their brain needs © 2012 Brain Insights ® – Neuro-Nurturing™
Did you read the above paragraph and think, “My child isn’t living in an inconsistent or chaotic environment, and (s)he plays all day long, so (s)he isn’t experiencing any real stress in life.”
Stress is insidious. It silently creeps into a family and builds momentum until there is so much of it, reacting occurs.
The kind of stress I’m talking about is rarely mentioned when we talk about kids. I’m talking about the emotional stress brought on constant criticism and corrections.
When a child lives with constant admonishment for the things they do, or they perceive that the bulk of the communication they have with their parent is filled with constant corrections, they experience stress.
Each one of us has experienced the sting of criticism at some point in our lives. It may have come from a parent, a friend, or a co-worker. Regardless of where it came from, being criticized stings, and causes stress.
If it hurts, why do we do it to our kids?
Kenneth Barish Ph.D. in a Psychology Today article says, “Much of our criticism, of course, is well-intentioned. We criticize because we are anxious about our child’s future. We want her to improve, and eventually succeed in a competitive world. We think of our criticism as constructive, or not as criticism at all, but rather as instruction and advice, and we regard our child’s defiance or his unwillingness to communicate (especially during adolescence) as an unavoidable consequence of responsible parenting.”
When children experience consistent admonishment, or perceive that the majority of their parental interactions are coming from corrections, they will either withdraw or expand. What do I mean by this?
Let me ask you this, do you remember what it sounded like when you were corrected as a child? The tone of voice your parent used? The language they framed their corrections with? You can still remember it today, right?
Well, it’s no different for your kids. They know you well. They know what your tone of voice means. They react to it. Some will emotionally retreat in order to withstand what they perceive is the onslaught of your intensity. Others with expand and become bold, maybe misbehave again, as a way to deflect and shield themselves from the sting of your words.
How do you correct behavior without causing stress? Listen first, and then seek to understand.
Kenneth Barish Ph.D agrees, “Listening, of course, does not mean agreement or giving in to unreasonable demands. When we listen, we make a genuine effort to understand and appreciate our child’s point of view and to acknowledge what is right about what he is saying before we point out what is wrong.”
Asking questions and then listening to the answer is key here. When you ask, “Hey sweetie, why are you pushing your brother?” and then stay silent long enough to suggest that your child step up and own why he’s doing what he’s doing, you’re able to stay calmer. You’re able get to the bottom of the situation and address it without needing to resort to, “Stop being a pest and pushing your brother, or you can go to your room!”
One way allows a child to feel heard, which creates a clear path to talk about why he’s doing what he’s doing, and what he should do instead. Reacting causes a child to feel the sting of admonishment and feel like he’s never heard, and that causes stress.
Thanks for reading, and we’d love it if you’d share this with those you think may benefit from reading it.
Now go hug your kids!
Sharon Silver, is a mom, parent educator, and author of “Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Transform Behavior into Learning Moments. She is also a contributor to “Parents Ask, Experts Answer,” PopSugar, Circle of Moms, and Life 360.