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How to Parent When You are Stressed Out

Parenting when stressed can bring out the worst in us. Some lash out, some retreat. Refocus and regroup with these tips for Christian parents.

Anxiety workbook for kids

Most people respond to being stressed out in one of two ways: they become a lion or a turtle. The lions get angry, lash out and become volatile. The turtles tuck in their head, legs and tail and hope they can hide until it goes away. These tendencies can impact our parenting during stressful times. We need to be conscious of our tendency to lash out or escape and intentionally parent even when we don’t feel like it.

Here are some tips whether you are a lion or a turtle:

1) Take time for yourself.

Keep in mind that not all time is created equal. If you react to stress like a lion, ranting to a friend or family member about that which is stressful to you is not time well-spent. Engaging in activities that rile you up and pour gas on an already flaming fire, will not help. Conversely (if you are a turtle), time for yourself that further causes you to escape and avoid is not helpful either (ex binge-watching Netflix). If you have lion tendencies, helpful time for yourself can include physical exercise, listening to music, and even silence. If you are more of an avoider, time for yourself can include making time to journal or calling someone to pray with you. For both groups, time alone with God will remind of who you are and who He is. This will translate into peace and centeredness that will radiate out from you to the rest of your family.

2) Get good at triage.

When you are stressed out, you have limited resources both emotionally and physically. In emergency rooms, doctors have to decide who gets what resources first based on need. While parenting under stress, you will need to do the same. Feeding, clothing and educating your children are the basic necessities. Give yourself a break if you don’t have the energy to do all the extras they may be asking you to do. You can be honest with them by saying something like, “I know you want to go to your friend’s house, but I simply cannot manage that today. I know it’s disappointing, but it’s not forever. It’s just for now. Thank you for understanding.” You can do this without guilt because, ultimately it is for their good. A less stressed parent is good for the whole family. Before saying yes, ask yourself, “Do I have the capacity for this?” If the answer is no, say no.

3) Relax some standards.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. You may have a no device rule for certain hours in your home. Or maybe you are careful of how much processed food your children eat. You may need to relax your grip on such things temporarily so you have the energy to be a better parent in the big picture.

4) Don’t relax other standards.

This is not the time to stop parenting all together. Your children still need guidance and instructions. They need to be responsible (sharing chores could help alleviate some of your stress- depending on how old they are). They need to be respectful. They need to obey. Boil down your family rules and expectations to the essentials and major on the major things. You are not checked out, you are pared down.

5) Ask for and accept help.

You may need to reach out for help from your family, your church or your community to help you parent. Ask someone to help by taking the kids to a park or watching the kids so you can grocery shop alone. This will take humility and courage but God will give you the strength for both. A bonus is that your children will be observing a Christ-likeness humility in you. A role model is a powerful teacher.

6) Get good at apologizing.

When we are under stress, we may do or say things that we will later regret.  We may need to apologize to our children. And we may need to do it more than once. Explain (in general terms) what you are going through and that you would love it if your children prayed for you.

7) Communicate and have hope.

No matter how you respond to stress, it takes its toll. One of the hardest things when we are stressed is to see forward. All we can see is now and now isn’t great. Whether you have turtle or lion tendencies, the lie you have to fight against is that it won’t or can’t get better. That simply isn’t true. Look up verses on hope (here is a great list). Copy them down and tape them up around your house for everyone to see. Daily remind yourself and your children that, even when you don’t feel like it, you can have hope. Read Romans 8:22-25 together.

I realize that parents who are exceedingly stressed out may not have the time or energy to seek out this post. Survival mode doesn’t usually make room for such endeavors. If you know of someone who could benefit from reading this, please pass it on. Part of being in community is actively caring for and advocating for those around us. Someday we may need it too.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

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About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who offers individual therapy to women and moms in Connecticut. She is the author of More Than a Conqueror, A Christian Kid's Guide to Winning the War on Worry. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of the things she is most passionate about: God's word, parenting and mental health.

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