Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stressed Kids

I just read this article today: Parents' Stress Filters down to Kids, not that Mom and Dad Notice.

It definitely made me stop and think.

It is about the rippling effects of stress in families: children will most likely experience stress if their parents are feeling stress. The latest American Psychologist Association (APA) survey results raised concern about the effects of stress on children and how unaware parents are that their children are even experiencing these effects.

Of course, this makes sense; it's not something I regularly think about.

My daughter is starting to tune in to my moods and often asks me while I am deep in thought about something weighing on my mind: "Mom, what's wrong?" or "Mom, why are you sad?" or "Mom, why aren't you talking?" I am pretty transparent. I think it's healthy, but I have to wonder if it is healthy for my daughter. I always feel bad when she notices how I am reacting to something - especially if it is with my somewhat usual stressed-out-self.

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Even when my kids are small, I often notice that when I am worried about something, they often have more requests and need to cuddle more - especially when I don't have the time or patience. Even if I think they are distracted and I can focus on solving a problem, their needs seem to increase exponentially.

My daughter threw a crumpled up piece of paper to a friend in the bus yesterday. The bus driver saw and "yelled" at her (this may well mean "talked directly and sternly" to her). Her brother tattled as soon as they walked in the door. She growled at him. I asked her about it. She wouldn't talk about it. I let it drop. 

The other day she told me that she doesn't like talking to me about things. She responds that "it is boring" to talk with me about school or what she does at a friend's house after school. I always want details about everything, but she will usually offer none. This has been occurring for a few months now. I think I've been in denial. Last Saturday, it suddenly dawned on me that my daughter and I may have a very different relationship than the one I had with my mom growing up.

I told my mom everything. She was always there to listen intently. She was always home after school, and I loved to talk with her about my life's details.

When I realized that my daughter and I may never talk like that, I was very sad. I was especially saddened yesterday as I watcher her, clearly upset about something that happened to her, unwilling to share her feelings with me and "talk it out."

Plus, it seems so unhealthy.

Late last night I told her that talking with my mom when I was little always helped me feel better about things. Then I told her about one time when I got in trouble for throwing a pencil to a friend in a class at school. Other kids threw things during that year all of the time when the teacher stepped out. I never did. Towards the end of the year, I carefully tossed a pencil to a friend. Immediately my teacher walked in and said, "Liz, you just lost 10 points off your grade." I was totally mortified. I didn't care about the points; I was just so upset that I allowed myself to disobey a rule, but what added to the frustration was that the other kids had disobeyed the rule many times and had not gotten caught! (The feelings are all coming back.) 

I have been obedient to all rules surrounding me during my lifetime 99% of the time; and, honestly, when I have been disobedient to any rule, no matter how small, during that 1% of time I always get caught. Always. (Anyways, a little unnecessary tangent here.)

After sharing this with my daughter, she smiled. Then she told me about getting into trouble on the bus. She seemed to relax considerably. She had been a little ball of stress all afternoon.

So, maybe I just need to talk more to my daughter. Maybe I need to open up more to her. Maybe I need to think about the effects that my stress is having on my children. But, most importantly, maybe I need to learn to handle my stress better, especially if I am trying to help my children handle their own stresses in addition to mine.

(Here are the key findings of the APA survey results if you want more info; they are really interesting.)

1 comment:

Katie Tyler said...

i LOVE this Liz! I have always felt that it is so much easier to open up to others if they are open with me. And I feel it very difficult to trust others who do not open up to me. (even if it is just their communication style) It is very difficult to believe that you will be understood if the other person never lets you know that they have had experiences too! :)

Thanks for posting this
Also- I am sure that the relationship you have with her may be different than with your own mom, but I am positive somehow it will be even better! :)and you will become what SHE needs in a mom