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How has your family helped you manage your stress?

During times of stress, our coping resources and consequently our parenting skills may require reinforcement, encouragement or even a break. A separation or divorce, an illness or death of a loved one, a move, or economic problems, can generate an emotional flood for the family, both for children and for parents.

The way we perceive and react to an event, as well as the personal coping resources, provoke a stress response. Two people who are faced with the same situation can face it in a very different way. One can feel intense psychological and emotional tension, while another person might experience it as a small bump in the road. Keep in mind that stress can affect your child in very different ways from how it affects you. Recognizing the symptoms and identifying the source of stress is extremely important. A change in behavior is often a key indicator of stress.

Here we list some of these changes:

  • Recurrent physical discomfort , such as stomach pain before going to school without an organic cause.
  • Avoidance behaviors. Refusing to participate in something they used to do frequently.
  • Emotional changes . Going from being normally extroverted to stop being like that, going from being normally happy to looking sad all the time, going from being affable to being frequently irritable or explosive.
  • Changes in academic performance, if there is a significant drop in grades or no longer participate in class.
  • Increase in fears or anxiety .
  • Changes in sleep, either problems sleeping or sleeping much more than usual.

It is very important not to let your guard down when stressful events appear. The effects of these situations can be maintained for weeks, months or even years. Show yourself open to your children’s questions and actively listen to them. It is not enough with a single conversation to correctly process stressful experiences, but it requires time and a fluid dialogue.

Here are five types of typically stressful situations that many families have to face at some time, as well as some guidelines for dealing with them:

1. Divorce or separation of parents : Try to be direct and honest with them about what is happening. It is important to be careful about how we talk about our ex-partner, try not to speak ill of him or her. Try to maintain similar limits and norms in both houses. They do not have to be the same, since children can get used to different rules in different places, as long as they are coherent.

2. Illness:  The maintenance of some routines is important, for this, find small things that may remain the same for children, whether it’s dinner time, school hours and homework or the tradition of watching a movie on Friday night . Avoid the impulse to exceed or overprotect your children, as this sends messages of fragility, incompetence or doubt about their ability to overcome this difficult situation.

3. Economic problems: Financial uncertainty can cause a family to falter. Children perceive the signals of their parents, which implies that they will notice the tension and anxiety of the parents. However, they do not have to understand what is happening. Explain those changes that affect their lives, and answer the questions as honestly as you can. This considerably reduces the misinterpretations that may occur. (If the children do not have answers, it will be their imagination that fills in those blank spaces). Above all, assure them that you are going to take care of them. Allows children to contribute ideas on how to cut family spending. Going to the park together, taking a bike ride, or playing board games can be a great way to spend quality free time together;

4. Moving and changing schools:  Although the reasons we move are very diverse, the move often involves changing schools, neighborhoods and even friends. This series of changes can be really difficult. Prepare them as soon as possible. Strengthens their self-esteem by making them make some decisions about these changes: what objects they are going to move, the color in which they paint their new room …, and always leave the communication channels open. Ask questions that can not be answered with just a yes or no, such as “What do you think of this?” And “How does it make you feel?” Let the children know that you are also a little nervous about the move. After all, for you it is also a great change.

5. A new member in the family:  It is often understood that young children can experience that a new baby is a rival that comes to invade their territory. A new baby changes the panorama and family circumstances a lot. It is important to ensure the balance between family time and individual time with parents. Safeguard the extracurricular activities of the older child. A change of this type can lead to great frustrations, try to recognize and validate the feelings of your oldest child and be ready to talk about it. Allow your child to express himself and listen carefully. Involve your child in the care of the baby and congratulate him for it.

Stressful situations put our resources to the test. Self-care is essential for good parenting. It is always important, but even more so in times of great stress. If you feel overwhelmed, do not forget to lean on the people around you. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of adequate self-knowledge.

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