Parenting your children on a daily basis can certainly be challenging. When a parent is suffering from a mental health issue, parenting can become even more demanding. However, with the right support and mindset, it is possible to minimize the impact of your symptoms and care for your children in a positive way.
Michelle D. Sherman, Ph.D., claims that the best predictor of “kid functioning is parent functioning”, co-author of Finding My Way: A Teen’s Guide to Living with a Parent Who Has Experienced Trauma and I’m Not Alone: A Teen’s Guide to Living with a Parent Who Has a Mental Illness.
As far as I am concerned, she hit the nail on the head. The effect of a parent’s mental health issues on children varies depending on its severity. It is how the mental health condition affects the parent’s behavior as well as family relationships that may cause risk to a child.
Children who have parents that are struggling with Mental Health issues such as anxiety and depression can experience the following symptoms:
In 2014, I wrote my book “Building Self-Esteem in Children and Teens Who Are Adopted or Fostered”. In the book, I focused one of my chapters on how parents self-esteem levels affect their children’s self-esteem level.
Parents that have low self-esteem simply cannot increase their children’s self-worth until they work on building their own self-esteem levels. The good news is that with professional help parents can develop the skills to increase their own self- esteem which in turn increases their children’s level of confidence.
It is not uncommon for parents to have stress or depression while parenting. Parenting is one of the most demanding jobs and it can take a toll on emotional well-being. What is most important is that parents recognize when they may need extra help to lessen the impact on their children’s well-being.
How does Mental Health affect Children?
As a parent, you already know that stress is a part of your everyday life. Getting the kids to school on time, going to work and running from activity to activity can cause undue stress. At times you may find yourself frustrated and irritable. You are not alone; however, your frustrations can impact your children’s own stress levels.
Before long your moods begin to change and your once peaceful family has now become a battleground where everyone is on edge.
Being able to notice signs of “parenting stress” is very important to minimize it. Here are some examples that you are overstressed.
1. Raising Your Voice
Often times the more stress we are feeling, the more we yell. Our fuse becomes very short when we are on edge and any little issues can cause irritability.
2. Sleep Issues
When stress levels are high sleep time is usually low. Often times you will be lying awake ruminating about the stress in your life. This lack of rest can make you feel crankier, anxious and moody.
3. Kids Begin To Make Comments
Your children sense your stress levels. Many kids may say to their parents, “Why are you yelling so much? Or why are you so on edge?” Kids may begin to spend more time alone or more times with friends to decrease the effect your stress level is having on them.
4. You Become A Snapper
You begin to notice that you are biting your partner’s head off for things you never did before.
There was a time when you could remember everything. You were at the top of your game. Lately, you are forgetting things you once remembered without effort such as where you last left your keys.
6. Desire To Spend More Time Alone
After work, you could not wait to get home to see your family. These days you dread walking in the door.
7. Social Media
You are spending more time on social media than with your family.
8. Losing Interest In Things You Once Enjoyed
You loved reading books and working out. Now you feel as though you don’t have enough energy to get the kids off to school.
The first step in managing your stress level is noticing that it is high. When we admit to ourselves that we are struggling with an issue that we do not have control over, we are more likely to seek help and stick with it.
4 Ways to Cope with Having a Mental Illness
Here are 4 tips parents can apply to their lives while coping with mental health issues:
1. Build A Support System
Mental health issues can lead to isolation. Isolation can be detrimental to parents and children. Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends and family. Call on them when you are having a particularly hard day. Find people that will build you up instead of tearing you down.
2. Seek Professional Help
Remember you are not alone in your parenting issues or stress level. Seek out a support group or a life coach. The better you are to yourself the better you will be to your children.
3. Give Yourself A Break
When parents feel overwhelmed, the whole family usually feels the stress. As parents, we all need a break to be at our best. Take breaks to reduce your stress level. Go for a walk, enroll your kids in activities, and meet a friend for coffee. When you are rejuvenated, you can parent from a positive place.
4. Attend To Your Thoughts & Feelings
If you are having a day filled with stress and anxiety, make a mental note to yourself and change your routine. If mornings are difficult, tell your kids you need a break in the morning and spend time with them at night. Know your triggers for stress and try to work around them. Your kids will be less stressed when you are less stressed.
One of the most important things a parent suffering from mental health issues can do is talk to their children. This can reduce the impact of these issues greatly on children. Children are much more resilient in handling emotional stress when they are aware of a situation.
Sit down with your children and explain to them that you are struggling at times with your emotions and reactions. This is also an opportunity to teach your children skills to adapt to your stress level and be in tune with others emotions. Some children may be able to understand how you are feeling and build empathy, a critical lesson of life.
Remember parents are not perfect. Kids are not perfect. Together you can build a positive relationship with less stress.
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