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ThinkWeston Magazine Article
Parents-Managing YOUR Stress is Good Parenting!
We have all heard that pre-flight safety announcement directing us to place our own oxygen mask prior to placing one on our children. Everyone knows that we cannot help our children if we are not breathing! It is the same with all parenting! If life in your own head is chaotic you cannot begin to manage the chaos in your life. That chaos comes in the form of school mornings, homework battles, overscheduled child activities, sibling fights, temper tantrums and “ Iwantitus ”. I am sure you could add to the list.
I am suggesting that the most important tools in your parenting toolbox are those that help YOU stay calm and focused. I am a fan of Steven Covey and his best selling series of business books based around the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. My favorite habit is “Sharpen the Saw”. This is the habit of self-care. YOU are the saw. If you don't keep the saw sharp, you can saw with all your might and never cut wood!
Experts agree that consistency and clear communication are crucial to effective parenting and behavior management. These qualities cannot exist in the presence of unmanaged anger and stress.
Maintaining and practicing a stress managing healthy lifestyle should become a family value. By building your resilience you will be role modeling the very same for your child. This is a gift that will keep on giving all through your child's life. Don't fool yourself. Your child is watching very closely. If you become explosive or “freak-out” in the face of oppositional behavior, the child will mimic this less than effective style down the road.
You might consider the following strategies:
• Simply take time out to breathe, especially when acutely stressed. Try concentrating on your breath as you count to 4 on the in breath and backward from 4 to 1 on the way out. When stressed, our breathing is shallow and rapid. Slowing down the breathing allows your mind and body to move from primitive response toward higher-level thought.
• Exercise is a proven stress reliever. I do not need to tell you the multiple benefits for both you and your child. However, I reserve the right to explore these in a future column. For now, try to include exercise in your daily routine. Start with something simple like walking 30 minutes at a brisk pace. You get additional benefit by doing this with your children when possible. The role modeling impact is amazing. You may also want to reserve some walks for alone time. You will benefit from the opportunity to clear your head.
• Positive nutrition is also crucial for your physical and mental immune system. Balance the diet for all family members. Watch out for those blood sugar raising simple carbs. Stable blood sugar supports stable mood. There is a rapidly increasing body of research suggesting that all of us should be looking to increase our levels of Omega 3. This nutrient found in fatty fish and flax apparently has positive impact on mind and body.
• A good night's sleep makes for a more effective tomorrow. You know the feeling when you have slept poorly. You do not think as clearly. You are more irritable. You don't do anything as well. Research suggests that some reported cases of ADHD were actually sleep disorders. Sleep CAN usually be improved through simple strategies known as sleep hygiene. For example, try to go to bed and rise at the same time every day. This helps your brain and body know when it is time to shut down.
• Mindfulness is an ancient secret that is even more important in our distracted world. Be in the moment with your child. You can learn to focus more effectively on the moment-to-moment joys of parenting.
• Another ancient secret is ritual. For example, a few moments with a hot cup of tea can be just the circuit breaker you need immediately before the kids get home.
For generations parents have sacrificed themselves so there children could succeed. I am suggesting that you must take care of yourself before you can effectively parent your children.
Dr. Jeff Bauman is a Licensed Psychologist, Certified Franklin Covey Coach and Parent Coach practicing in Weston. www.WestonChildPsychologist.com.