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Coping With Family Stress

Our capacity to deal with day-to-day parenting situations is affected by external stress. Managing stress allows us to better meet our children’s needs.

Son kissing mum on the cheek

Stress and parenting

In caring for a child, you may have noticed that you can react to the same situation very differently depending on the day.

For example, when putting a stubborn toddler to bed, some days you might remain calm and other days become frustrated.

Our ability to deal with challenging parenting moments is not black and white, and is influenced by multiple factors, including external stressors.

Let’s have a look at what those might be and how we can manage and cope.

External stressors

External stressors are factors in our life that have the ability to impact negatively upon our thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Some of them may be beyond our control.

Common stressors include:


  • Work related pressures
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Financial issues
  • Health issues

How do I know if I’m stressed?

Stress can sometimes be hard to identify because we’re so used to feeling a particular way. We also might not have the time or space we need to self-reflect.

Here are some signs that might indicate you are feeling stressed:

Emotions - Intense or long lasting negative emotions, or emotions that are unusual for you, e.g. getting frustrated over something that wouldn’t normally bother you.

Thoughts - Thoughts that are negative, repetitive, spiralling, problem-focused or ruminating, e.g. thinking things will never get better.

Behaviours - Responding in ways that are negative and ‘out of the ordinary’ for you, particularly towards your child or partner, e.g. being short with your child.

Physical - Symptoms such as headaches, digestive issues, sleep issues, etc. (If unrelated to any other health condition).

Managing stress

Here are some effective strategies for managing stress while parenting:

  • Be self-aware. When you recognise the signs of stress, you are better able to take action to de-stress and regulate your emotions, so you can respond to your child from a place of calm. This models emotional self-regulation for your child and allows you to be emotionally available and attuned to them.
  • Be kind to yourself. Have empathy for yourself, be forgiving and find little ways to inject kindness for yourself into your parenting. This is an important part of meeting your own needs.
  • Be flexible. Sometimes, it’s ok to bend or temporarily change the rules, such as allowing your child to sleep in your bed for one night. Children are able to deal with change and flexibility in rules and routines, especially where the love is constant.
  • Manage expectations. Children don’t need a perfect response each time, so if you accidentally ‘react’ from a place of stress, rather than respond from a place of calm from time to time, that’s completely understandable. Setbacks and mistakes will happen. When they do, it’s ok to apologise to your child, if appropriate. This provides a learning opportunity that everyone. makes mistakes, mistakes are acceptable, and you can learn from them

“Empathy allows us to have a better chance at remaining calm as we are aware that our capacity and patience may be low. This may assist us in changing the expectations or goal posts we set for ourselves.”

– Kimberley, Parentline Manager

If you are looking for ways to cope with stress, Parentline is here to support you.

If you notice things are becoming difficult to manage, or that your stress levels are increasing, talking to a counsellor or your doctor about your options can help.

This content was last reviewed 10/06/2020

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