Help Me Grow | United Way of Utah County

Bind Together During Hard Times: Family Stress and Coping Strategies

Every family deals with stress. This is normal and it is not always a bad thing. Families can experience stress when waiting for something exciting, like adding a new child to the family. This stress helps motivate preparation for the new baby. Stress can help us realize that something is wrong and it can help push us to be better. However, big stressful events or chronic, long-term stress can be hard on family relationships. The stress the family members feel can distance them from one another and feel isolated and hopeless. Although parents can not always stop stressful events from happening (ie. Loss of a family member, loss of job, moving, rebellious child/sibling, etc.) there are some family coping strategies that can bring them closer together. Below, I will share some strategies that can be incorporated for both parents, and children.

Keep with Routines: Schedules/routines and traditions are important, especially in a young child’s life. They bring a sense of familiarity, security, and control into the chaotic and changing world of a child. It can provide structure and a sense of familiarity when other parts of life might seem unfamiliar and scary. Traditions like how a family celebrates a birthday, holiday, or even a weekly or monthly activity can be a stabilizing time. It can be tempting for parents to skip over many of these rituals and wait to resume them when life seems a little less overwhelming. However, skipping traditions and celebrations can cause fear of losing beloved traditions and might make the family feel like they are slipping farther apart from each other.

Consider the needs of your family: Michigan State University explains it is important to make sure parents understand their child’s needs and that they model the appropriate behaviors in stressful situations. While giving birth to my first child I was able to practice positive coping mechanisms in a time of stress and pain. My husband was there by my side and wouldn’t eat and hesitated to sleep because he wanted to support me and help me feel loved through my long labor. Despite this, I tried my best to help him be as comfortable as possible. I later realized that focusing on him and trying to help him be more comfortable temporarily helped distract me from some of the pain and discomfort I was feeling during contractions. Sometimes focusing on other family members’ stress, can help you cope with yours.

Practice Mindfulness:  Taking time to stop and breathe for a minute or two can help lower feelings of stress. Focusing on breathing is beneficial for parents and can be a fairly easy technique to teach to their children. Parents and children can practice this when they are feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes practicing mindfulness might be just focusing on the current activity you are performing and pushing away thoughts intruding thoughts for a short period of time. Being present can help you find more joy, meaning, and purpose.

Prioritize Sleep: Sleeping will help clear the mind and help improve decision making. Achieving a good amount of sleep can help parents and children be less likely to lash out at other family members which will allow for more peace in the home. Though this seems like a simple task, it can be hard to lay down and try to relax when a parent or their child is stressed. Try some gentle breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to help coast off to sleep.

Developing these stress-coping techniques can strengthen families and help them grow closer during tough times. Practicing these skills, even before a stress-filled event, can help a family be better prepared to face hard times together, creating peace and unity.

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