adoption comeunity

Adoption Shops & Adoption Services


Parenting Book Reviews

Comeunity Home Parenting

Chronic Stress and Communication

By Mark Bertin, author of How Children Thrive

Stress is an inevitable part of life. Problems happen - cars break down, computers crash, people come and go from our lives. Good things happen - new jobs, weddings, babies. All these events, in different ways, cause stress. And stress, of course, affects our families.

The nature of our communication itself captures the impact of stress on our family life. Recall a seriously tense, unpleasant conversation, something that made you feel utterly off. Visualize when your mental fight-or-flight or freeze response took over. Communicating effectively and calmly almost certainly became a serious challenge...

As parents or otherwise, there is no way to eliminate stress. Things change or do not work out like we expect, sometimes quite often. When researchers list stressful life events, even positive experiences mix at the top. In many ways, our minds have an unreasonable, pre-programmed expectation that the world will one day be fully under our control - and stay that way. Since kids bring with them a lot of change and uncertainty, stress tags along too.

Much of what triggers our physical stress response is rooted in our amygdala, the fight-or-flight part of our brain. Fear is part of our survival instinct. Reflexively, we react and protect ourselves (Uh-oh, I'm about to be run over by an elephant). Because that reaction lets us leap away from danger, we cannot, and should not, annihilate this safety mechanism. We can, however, improve how we manage all the less life-threatening fears and anxieties inherent not only to parenting, but to life...

To break these reactive cycles requires awareness of how they start. A thought is a thought, and not always worth stressing over. To remain an open-minded and flexible parent requires shutting off stress mode over and over again. We catch ourselves, settle, and become more intentional in how we manage our family life. We notice our habits and make more conscious choices. Where we always felt there was only one way to manage a situation, more options become apparent.

Returning now to stress and communicating with children: In any conversation, all we influence directly is our own behavior. Even when a child seems intentionally oppositional, managing what we say and do next affects everything that follows. This doesn't mean specifically staying quiet; perhaps there is a need to be more assertive under pressure. Without condoning a child's words or actions, we de-escalate or escalate whatever comes next through how we listen and express ourselves.

Here, then are some initial steps to take toward meaningful and less stressful communication:

  • Listen first. Whenever possible, allow your chid hte opportunity to express his perspective. Then, if you disagree, pause and explain why.
  • Find a place of connection. Start with agreement, particularly when you disagree and are going to set a limit or try to convince a child to change a choice...
  • Monitor your body language, posture, tone of voice and facial expression. We often unconsciously undermind conversation through how we hold ourselves. When possible, align your body language with what you want to convey.
  • Monitor your emotional state and its influence. If you're feeling strong emotions or see that your child is, consider taking a break or having the discussion another time.
  • Notice your expectations. If you find yourself making assumptions about your chid's thought or what will be said next, aim to set them aside while listening.
  • Pause before and during speaking. Make sure your child is done speaking before you respond, and make sure you're heard when it's your turn. As for repetition or rephrasing if you are uncertain.
  • Allow for communication repair. Much of skillful communication relies on reflection afterward. There will always be times when you lose your cool or fail to get across what you intended. The same goes for your child. Allow time to settle, and when both of your stress levels are reasonable, try again.

Understanding the impact of undermanaged stress is another strong reminder around parenting and self-care. Don't let the thought that you're carrying too much stress create more stress. Stress is normal, and even has some value in keeping us motivated and safe. But you do want to take care of yourself enough and manage stress as as skillfully as possible when you are able.

Mark Bertin is the author of How Children Thrive and other well known parenting books. This article is excerpted with permission of the author. Copyright protected.



Parenting Books

Becoming a Parent

Parenting Your Baby

Parenting Your Child

Special Circumstances


Parenting Books



Comeunity Home